Red Bull Air Race, London. Part 1

I spent Friday through to Sunday covering the Red Bull Air Race in London. Its an amazing site to see. These tiny little planes fly at around 220-230 mph around a course of air gates set along the River Thames just by the O2 (formerly known as the Millennium Dome).

I decided to go to the practice day on Friday to get a feel for the course and the way the planes flew. It was also a chance for me to practice and figure out the best settings to use. The way to photograph any aircraft with props is to make sure that there is blur on the rotating props so as to make it look like they are actually flying; otherwise you get a very fake looking image which looks like you’ve just stuck on the aircraft to the background.
Easier said than done though! These tiny planes are so small and so quick that my initial thought of using a 250th of a second shutter speed proved wrong. After a lot of experimenting I decided to settle for between 640th and 800th which was slow enough for prop blur, but fast enough to let me pan and get a sharp picture of the planes.
The other problem was the very quickly changing light levels and this turned out to be one of the rare occasions that I didn’t shoot on manual exposure. I set my Canon 1D MkIII bodies to TV (shutter priority), and dialled in around a plus stop on the exposure compensation.
My lens choices were the 16-35mm f2.8L MkII, 24-70mm f2.8L, 70-200mm f2.8L IS and a 300mm f2.8L IS, usually with a x1.4 converter attached.
A lot has been said about the 1D MkIII and its focusing issues. When the camera first came out, I did a review for the BJP and I wasn’t impressed by its focusing ability. However, since the hardware fix and the new firmware, the camera behaves like a totally new tool and at most I must have had a 5% out of focus rate (actually probably even less than that). I was very impressed by its performance and standing in almost constant rain on Sunday did nothing to hamper performance.
This was the first proper outing for my new Think Tank Photo “Skins” pouches and I must say I was very impressed with the way they worked.
The days were long, editing even longer (so many pictures!) and captioning longer still; it was a nightmare matching up the pictures to the pilots! A big thanks to Red Bull for having really useful press packs though, fast ethernet connections and most importantly an espresso machine in the press tent!

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