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2019 Manassas Airshow by Todd Henson

The Bealeton Flying Circus Wingwalkers

It’s been a few years since I attended an airshow, so this year my father and I made our way to the Manassas Regional Airport for the 2019 Manassas Airshow held on Saturday, May 4. This is only my second time at this show, and I certainly hope it’s not my last. I really enjoy these shows.

This year had some of the same performers as the last show we attended, but it also had new ones to add a little variety. And some of the same pilots were flying different aircraft. The weather looked somewhat questionable at first, with the possibility of rain, and some low lying clouds. Thankfully it cleared enough by noon that the aerial performers were given the go-ahead.

Click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

RJ Gritter and his Bellanca Decathalon

RJ Gritter was flying his Bellanca Decathalon, performing some amazing aerobatics, trailing white smoke through most of the show. His plane is painted in red, white and blue.

RJ Gritter pulling up in his Bellanca Decathalon

RJ Gritter flying by in his Bellanca Decathalon

The Flying Circus Wingwalkers

The wingwalkers from the Bealeton Flying Circus always put on an amazing performance. Chuck Tippett flies their Stearman biplane while Joe Bender climbs out on the wings to perform a number of different incredible moves. He flies like superman, stands atop the plane, and this year they also flew the US flag. Beautiful sight.

Look closely to see Joe Bender flying like Superman between the wings of the Stearman biplane, flown by Chuck Tippett, of the Bealeton Flying Circus.

Chuck Tippett and Joe Bender of the Bealeton Flying Circus flying a US flag atop their Stearman biplane.

Art Nalls and his L-29 Albatross

Art Nalls performed this year in his L-29 Albatross, a very maneuverable jet flown by a very capable pilot.

Art Nalls performing a flyby in his L-29 Albatross.

Art Nalls and his L-29 Albatross may look like they are floating above the runway because of the fast shutter speed I used, but he was, in fact, flying by quite fast.

The Bealeton Flying Circus

This year the Bealeton Flying Circus flew four of their biplanes in formation, circling the airport a number of times. They looked amazing as they turned against clouds, the sun highlighting each plane. I’d love to visit Bealeton and see them perform on their home turf.

Four biplanes from the Bealeton Flying Circus flying in formation against the cloudy sky.

The Bealeton Flying Circus Stearman biplans flying in formation.

Lee Leet and his Super Tucano

I love the look of Lee Leet’s Super Tucano, a turboprop aircraft that was a lot of fun to watch.

Lee Leet flying his Super Tucano.

Lee Leet landing his Super Tucano.

Chef Pitts and his Pitts S1S

Chef Pitts performed some absolutely incredible aerobatics in his small red Pitts S1S. This guy was absolutely amazing. There’s no way I could list all the incredible moves he performed. This was one of my favorite parts of the airshow.

Chef Pitts and his amazingly aerobatic Pitts S1S biplane.

Chef Pitts taking his Pitts S1S down for a 1-wheeled landing.

Warrior Flight Team

The Warrior Flight Team was back, flying a pair of Czechoslovakian L-39 jets, piloted by Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche and LCDR Mark “Crunchy” Burgess. Awesome performance.

Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche and LCDR Mark “Crunchy” Burgess of Warrior Flight Team performing a synchronized flyby in their L-39’s.

One of the Warrior Flight Team L-39’s coming in from a distance, trailing smoke.

US Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team

One of the highlights of this years show was the performance by the US Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team. I have always loved the A-10, both the look of it, and the way it moves. It’s such an incredible and capable aircraft, and they did a great job showing off some of its capabilities.

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt performing a flyby.

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt quickly changing orientation. Notice the air being forced over the tops of the wings near the fuselage and trailing from their tips.

P-51 Mustang in the Parade of Planes

At the end of the show was the Parade of Planes, where a large number of aircraft all took to the sky, one at a time, most of which had not performed in the airshow. One of the highlights for me was an absolutely gorgeous shiny silver P-51 Mustang. I just love the look of this aircraft.

P-51 Mustang taking off. The rear tire has already left the runway.

US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 and the Crowds

In addition to the performances, the Manassas Airshow included a nice collection of static displays. The photo here shows some of the crowd walking around the show, along with a US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 helicopter in the background. The tail of the helicopter was open, with folks lining up to walk through it.

Crowds walking around the 2019 Manassas Airshow, with a US Marine Super Stallion CH-53 helicopter in the background.

Final Thoughts

I had a great time at the 2019 Manassas Airshow. These shows always seem to be over far too quickly. I do wonder sometimes if I should try attending one without bringing a camera, so I can just relax and watch the show. But I really enjoy photographing them, so that would be tough to do.

This year I decided to use my 200-400 mm f/4 lens, a large and slightly heavy lens, but one that works really well for these shows. Though it’s a bit heavy, it’s still light enough to hand hold for short bursts as the planes fly by. A lighter lens would be nice, though. In the past I’ve also used and been happy with a 70-200 mm.

I found myself switching back and further between aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode. I used shutter priority for the slower flying propellor-based aircraft so I could capture motion in the propellers. And I used aperture priority for the faster flying jets to get a faster shutter speed. In the future I think I will just stick to shutter priority and adjust the shutter speed as I see fit. I don’t really know why I kept flipping to aperture priority, other than that’s the setting I most often use.

For the fast moving jets I tended to use a much faster shutter speed, for example 1/1000 to 1/3000 of a second. That helped assure I captured sharp images of the jets, though in one case it captured the L-29 Albatross seemingly hovering over the runway, when in fact it was moving very fast. I should have used a slower shutter speed in that case to blur the background as I panned with the jet.

When the propeller aircraft were flying I lowered my shutter speed to between 1/25 to 1/125 of a second. This increased the chances of blurry photographs, but it assured I’d capture movement in the propeller. If you use a fast shutter speed you may freeze the propeller, which looks very strange when the aircraft is in the air. This also helped blur the background as I panned with the planes when they flew low enough to see trees behind the planes.

This year was a great year for the Manassas Airshow. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I very much look forward to attending again in the future. If you’ve never been to an airshow I’d highly recommend you give one a try.


9 Creative Uses for Slow Shutter Speeds by Todd Henson

4 sec exposure of Washington Monument, D.C.

Using slow shutter speeds to create long exposures is a great way to add a little more creativity to your photography. The uses for slow shutter speeds are almost endless. Below are 9 examples.

Examples of Slow Shutter Speeds

1. Waterfalls

Waterfalls are a classic example of using slow shutter speeds creatively in landscape photography. As you slow the shutter speed the water begins to blur, turning into a silky smooth flow instead of frozen droplets of water. The shutter speed you choose will depend on your personal preference and the speed of the water. How smooth do you like the water? Do you want to show a little motion but still capture some of the raw energy of the water? Or do you want to completely blur the water into a rolling milky stream? This technique almost always requires a tripod to stabilize the camera during the exposure.

Here I show examples of several waterfalls and rapids shot at different shutter speeds so you can see the effects different shutter speeds have. At faster shutter speeds (shorter exposure) you can see more movement in the water. At slower shutter speeds (longer exposure) the water turns into a milky flow. Which image is best is a personal preference.

2. Whitewater Sports

When shooting sports you can use faster shutter speeds to freeze the action, or use slower shutter speeds to add a little creative blur, showing motion. Whitewater sports, such as kayaking, is a great example of adding a little drama by slowing down the shutter speed and capturing motion blur in the water, and sometimes in the athlete as well. As with waterfalls, which shutter speed you choose is personal preference, and a factor of what you’re trying to capture. Perhaps you want to fully freeze the athlete but show a little motion in the water spray. Or perhaps you want a longer exposure to show a lot of flowing motion in the water. The longer the shutter speed the more difficult it will be to capture a sharp image of the athlete, but depending on how the athlete is moving it can be done. And a little motion in the athlete is not always a bad thing, especially if you’re trying for a more artistic photograph. This technique can be performed hand-held or with a tripod. If you use a tripod loosen the head to allow you to move the camera.

3. Landscapes with Water or Clouds

Long exposures can still water in a landscape or blur moving clouds in the sky. Longer exposures are more likely to still the water, and longer exposures will blur the clouds more. If the clouds are moving very fast or you use a very long exposure you can turn the clouds into nothing more than white streaks in the sky. If the water is reasonably flat you can sometimes still it enough to show reflections that more closely match the subject. Instead of wavy reflections you can capture straight ones. You can see an example of this in the photo of the Washington Monument. This technique usually requires a tripod.

20 sec exposure. The water near the camera is perfectly still and the clouds show some motion blur. The extra gold and blue tones are caused by a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer.

4. Turning People into Ghosts or Removing People from a Scene

Have you ever been to a monument or other scene that you’d like to photograph without any people, but there are too many people around and they never leave the scene? Sometimes you can use a very long exposure to eliminate most or all of the people, provided the people are moving fast enough. Slow the shutter down (use a long exposure) and you will start to blur the motion of the people. Slow it down enough and the people won’t even show up in the final image. This doesn’t always work, but give it a try. This technique is best used with a tripod.

To create ghosts you choose a middle ground shutter speed, something slow enough to blur the people, but fast enough to capture them. You really have to experiment with this technique. Which shutter speed you choose depends on how fast the people are moving and how blurry, or ghost-like, you want to capture them.

Many people have become ghosts in the first photo below. The second photo uses a slower shutter speed, but it's not long enough to make the fast moving people completely disappear. You can still see some blurred motion from them. But if I'd taken an even longer exposure, perhaps 10 or 20 seconds, most of the people would have disappeared.

5. Stationary Panning

You can capture some very dynamic photos if you stand still and pan with a moving subject, using a slow shutter speed. The goal is to try to capture the subject mostly in focus but blur the background. This takes a lot of practice. Examples of this are photographing bicycles or vehicles as they pass by on the street, and capturing birds in flight. This technique is most easily performed hand-held. If you use a tripod loosen the head to allow the camera to move.

6. Panning While Moving

Similar to stationary panning, but this time you are moving while panning. The subject could be stationary or moving. As an example of a moving subject, you could photograph a moving motorcycle from a moving car. For a stationary subject you could photograph a farm and fields from a moving car. Objects closer to the camera will exhibit more motion blur than objects at a distance. This technique is most easily performed hand-held.

1/20 sec exposure from the passenger side of a moving car (I was the passenger, not the driver). Notice the motion blur of the green field.

7. Air Shows

Air shows hosting aircraft with propellers are a great place to try slower shutter speeds. When an aircraft has a moving propeller it’s best to try to capture some motion in that propeller. Creating a photograph of a moving plane with a perfectly frozen propeller just doesn’t look right, it looks fake. But capturing some motion in the propeller helps convey the motion of the aircraft. This technique can be performed hand-held or with a tripod. If using a tripod loosen the head to allow the camera to move.

1/50 sec exposure. This is another example of stationary panning. I was standing still while panning with the moving aircraft.

8. Zooming During Exposure

If you have a zoom lens you can really get creative by using a longer shutter speed and zooming the lens during the exposure. This is best performed from a tripod, but you can also try doing this hand held. The key is experimentation. Try zooming out during the exposure, then try zooming in during the exposure. They give different results. Try different subjects, different angles. Look for colors that can blur during the zoom.

9. Moving Camera During Exposure

This technique doesn’t require anything but a camera with a lens. Any camera will do provided you can use slow shutter speeds. You don’t need a tripod. All you need to do is move the camera during the exposure. You don’t even need to look through the viewfinder if you don’t want to. Experiment. Try different subjects, different shutter speeds, different motions. I don’t do this very often, but it’s something worth trying and I’d like to put a little more time into it. The results are usually far more abstract than many forms of photography. You may create photos of abstract blurs of color. Or perhaps you partially pan on a subject, then move elsewhere and create something close to a double exposure.

2.5 sec exposure while moving the camera. Notice the multiple ghosted images of the Jefferson Memorial.

How to Get Slow Shutter Speeds

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to try some long exposure photography. But how do you do it? How do you slow the shutter speed down? There are various ways to achieve slower shutter speeds (longer exposures), depending on what gear you have available.

  1. Shoot on an overcast day, when there is less sunlight, or at night. There’s less light at these times, so the camera will require more time to capture enough light to create the photograph.

  2. Use a smaller aperture. This means apertures with higher numbered f-stops, such as f/16, f/22, f/32, etc. This will limit the light entering the camera and allow you to lengthen the exposure, as the camera needs more time to capture enough light to create the photograph.

  3. Keep your ISO low. Some cameras use ISO 100 or 200 as the standard setting. Keep it here, or try the lower settings. ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light. If you raise the ISO, for example to 800, the camera becomes more sensitive to light and requires less time to capture enough light to make the exposure. Note that higher ISO’s are, generally, also more prone to noise (grain in film). To create longer exposures set the ISO low, so the camera needs more time to capture enough light.

  4. Use a polarizing filter. A polarizer, in addition to polarizing the light, will also block some of the light entering the camera. Most polarizers will block between 1 to 2 stops of light. This will allow you capture slightly longer exposures. Combining this with a low ISO and a small aperture may be enough to let you get the shutter speeds you want.

  5. Use a neutral density filter. If you want really long exposures you may need to purchase some neutral density filters. These are dark filters that block some light. Think sunglasses for your lens. They’re called neutral density because they are supposed to be neutral in color, not introducing color casts. However, some filters, especially less expensive ones, do alter the color somewhat. You can usually correct this in post processing. Neutral density filters come in many different strengths. For very long exposures look at some of the 5, 10, or 15 stop neutral density filters out there. These will let you capture multi-minute exposures.

  6. Combine any or all of the above to get even slower shutter speeds. Be aware, though, if you use too many filters with wide angle lenses you may begin to actually see the filter in the corners of the frame. If that happens you can remove filters until you no longer see them, zoom in or use a lens that isn't quite as wide-angle, or create the image and crop it in post.

As a reminder, if you use really slow shutter speeds you may need a tripod, or some other support, to hold the camera steady during the exposure.

There are many other uses for slow shutter speeds. But I hope the few examples I’ve shown will prompt you to go out and experiment. Try different shutter speeds of the same scene, see how the different speeds affect the final image. You may be pleasantly surprised by some of the results.

2016 Manassas Airshow by Todd Henson

Yak-52 Flyby. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche.  Camera settings: 400mm, 1/50 sec, f/29

This was my first trip to the Manassas Airshow held May 7 at the Manassas Regional Airport in Manassas, Virginia. My father and I arrived early to make parking easier and to have time to walk around all the static displays before the overhead air show began, which turned out to be around noon. This is a small airport and, consequently, a smaller air show than some venues, but they put on a great show with plenty of variety. The weather was a bit questionable in the beginning, with cloudy skies darkening right over the airport, but it never did rain, and the clouds made for some interesting photos. There were times I wished the sun would have come out a bit more, but at the same time, it beat a cloudless day with a blindingly bright sun. In general, I didn’t have to worry about blowing out highlights.

I haven’t been to many air shows with my camera, so I’m still learning how to photograph them. At my first show I set up the camera as I often do for wildlife, where I usually want the fastest shutter speed I can get with shallow depth of field. So I usually use aperture priority mode with the aperture close to wide open. This worked great with fast moving jets, but I learned it didn’t work well with propeller-based aircraft. Setting the shutter speed too fast freezes the propeller, which looks unnatural. When the aircraft is moving the propeller should be moving, as well.

This year I adjusted settings based on the aircraft overhead. For jets I used my normal aperture priority mode, but for propeller-based aircraft I switched to shutter priority and experimented with shutter speeds. I tried very slow speeds, around 1/50 to 1/60 of a second to try to capture a full rotation of the propeller. This resulted in lots of blurry photos as I had a difficult time panning smoothly enough to freeze the plane, but occasionally I would get a reasonably in focus aircraft with a nicely blurred propeller. Sometimes I increased the shutter speed to over 1/200 of a second. This helped me capture a few more aircraft in focus and usually still captured some propeller motion, though not a full rotation of the propeller. I really enjoyed the experimentation, and I look forward to future shows so I can get more practice.

One of the early performers was Charlie “V+12” VandenBossche flying his Yak-52, so right away I was practicing slower shutter speeds. I love when these planes turn on their smoke trails, it can really help make some dynamic photos.

Yak-52 Descent. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche. Camera settings: 360mm, 1/60 sec, f/45

Yak-52 in Flight. Pilot: Charlie "V+12" VandenBossche. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/80 sec, f/29

Next up was The Flying Circus, out of Bealeton, Virginia. They had a wing walker climbing all over the wings of the bi-plane. These guys were amazing. You can tell they do this all the time. Great stuff.

The Flying Circus Superhero. Pilot: Chuck Tippett. Wing Walker: Joe Bender. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/50 sec, f/29

Hanging On. Pilot: Chuck Tippett. Wing Walker: Joe Bender. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/80 sec, f/20

Scott Francis had some amazing moves in his MXS aircraft. It’s a beautiful little plane and he really knows how to push it. I increased the shutter speed here to freeze the aircraft. You can see the propeller is blurred but it doesn’t show a full rotation.

Scott Francis in his MXS. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6

A little later the Warrior Flight Team took to the air in a pair of L-39 Albatross. These two were great, performing a number of synchronized maneuvers.

A Pair of Albatross. The Warrior Flight Team. Camera settings: 165mm, 1/800 sec, f/5.6

One of my favorite aircraft at the show was Greg Colyer’s T-33 Shooting Star, named Ace Maker II. There was just something about both the look and moves of this aircraft. Lots of fun to watch and photograph.

Top View of the Ace Maker II. Pilot: Grey Coyler. Camera settings: 370mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6

Ace Maker II Flyby. Pilot: Grey Coyler. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3

Finally, the last aircraft I photographed was the Sea Harrier flown by Art Nalls. This is the first, and at present only, privately owned and flown Harrier, so it was great getting the opportunity to see it in action. I have seen Harriers at air shows before, and they are always a marvel to watch. It’s amazing how little runway is needed to get one of these off the ground. One of the popular moves is towards the end of the performance when they turn the aircraft facing the audience, hover in place, then slowly take a bow with the aircraft. Amazing control! And, of course, there is the vertical landing that only something like the Harrier can perform.

Harrier Bowing to Audience. Pilot: Art Nalls. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3

Harrier Vertical Landing. Pilot: Art Nalls. Camera settings: 400mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3

The Manassas Airshow was a lot of fun. I’m happy my father and I were able to spend part of the day here. It was well worth it. If you’ve never been to an air show go check one out.