Much of my teenage years were spent engaged with airplanes, either making models, flying them, or going to air shows, but I was an Air Cadet, so I had an excuse. I haven’t been to many air shows since, in fact, only one a few years ago, and since my Dad and I are both embarking on a photographic journey, it seemed a good challenge to shoot an air show. (As well as being an excuse to enjoy the spectacle again.)
The last time I went to an air show was really the first time I photographed one; armed with a Zenit 11 and a telephoto zoom up to 200mm. The lens wasn’t long enough – got lots of pictures of dots in the sky – and to add insult to injury, the Zenit chose that day to have shutter problems, so all the negatives had dark and light bands across them. For me, this was an opportunity to try again.
RAF Waddington is not far from where both of us live, so it was a good location. It’s also one of the biggest RAF shows still running. Added to which, not only were the Red Arrows flying, but the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, the Sally B B-17, the last flying Vulcan bomber and the USAF Thunderbirds. What’s not to like about that line up.
The sky was pretty good. Clear blue with gathering cloud, so there was potential for some nice backgrounds to the flying display. The biggest challenge though was that we were shooting directly into the sun. Another challenge was the fence. Rather than take our chances with finding a good spot, we opted for an enclosure where we could come and go. Only some bright spark sat the enclosure about ten feet away from the fence, so any take off and landing shots were going to have that at the bottom of the pic. The last challenge were people moving to and fro between displays, so often, I’d line the camera up, follow the plane, and someone would be standing right where I wanted the shot. Oh well. It was a lot of fun, and the problems became part of the fun.
I set +1.5 exposure compensation to cope with shooting into the sun and slapped it on shutter priority and high continuous shooting. I took about 500 shots and still missed most of the crossovers from the Red Arrows and the Thunderbirds. You really do need fast reflexes, even with a high burst rate.
Highlight of the day was, without doubt, the Red Arrows. I’ve seen them several times and they never fail to impress. My favourite shot of the day was an unusual one, of a lone Hawk hidden partially by smoke trails. I like it because it’s different, and it somehow evokes the grace and the excitement of their display.
The Thunderbirds were a massive contrast to the Red Arrows, fast and brash, yet lacking the finesse and grace of the Arrows. They were certainly harder to photograph. I got some good formation shots, but the cloud cover was getting thicker, so the backgrounds are just blah, but the shot of a single F16 climbing is my favourite. It is in just the right position to make the picture.
Sadly, in an attempt to capture prop blur, the Battle of Britain Memorial flight ended up blurred themselves, but I managed several of the Sally B, the photo uploaded here is of her masquerading as the Memphis Belle – she has Sally B on one side, and Memphis Belle on the other – coming home with a stricken engine.
The last photo I’m posting from the day was one I grabbed quickly as we walked past, but seeing a British Airborne trooper chatting away to the Luftwaffe just seemed funny. I’ve de-saturated the pic and added some noise to try and re-create the era. Certainly a change of pace here.
The air show was a great day, but as a photographic excursion, was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from the day and I aim to go back next year and try to get the shots I missed this year.