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Blue Thunder

There’s nothing like an F/A-18 Hornet screaming over your head about 100′ up to get your attention. You can feel the power of the twin GE F404 engines – OK, make that hit over the head.

I live in Atlantic Beach, and I did not have to be told that the Blue Angels were in town or that the Sea & Sky Spectacular was happening this past weekend. Come last Thursday I heard them practicing as they flew over my house. Make that felt and heard them practicing.

I went on Sunday, not to where the event was officially held down in Jacksonville Beach, but I stayed right up here in AB (about 5 miles north). I did this the last time they were here, and you do get a different perspective than when at the event site itself. Fortunately, most of the aircraft make low-level approaches from the North right over my little part of the world, including the Angels themselves. There are no crowds to contend with, and, although you give up close views of the acrobatics, you do get a better perspective of the patterns they are making with smoke trails.

You don’t need exotic equipment to shoot an air show. My lenses, although high quality and fast, are fairly moderate in focal length. This is a time where a moderately priced 70-300 will go a long way to getting you great shots.

At this distance, I am able to still fill the frame with the patterns the planes are making. And, when they come close, you can get very intimate shots like this, un-cropped, view of the Diamond.

You can read the names on the cockpit.

One tip for shooting prop planes is to select a shutter speed slow enough to show movement in the prop. Frozen propellers don’t look right – they look like they are on the ground, or a model plane suspended from a ceiling. I shot using 1/200 of a second (and as slow as 1/125) with a stabilized body (other systems use stabilized lenses) to show movement. Even then I would have tried a slightly faster shutter speed – possibly 1/250 next time – as the trick is to show a hint of the prop with motion blur. It is difficult to see the prop if you get full blur.

My favorite shot is the following. This is not photoshopped. Be patient, anticipate, and good things are sure to come your way.

That’s an inverted angel, smoke trail, and Venus. Pretty cool.

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