Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flying high!

The Biggin Hill Airshow is quite a popular event in the UK, for those interested in planes. It seems to be getting bigger and better every year and I had heard quite a lot about it on photography forums. So, when Lasa suggested that we go to see it this year, I jumped at the chance.

We went for the Sunday show (28th June - they had it on the 27th as well) and the weather was looking promising. As can be seen in previous posts, our outings are normally delayed and we never leave at the time that we had initially planned. But this time, we were reasonably well off the mark on time (slight delay but negligible). However, after about driving 20 mts towards our destination, our absent minded, clumsy professor (me) gave out a exclamation of horror. After groping around my pockets I realised I had dropped my glasses somewhere while transferring equipment between the cars (I had my shades on at the time). So, to make sure that they were still in one piece, we had to turn around and go back. Fortunately, the glasses were found - tucked away quite safely in the car (/*sheepish grin*/) but our journey had been delayed by at least an hour - the "Delay Curse" had struck again.

We got to the place by about 10AM and we could see that the crowds were already pouring in and queues were forming. On the way up, we saw a couple of boards which were advertising "park and see" slots to see the air show from the side of a hill. The cost was about a 3rd of the ticket price (which was £21) but we decided to go for the main show as we will be able to see better. The air show was to start at 11AM and we spent some time going around the ground attractions which included some classic cars and some of the planes parked nearby.

When the show was about to start, we grabbed some food (there are several stalls around) and then made our way to the viewing area. It was pretty crowded and lots of people had erected tents, boundaries and brought chairs and umbrellas (experienced and smart). The only thing we had brought was a sheet to put on the ground :) But we made our way deftly through the crowd and we were able to find a vacant spot in the front. I set up my tripod and ball head (which turned out to be quite useful in capturing the action shots) and loaded my Bigmos (150-500mm lens).

Unfortunately, most of my shots turned out to be crap for several reasons
1) I usually use a CP filter with the Bigmos and unfortunately for some reason the focus was being thrown off because of the filter. This resulted in a lot of shots going bad as I struggled with the settings to get the proper shot.
2) Sun/light levels were constantly changing because of a lot of cloud cover especially during the early part of the day - getting exposure spot on while balancing a proper shutter speed was a challenge
3) When getting shots of planes you need to be quick with regards to shutter speeds - you need to get a fast enough shutter speeds to get the image sharp (a challenge with some of them at the speeds they were zipping by) but also slow enough to get a bit of motion blur on the propellers which would give the impression that the plane is flying (otherwise it looks as if it is a model suspended in air). It was also a challenge switching between the speeds of the older planes and the newer ones.
4) Its a whole new learning experience when you are shooting planes at such close range and at such speeds as you need to be quite good at panning and focusing. This was the first time I had started to pan and using AI Servo so the learning curve was steep but it was quite a useful experience.

I ended up taking about 600-700 shot altogether but only a very small percentage came out ok. But I think the keeper percentage will be much more the next time I photograph such an event as now I know how to handle it (reasonably). Just goes to show that however much you read, the best way of learning is to actually experience it.

Anyways, some reasonably ok shots -
World War II planes
Fokker triplane
The famed Spitfire
The jets were a real challenge
Loved some of the group formation stuff they did

The highlight of the show for me was when there was a special fly by of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flanked by the Red Arrows team, to the Virgin Airlines theme tune. Classic!

The Red Arrows gave great display as well with some great formations and some very funny commentary as well - with bits of comments/talk directly from the pilots.


And some obligatory portraits of our group - I am in there as well (if you look carefully) :)

Overall, a great day - much more fun and interesting than what I thought it was going to be. Highly recommended. Might even go again next year :D


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