So there I was at the Paris Air show, strapped into Alpha Jet No 1 belonging to the leader of the first section of the Patrouille de France, as the second section formed up alongside. I snapped away deliriously through the perfectly cleaned Perspex of the canopy as I fulfilled a lifelong dream of experiencing free flight in the hands of an aeriel acrobat.
I woke from that reverie on the ground, from where I really captured this image, alongside the hundreds of other avid airshow photographers. Nevertheless, I was quite happy to have captured a number of photographs which seemed to have been taken from the air in accompanying aircraft, due to my position at the edge of the runway, the evolutions of the aircraft and the enhancement of my telephoto lens with a teleconverter.
I chose to show one of the jet-engined images, since I was unhappy with most of the propeller-driven aircraft which I photographed in the air. Why? Because if you shoot at high speed, you “freeze” the propellors, which appear to be not moving at all and so, to the human mind’s eye, the plane looks to be about to stall. In order to render the propeller blur in the way that our eyes are used to seeing them in operation, you have to photograph at less than 1/125s and be highly trained in panning the camera, so as to follow the movement of the aircraft perfectly, thereby allowing for in-focus capture. I am, unhappily, not so trained and, having rare access to high speed objects, have no need to practice that art.
This image was therefore only possible, because I was well-positioned at the point of take off on the runway and able to shoot just as the aircraft rose above the buildings on the horizon at the far side of the airfield. For that same reason, they were in relatively close proximity, about only 500 metres away. I set the camera to “Shutter priority”, such that the image would be captured at 1/2500s and at ISO 800, despite it being a sunny Summer’s day, so that the aperture would stay reasonably small and add to the image sharpness factor.
Man and Machine
The airshow was a dazzling tribute to the skill and courage of the extraordinary men and women, mainly French, who flew that day. There were several female World Aerobatics champions, and two other stunt pilots, one man and one woman who had overcome loss of the use of their legs in accidents to learn to fly at a high level of accomplishment. Another stunt pilot lady happens to be the current Director of the Le Bourget History of Aviation Museum, where the Paris Airshow is based.
The show commentator reminded us of the long history of French aviation and specifically the resonance with this place, which is where Lindbergh landed after his solo crossing of the Atlantic. He was met by a crowd of 300,000 on the field and was guided in to the airfield by the headlights of another 300,000 drivers stuck in traffic jams between Paris and Le Bourget.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G
Teleconverter TC-14E II 1.4x
Focal Length: 280mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Shutter Speed: 1/2500s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
And here is the poem which I tried to honour with my caption for this blog…
High Flight 18 August 1941
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr 9 June 1922 – 11 December 1941
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015