The recession finally hit home with this avid air show photographer, when the Blue Angels had to cancel their current season.  Photographing air shows is one of my favorite hobbies!  Curse you, politics…  :-P

Okay, political issues aside, here’s today’s photo…

The Photo

13-Airshow-005(Click here for a larger image!)

The Equipment and Settings

The Shooting Conditions

Shooting air shows is the best situation (actually, the only) I shoot in for demonstrating the use of shutter priority mode.  People often think that shutter priority is what you use to shoot fast action because you want to dictate a very fast shutter speed, when in fact most action sports photographers get the same result by simply shooting in aperture priority with their aperture wide open.  This will always ensure that you get the absolute best shutter speed possible without ruining your exposure.  (Or, you could just shoot manual exposure if the lighting is even enough for an indoor sports event, however outdoors for air shows that is just never the case!)

The reason I shoot in shutter priority is actually counter-intuitive:  I don’t just want 100% sharpness, I actually want a specific balance between blur and sharpness.  The best example of this is a panning shot.  When you try and get motion blur by panning your camera, you are always trying to cut it as close as possible with your shutter speed.  For example photographing an aircraft at 260mm, I know I can’t go any lower than about 1/100 sec before the entire image starts getting blurry, not just the background.

As another example, let’s switch from jets to propeller planes and helicopters.  This first image was made at 1/90 sec and 150mm.


I wish I could shoot at a slower shutter speed to get a little more blur out of the rotors, but helicopter rotor blades don’t actually spin that fast, at least not on these larger cargo helicopters.  Helicopter main rotor blades are usually around just a few hundred RPM. An airplane propeller, by comparison, spins far faster and so this second image (of the Blue Angels’ “Fat Albert”) was made at 1/350 sec and yet blur is still achieved…



In case you’re wondering, the whole point of getting these blades / propellers etc. to blur is to avoid what some photographers call “the falling helicopter” look.  Just imagine if the blades / rotors were absolutely perfectly sharp, if for whatever reason I had shot at 1/8000 sec or something.  The helicopter would look like it was frozen in mid-air, and if you stare at such an image for long enough you start to trip out about how it could just be suspended there in mid-air.  Thus, a little bit of blur helps to indicate motion (and therefore, flight) to the image viewer.

The Post-Production

All of these images were made many years ago, on a D70, in JPG. (So as to maximize the puny buffer on that camera!)  All-post-production was therefore limited to simple exposure, contrast, and saturation adjustments.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this little tidbit on using shutter priority (and shutter speed in general) to control certain amounts of motion blur!  And, here’s to hoping that the Blue Angels return for next season!

Take care,
=Matthew Saville=

About The “Photo of the Day” Series

If you’ll notice, the SLR Lounge “Photo of the Day” articles are posted in the Photography / Shooting section of our website, not the Inspiration section.  This is on purpose, because these images are simply meant to be a daily dose of “here’s how we shot a random cool photo!”  …and not so much as “wow here’s the most incredible photo we’ve seen in 24 hours, it will blow your mind!”  We wanted to escape from the typical inspirational photo type posts a little bit, because they are often lacking in helpful background information about the equipment used, camera settings, and details of the shooting conditions or the photographer’s thoughts.  Hopefully you find these posts to be helpful insights into how you might approach a certain situation or style of shooting!