“Use the “M”

California Capital Airshow, Mather Field (near Sacramento), October 1, 2016. Conditions: It was hot and I wanted to minimize camera weight. I also wanted maximum “reach” (which usually means “heavy”). To complicate matters, a general admission ticket meant the aircraft and the sun occupied the same air space. So this story is all about shooting under difficult conditions.


Since there was plenty of light, I chose to use a 200mm zoom with an f/4 maximum aperture. It is much lighter than a f/2.8 and easier to handle.

Maximum Reach

Tracking a jet flying overhead at 400 mph is lots of fun … getting close enough to see the pilot wave at you is even better. To get closer I used a camera with a cropped sensor and a 1.4x lens extender. Together they boosted my effective reach to 448mm at f/5.6.


Here’s the reason this story is titled “Use the M”. Modern digital cameras do an excellent job of setting the exposure controls for you. But most professional photographers prefer to set their own using the “manual” setting. Since the airplanes and sun were generally in the same direction, I exposed for the shady side of the planes keeping the f/stop at the maximum f/5.6 and balancing a shutter speed of 1/2500 with an ISO of 800. Yes, the sky is over exposed and you don’t get the best colors, but it’s one approach you can try the next time you see a blue angel.

P.S. Concerning airplanes with propellers, some photographers like to use a slow shutter speed to blur the props. That way it looks realistic … not hanging from a string.


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