This was a new experience for me — using a long lens to take photos of (very) fast-moving subjects. I work in an office near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and the Blue Angels do their annual Fleet Week Thing basically right in front of us there. We have an open third floor balcony overlooking the Bay, which is just the ticket for this sort of thing, so I brought along my old Nikon D300 and the 70-200mm VR II lens, and hoped for the best….
I’ve watched the airshow from this balcony several times over the years, and I’ve actually had a bit of training as an aerobatics pilot, so you’d think that I’d have a good idea of what I was doing, or that I’d have done this sort of photography before, but no. I made a lot of beginner’s errors. Like getting the autofocus settings wrong, or inadvertently setting the shutter speed too low (how could I have done that?!), or simply not anticipating the various movements of the planes (and panning badly even when I was mentally tracking what was about to happen). And I could really have done with an even longer lens at times, but hey, I can’t afford everything.
But I did get a few good shots — this is my favourite — and next time I try this I’ll probably actually know what the hell I’m doing. I like the way this one’s framed — I didn’t manage to get all four planes completely in the frame, which please me for some reason — and it is at least arguably in focus (which isn’t true for a lot of the other shots). And I like the entirely accidental angle of the scene — I have no idea whether the planes were actually heading down like that — at that stage I was struggling to keep the camera pointed anywhere near the planes.
But nothing conveys the sound of an F/A-18 going straight over you maybe a thousand feet up. If you’ve ever been in the remoter parts of the California or Nevada deserts, you’ll know this sound first hand, but it’s even more intense in an urban setting. And chilling, too, in its own way, if you’ve got any sort of imagination.