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Red Bull Air Races…

May 6th, 2008 · 7 Comments

Last Saturday, I drove with a buddy down to San Diego to stake out a small piece of real-estate on Coronado from which to watch and photograph the qualifying runs of the Red Bull Air Race World Series.

My goal this year was to have my images show marked improvement in sharpness, composition, and “interestingness” over the photographs I took last September during the same event. Personally, I think I hit my goal and then some!

There are three reasons I improved year-over-year, I think. First, my location this year was better. By shooting from the Coronado side of the bay (rather than the San Diego side, as we did last year), I avoided having the sun streaming into my lens from directly in front of me all day, washing out my images and robbing them of contrast. This year’s location also gave me a stunning background in the downtown San Diego skyline, which really helped me impart a sense of speed to the image as the skyline blurred slightly behind the aircraft while I panned the camera to follow them.


The second reason I think my pictures improved from last year’s is that I had better equipment. Although I shot this year’s race with the same Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens as I used last year, this year I paired that lens up with a 2x teleconverter (effectively giving me a 400mm focal length) and then attached the whole stack to my D3. Compared to the D200 I shot with last year, the D3′s far superior ability to maintain focus on fast-moving objects moving towards or away from me really made a big difference in the amount of images that came out properly-focused. Not all were “tack-sharp,” but there was a greater percentage of perfectly focused images than last year.


And the third reason I think my images improved year-over-year is because I have a better understanding now of the relationships between subject and camera movement and exposure settings (in other words, I’ve gotten better at photography). By being more careful in selecting my shutter speeds and f-stops, I had a higher percentage of quality images to total images. Last year, I shot almost 1200 images and came up with 133 images I consider to be viewable by anyone but me…but I only consider about eight of those 133 images to be professional-quality (though a true professional might disagree with my assessment). That’s less than 1% success rate (YUCK)! This year, I shot just under 760 images, and I have 74 that I consider to be professional-quality. ALMOST 10%!! MUCH better! And by taking fewer captures (i.e. concentrating to ensure I make good captures instead of setting the camera to continuous and hoping for the best), I had less work to do to process the images when I got home!

Here are my five favorite images from Red Bull Air Race San Diego 2008!






Take a look at the rest of the images here.
Last year’s images are here or here (for your comparison).

Incidentally, I’m looking for a good title for the last image above. Feel free to make sincere suggestions!

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ron // May 7, 2008 at 4:11 am

    My suggestion for the title would be “What goes up must come down”. Or perhaps just “What goes up…”

    Nice photos! I loved looking at them because it gave me a great chance to look at the mods various teams have made to increase their speeds. Cowl changes, rounded wingtips, etc.

    The Edge 540 has always been a plane which would recover energy faster than an Extra, CAP, or other aerobatic ride. That’s why so many of the Red Bull pilots fly it. But I wonder if these mods are designed primarily to increase top speed, allow the aircraft to accelerate more quickly, or just bleed off less energy in the turns. It seems to me the turns are where the races are won or lost.

    I think about that a lot when flying the Extra, even though I’m usually far enough above the ground that it would be hard to judge.

  • 2 Martin Price // May 7, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Funny, because I don’t think about it quite so much in the Super Decathlon! (Although energy generally does, unsurprisingly, tend to weigh on my mind.)

    Anyway, those are absolutely stunning photos. I had a dreadful view from where we were standing on Sunday but I’m glad you didn’t.

  • 3 Yerma // May 8, 2008 at 3:28 am

    I’d like to print a couple of these, matte them and frame them and hang them up!!!

  • 4 gcalvin // May 9, 2008 at 2:53 am

    That can be arranged, Ma. Where do you want me to put the nails this time?

  • 5 Plastic Pilot | Best of the aviation web - 15 May 08 // May 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    [...] Pilot / Photographer blog If you like richly illustrated blogs about being an airline co-pilot and serious air-shows (and other events) photographer, Rant Air is a must. This particular link goes to photos of the Air Bull Air Race in San Diego. [...]

  • 6 Todd // May 18, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Exceptional photos. I am hoping to make it to the Detroit event next weekend.

  • 7 snowmot99 // May 31, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for sharing, I’m inspired. Tomorrow would be my 1st attempt to shoot an air show. I have the Nikon d50 and coupling it with 18-200vr + 105vr. Did you use any filters?

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