2014 Vectren Dayton Air Show

July 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Last weekend was the 40th Dayton Air Show and every year it is fun to watch the performance of both modern and historic aircraft. Dayton is the birthplace of flight. It was in 1903 that brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright piloted their glider at Kill Devils Hill, North Carolina. They returned to Dayton and build a stronger and more powerful machine and practice at Huffman Prairie. This would lead to the development of the Wright "B" Flyer, which flies at the air show. If you become an honorary member of the Wright B. Flyer, Inc. and you'll get a free orientation ride on their "Brown Bird" pictured below.

After last year's sequestration prevented any military aircraft from  participating in the Vectren Dayton Air Show, it was great to see the return of the main attraction, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, along with the U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier and U.S. Coast Guard's helicopter. It was also a year after the loss of wingwalker Jane Wicker and her pilot Charlie Schwenker died tragically when the plane crashed during their performance.

I love aviation photography because of the challenge of capturing these really awe inspiring machines. In years past, I have used mostly zoom lenses to capture the action. Last year, I used Canon's 100mm-400mm f/5.6 L lens, which is a great lens to capture planes and still have the ability to zoom out for the stunt plane smoke trails. Normally, I would rent a teleconverter for the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens which turns it into a 140-400mm lens, but I decided to purchased a used Canon 2x teleconverter this year. Paired with my Canon 200mm f/2.8 L ii lens, I had a 400mm lens. I also picked up a used 40D for its 6.5 frames per second for less than a third of the price when it was new back in 2007.

I was heistant to take just a long prime lens, but I have shot a few air shows before and really felt that I could just experiment with one long focal length. Instead of worrying about fitting the plane in the frame and zooming in and out, I just shot when I what I wanted fit within the frame. Of course, not everything fit in the frame from time to time such as the Blue Angels' transport plane, the C-130 Hercules nickenamed "Fat Albert."

The most challenging shots were of the propeller driven airplanes. While using fast shutter speeds for jets is fine, it stops the motion of the propeller making it seem as if the plane should drop from the air. In order to show motion as the propeller spins, you slow the shutter speed to 1/250th or slower. However, this introduces blur of the plane especially with long telephoto lenses. This is where the panning technique comes in handy as well as fast frame per second (fps) rate. As the plane passes, you follow it with the lens and then press the shutter in continuous burst mode. Many of these images will be blurry especially when shooting a slower shutter, but when timing aligns up with the plane, then you can get a clear image of the plane, the propeller in motion and a nice background blur such as the image below of Patty Wagstaff flying upside down or a shot of the very talented Sean D. Tucker. 

I mentioned the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. The HH-65 Dolphin helicopter is a staple of rescue missions for our Coast Guard. As with the propellor on planes, the rotor needs to be blurred. Since it moves at a slower speed than an airplane's propeller, you'll need to use even slower shutter speeds. I knew I'd only get a handful of sharp images of the Dolphin helicopter as they demonstrated a rescue mission for the crowd.

You can view my images below or purchase prints and other items here. Use coupon code AIRSHOW2014 for 35% off!



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