The biennial Aero India show held in Bangalore makes February all the more special for me. It’s the month of love and certainly a time to celebrate my love for all things aviation and aviation photography, in particular. Listening to the deafening screams of the fighter-jet engines as they whiz past me at 150 mph (approx.) during take-off and feeling my heart beating fast is a visceral rush of adrenaline that I love, crave, and thrive upon.
The sweltering heat, the surging crowds, and the long commute notwithstanding, I’ve attended 4 editions so far in the last 6 years. Armed with my Nikon d7000 and an aging 55-200 VR Nikkor lenses and enough stamina to stand the entire day for 4 days, it’s a ritual and pilgrimage not for the faint hearted. So why do I do this?
You have to love this truly, madly, deeply to watch the same kinds of aircraft perform similar maneuvers, year after year. But loving all things aviation isn’t difficult at all because I grew up on a healthy diet of aviation love, passed on to me by my dad who worked in HAL. He is now 86 and was at the front and center of the Indian Independence Struggle and lived through World War II. Meal time conversations often include stories of the Spitfire to the Hawker Tempest, or India’s first, fighter-bomber aircraft HAL – HF-24 Marut. As a 19-year old, he had gotten yelled at for walking on the girders of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator during flight and with the bomb bay doors open!
My favorite part of the Bangalore air show is the sighting of the De Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth. A vintage beauty from the World War II era, my dad had flown on this trainer aircraft! While he can’t make it to air shows anymore because of his limited mobility. I make every effort to take great pictures and bring the air show to him.
Aviation photography translates to a few things:
- Start early and leave as late as you can from the venue.
- Find a great viewpoint and make it your own.
- Use fast, semi-telephoto lenses which are relatively easy to handle without a tripod.
- Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate! You’ll always see the fighter first. By the time you hear the engine shake and rattle the ground, she will be long gone and it will be a missed opportunity for you 🙂
- Manage exposure compensation settings for those afternoon photos.
Of these, I can control only 4 and 5. I’m yet to invest in the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm because they don’t come cheap! Finding a great spot and then keeping it is no easy task at the Bangalore Air Show. The crowds literally charge towards the fence/barricades when they hear a combat aircraft start its engines because that revving sound is pure bliss and completely addictive. In these conditions, your best bet is the waiting game. If you wait long enough and work hard enough (that’s just rhetoric, BTW because there’s no such thing as ‘hard enough’ in aviation photography or life), there are many opportunities practice your craft. Even if you have just one, great picture, the joy of having worked for that is worth the effort of many days. It teaches you invaluable life lessons in a world that thrives on instant gratification.
Mastery – The Unattainable (moving) Target
This is probably the most compelling reason for me to participate in air shows. Mastery is continuous, work-in-progress. Sometimes, I’m incredibly lucky and the focal length, clarity, light, composition, angle etc. are all to my satisfaction. But I’m only as good as my last trade, as they say. I average about 800-1000 photos in a single day at the air show. Of them, I’m likely to shortlist only about 200. Only a fraction of those will be processed and shared. Even with the relatively slower, choppers, cargo aircraft or the sky writers drawing beautiful loops in the sky, it’s hard work and doesn’t always guarantee success. So it’s a great leveler. You don’t believe me? Let me share one of my mistakes with you 🙂 I was in a vantage position and this Sukhoi Su-30MKI took off in front of me. But in my excitement, I miscalculated the focal length and missed the nose cone of this gorgeous plane. At speeds of 155 mph and always accelerating, you get only one chance to get it right.
“…Who needs love when you can fly (in) a MiG-29…”
If I’d pick one quote to describe the magic of flying, it’s this comment on a YouTube video of this legendary, Soviet plane.
So…what creates a million goosebumps for you? What’s your calling? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment or post a link.
Thanks to Mark Schaefer for making me fall in love with the art of story telling, again. And thanks to Cisco and our fearless leader Dr. Robert Kovach for leading the way and inspiring me to share this story!