…morning light is magic…

Wings Over Houston Airshow

It’s October which means it’s almost time for the Wings Over Houston airshow, which is my favorite weekend of the year.  Dug these photos out of the archives from last year to get me in the mood for another airshow.  I’m bummed this year that the F22 Raptor won’t be flying as originally planned but they do need to concentrate on getting it flying again safely after the stand down.

Last year was a good time with the Thunderbirds back again.  I spend Friday afternoon at the end of the runway and all day Sat/Sun at the airshow.  Long days but a very good time.  Here are some tips for the airshow based on my experience.

Logistics:  I like to get there early when they open to get a spot along the fence for clear access to shots of the Tora Tora Tora explosions.  I usually take the park and ride bus from Bay Area Blvd.  They start running at 7:30 a.m.  It gets you there when they open the gates at 8:00 a.m. and gets you back to the lot after the show, bypassing some of the traffic without you having to worry about parking.  Recommend taking a folding chair to set up along the fence when you first get there to save your spot and then walk around the area to get some early morning light shots of the static displays.  Just remember to put your name on your chair to make sure that you can find it again, speaking from experience.  The gates open at 8:00 a.m. and they start flying around 10:00 a.m. with the main act around 3:00 p.m.  They have plenty of food booths around for feasting during the show.

Camera Equipment:  I typically just take my camera and 100-400 lens without a camera bag.  They won’t let you in with a large bag but I’ve seen people with camera backpacks get in without any problem.  I just like to travel light and don’t want to worry about keeping track of a large bag.  I use as small Think Tank pouch on my belt to hold a spare battery, memory cards, sunscreen and a poncho if it looks like rain.  Make sure that you take plenty of memory cards as it’s easy to take tons of shots.  Don’t bother with taking a tripod, which isn’t practical to use at an airshow.

Camera settings:  When shooting the planes going by, just consider them large birds and use some of the same techniques as birds in flight.  For jets, use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and crank up the exposure compensation to get a good exposure against the bright sky.  I usually use aperture priority with the aperture wide open and +2/3 to +1 exposure compensation.  Check the histogram after the first pass and adjust the exp. compensation to get the correct exposure.  For WWII prop planes, I use shutter priority to use a slow shutter speed down to blur the props.  The zero’s have a faster prop speed than most of the rest of the warbirds.  I typically start with 1/320 sec for most of the prop planes and speed it up a little to 1/400 sec. for zero’s.  Helicopters require much slower shutter speeds to blur the blades.

The shot to try to get is the F-18 high-speed pass when it gets very close to the sound barrier.  If there is enough moisture in the air you can get a shot of the vapor cone that forms around the aircraft.  The air was too dry last year so no luck with the cone but I’ll be trying again this year.  It’s a challenge to judge the timing to catch the cone but try to maintain focus on the plane as he is coming towards you and then start shooting when he gets to the right of show center.  Just don’t miss it as you will have only one chance.  Good luck.

Here is a link to the airshow website.  http://www.wingsoverhouston.com/

F-16 Thunderbird taken near the end of the runway along Hwy 3

F4U Corsair doing a fly over at the end of the runway

Another end of the runway shot on Friday of an A-10 Warthog

Photo of a Japanese Zero with a B-17 in the background.

Action shot during the Tora Tora Tora exhibition.

B-17 flying fortress

B-24 bomber, if memory serves me correctly

Thunderbirds in action

Early morning light on cockpit.

Zero being chased.

Chopper at sunrise.

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7 responses

  1. Patti Edens

    Wow! Tim, as always, you got some incredible “birds” in flight shots. The ones of the light on the cockpit and the chopper at sunrise both have your signature style and are beautiful photos!

    This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Thanks for the tips. I hope to try it this year.

    October 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

  2. Thanks Patti. It’s a blast so I’m hoping that you can make it. It’s the reason that I bought my 100-400 lens so it works well for birds of all kinds. Hope to see you there.

    October 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

  3. Good post with great info for everyone. Only day I can, maybe, possibly go would be Saturday. Not sure about carrying the 500mm all day and how well it would do (missing the 200-400). I am also disapointed about the F22. I have been absent from a lot lately but perhaps I can at least make the end of the runway that Friday.

    October 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    • Thanks David. The 500 would be a challenge and too long in some cases. Just need to buy another 200-400….

      October 14, 2011 at 4:38 am

  4. Norma DeLaGarza

    Hi Tim,

    So approx. what time are you doing the end of the runway shots? Do they usually keep a pretty consistent practice schedule? As iusually happens, I’m working this weekend but I am off on Friday so I hope to get some photos then.

    Thanks,

    Norma DeLaGarza

    October 13, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    • Norma, I usually get there around noon on Firday but they probably start flying earlier. The main act usually flies around 2:00 p.m. In past years they would let you park along hwy 3 but last year then banned parking along the road and I ended up hanging out in a warehouse parking lot accross the street. Good luck and have fun.

      October 14, 2011 at 4:41 am

  5. kanishka desilva

    Tim,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I went there today (Friday) and got some good shots of the snowbirds doing their practice runs. I will be there tomorrow.

    October 15, 2011 at 12:07 am

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