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Blue Angels Looking for Parking

First off, a clarification. I decided to rename the picture to be “Angels” plural, rather than “Angel” singular, because a Google image search revealed to my horror that the query “Blue Angel” produces results for a Hungarian pornographic actress amongst other things like trains and night clubs. (I was in the student lounge, luckily no one was at my back… i don’t think) But anyhow, that’s why the image will from hereon be titled for the entity of the “Blue Angels


Device Model/Make: Nikon D5100
Focal Length: 300mm
F number: 10
Shutter: 1/4000s
ISO: 1600

This shot was taken on my family’s road trip to Michigan, when we stopped by the Great Lakes Science Center for some nerdy sightseeing and relaxation but instead caught a practice session for the Cleveland National Air Show. It was an unexpected surprise, and pretty much as awesome as it looks in this picture. You’ve got a flight of hornets passing within a thousand feet of you, sometimes directly overhead, and the sound is this incredible, body-rattling roar that spans hits you with everything between a giant subwoofer and a sharp 130 dB bark. They’re pulling all sorts of formations and maneuvers, and all you can think of as an Mech/Aero Engineer is “that’s a pretty f*ing awesome machine”.

I chose this picture for two reasons, 1) you can see the entire plane (as opposed to this shot), and b) the people sitting at the edge of the parking lot give the picture a sense of scale, and proximity. This F-18 was LOW. Like… less than 2 wingspans from obliterating itself and smearing the pilot across half a mile of pavement and Great Lake.

Earlier in the day, we had seen a solo F-18 doing some maneuvers with a KC-130 and an F4U Corsair (night-camo, I believe a veteran photographer had told me) which I had used to practice on. I was shooting on Auto at the time, but decided that I had to lay down the law with my camera when it came time for the Blue Angels. I was getting a little bit of blur and fuzziness earlier, so I went to: Aperture Priority, RAW, 1/3 step underexposed locked at f/10 and ISO 1600, no filter. What resulted was some deliciously crisp shots at under 1/1000th of a second exposure times, even when tracking high-speed passes like the one on display here. I could have dropped to ISO 800 with a wider aperture, but I’ve heard that F/11 is generally where you get your peak optical clarity so I tried to stay close to that setting.

FYI, we were shooting from the third floor of the science center… and from the image, you can tell that we were looking down at a jet. Of course, cool stuff also went on at higher altitudes, but nothing takes your breath away quite like a bird buzzing the deck.

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