Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Photographing the Blue Angels Over San Francisco!

The weekend before last was Fleet Week in San Francisco and the main attraction is always the Navy Blue Angels. I have photographed them before, but it has been 5 years since I have made it to the show. This year I made it a priority to get back there to capture new images of these amazing pilots in action. 

A lot has changed in the last 5 years, and I wanted to try my newer camera gear. Last time I photographed the Blue Angels, I was using the Canon 1DX MKII DSLR camera and I really wanted to try photographing the same subjects with the Canon R5 mirrorless camera. I chose this camera for the fast frame rate and the high resolution images. Normally I always shoot to both card slots, but since the CFExpress cards are so much faster than SD cards (and I knew I was going to be shooting a lot of burst images), I chose to remove the SD card and only shoot to the faster card. This meant that my buffer would clear fast and I could shoot endlessly without having to wait for the camera to catch up.

In 2018 I used the Canon 100-400mm lens and this time I used the Canon RF100-500mm lens to have a little more reach.

It was a VERY rare day in San Francisco with temperatures in the 90s. That never happens in my home town! I placed myself in a position hoping to get good photos of the planes in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and also over Alcatraz. As photographers, our job is to tell a story, and the story here was that the Blue Angels were flying over San Francisco. There is no better of telling that story, than showing them over these iconic spots. This is one of my first photos, with one of the planes flying in front of the bridge, and clearly showing the heat coming off the back of the engines. 

This is one of my favorite photos, with four of the planes in front of the bridge with the trailing smoke streams.

I found that the subject tracking of the Canon R5 was awesome for grabbing these planes in focus. I set the ISO to 400 which gave me a shutter speed of more than 1/4000 sec for most of the photos. I figured that I would need a very fast shutter speed due to the speed of the planes going by.

I tried my best to get tight shots of the Blue Angels, but also wide shots like this one (which I cropped to look like a panoramic image).

I also did my best to capture them from all angles.

I saw this plane coming in just above the north tower of the bridge (from my perspective) and zoomed in tight to get a photo. 

With the 45 megapixels of the Canon R5, I can zoom in and see so much detail!

This is the same image cropped even tighter. You can read the name of the pilot on the side of the jet.

The reason I like shooting with a zoom lens like the Canon RF100-500mm lens is that I have the range to shoot in tight, but also pull back and shoot wide like this. 

Even though I have the larger Canon 200-400mm lens with a built-in teleconverter, that lens is too large to handhold in a high position like this. I find the Canon RF100-500mm lens easy to handhold for long periods of time. 

I love capturing the Blue Angels when they present cool repetitive patterns in flight.

It took me a while to get a photo of one of the planes over Alcatraz, but I wanted something better.

I spent a lot of time turning the camera from horizontal to portrait position.

I love the trail of smoke behind this plane, showing the angle of attack he took as he banked over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Once again, I got the planes flying over Alcatraz, but there was a lot of smoke in the air, so the shot was not as clean as I was hoping for. The quest continued...

Thy flew almost directly above us, giving a great view of the bellies of the Navy jets.  

As I watched them split off, I quickly zoomed the lens back from 500mm to 200mm to capture the patterns in the air.

I never really got a super clear shot of the Blue Angels over Alcatraz, but really liked this shot of them forming a great pattern over the old prison. 

As the show ended, all six of the Blue Angels made one last pass along the San Francisco Bay and in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. A chance for a nice shot of these magnificent pilots and machines in front of an iconic location. 

They made one last low pass in front of the crowds before heading off into the distance. 

I was really glad that I used the Canon R5 to capture these images. Even though my Canon R3 has a faster frame rate, the increased resolution of the Canon R5 lets me zoom in and see so much detail. Here is a tighter crop of the same images. You can clearly see each pilot and how they are carefully judging their distance from the planes at their sides.  

I hope you enjoyed seeing these images as much as I did capturing them. 

Two days after this show, I lead my first photo tour of San Francisco and we had an awesome trip. I will blog those images soon. It went so well that I have just added another SF photo tour for 2024. If you would like to join me next year, you can get more information on my photo tour page.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Air Force Thunderbirds were the featured attraction at the Thunder Over the Midlands Air Expo held at Shaw Air Force Base outside of Sumter, South Carolina during the first weekend of May 2012.
Six rolls of 36 exposure B&W film was my budget for the day (I hadn't bought a DSLR yet). Prior to the pilots were boarding their jets, I reloaded my Canon A-1 with a new roll of film (#5 of my 6 rolls). During their performance, I ran out of frames. Fortunately, it was during a lull in their performance where they regrouped. I was ready to use the last roll of film when they came blasting over us. Muscle memory helped reloading in A-1 quickly.
On the use of B&W film: I rediscovered the classic look of B&W film when I photographed Space Shuttle Atlantis final landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (it was a pre-dawn landing). I resolved to shoot 2012 exclusively in B&W.
July 2013, I bought one of my "bucket list" cameras, a used Canon New F-1 with the AE Finder FN and the AE Motor Drive FN. December 2013, I bought the Canon EOS 5D III.