This weekend is Fleet Week here in San Francisco and given numerous emails I’ve received about photographing the event I thought I would consolidate my tips to photographing the Blue Angels. Following these tips should put you on the fast track to walking away with some great photos.
Logistics – Be Prepared
In San Francisco that means get to the show very early. Parking is always a challenge and will test your patience. Don’t let the search for parking ruin your day. If you want to avoid that aggravation then take public transportation and/or park far away.
Bring a lunch or a snack. Get the nutrients and fluids you need in your system ahead of time so you can keep your eye on the show and not your bag of chips.
Finding an unobstructed view can be a challenge. Arriving early will not only enable you to find the best location possible but will give you the time to scout out various spots to set up.
Know Where Center-Point Is
Center-point is the physical location that all Blue Angels maneuvers are centered around. This is the mark they aim to criss cross over and navigate around. For Fleet Week here in San Francisco that point is in front of Aquatic Park. Knowing this location is critical if you plan to capture the Blue Angels Criss-Cross maneuver.
Location, Location, Location!
As with realestate location is everything. In San Francisco for Fleet Week there really isn’t a bad spot. I have taken photos of the Blue Angels from a variety of locations over the years including Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, Pier 39, Crissy Field,Â Angel Island, and around the Golden Gate Bridge. Depending on what type of photo you want, what background subjects you’d like to have and the amount of hiking or crowds you’ll have to deal with choose appropriately. Honestly there isn’t a bad spot.
It is possible to get great photos of the Blue Angels here in San Francisco with virtually any focal length. Most air show photographs that you’ll see are taken with longer focal lengths to zoom in on the planes.Â What focal length you’ll need for such shots depends on your location and the magnification factor of your dSLR. Its possible to get great tight photos using a focal length of anywhere from 200 to 400mm. Unless you’re very far away a longer focal length is over kill. In addition super long focal lengths make it challenging to track the planes. With that being said it is possible to get phenomenal photos of the Blue Angels with a shorter and even wide focal length. Shorter focal lengths enable you to capture not just the planes flying overhead, but the crowd around you.
Normal Autofocus or Servo Mode
You’ll have to experiment with this. For those that are unfamiliar with the difference… Autofocus requires you to half click the Shutter Release Button to focus on your subject.Â Servo enables you to focus your subject in or near the center point of the frame and as the subject moves closer or farther the camera automatically focuses for you. The upside to Servo is that you can pan with a subject with minimal work to keep it in focus… in theory. If for any reason your camera confuses your point of focus your camera will keep your subject, the plane(s), blurred. If this happens enough you’ll be ripping your hair out. To avoid this you can stick with the normal Autofocus and half click and shoot quickly as you pan. This can take some practice.
Capture the Action with a Fast Shutter Speed
Greater than 1/800 sec for slower maneuvers
Over 1/1200 sec for faster maneuvers
>1/2000 sec for speed demonstrations
To attain such fast shutter speeds you’ll need to pay attention to what ISO your camera is set to. 400 ISO is a good starting point, but if weather conditions are cloudy you may need to bump your ISO up.
Don’t Use A Polarizer
If you do minimize the polarization to get the fastest shutter speed possible and to minimize over darkening the sky.
Include Your Surroundings
Clouds add a heightened sense of … altitude. Landmarks and people provide a needed sense of scale.
Fleet Week brings out tons of people. Sure you may cross paths with someone having a bad day, but its in your best interest to take the high road with most any confrontation. Remember that this is a family event and there will be many kids in attendance. If you’re in a location where you might obstruct the view of a child or shorter person do what you can to move and clear the way for them to see the show.
These tips should put you on track to get some great photos and have an even better time at the event.
If you take photos of this weekends Fleet Week airshow add a link in the comments. I’d love to see what you come away with.
[tags]Photography, Photo, Tip, Blue Angels, Fleet Week, airshow, San Francisco, California[/tags]