the Blue Angels will be flying over my rooftop deck this weekend. I have an Olympus EP1 with a Lumix 1:4-5.6/45-200 zoom lens. I have fashioned a shade hood to eliminate reflective glare from LCD screen (I bought the Olympus viewfinder but the parallax is off, so I have to use the display instead). My question is, should I choose the following to get those overhead shots of the group: Program mode with continuous AF and sequential shooting? I am new to digital and would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!

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    Possible duplicate of How do I take pictures of planes flying at an airshow?
    – Olivier
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:34
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    Did you try using the viewfinder on subjects at aircraft distance? Viewfinder parallax tends to only be crucial for close subjects, not far away ones, because the farther away your subject is, the smaller the parallax shift becomes.
    – inkista
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:33
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    @inkista Unless the optical axis of the viewfinder is slightly angled with respect to the optical axis of the primary lens to provide some parallax correction for close objects. Then the further items are beyond the "crossover point", the worse the parallax will be.
    – Michael C
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:54
  • Amanda, just what Olympus viewfinder are you using? @MichaelClark has a point. But I can't imagine the VF-1 optical for 17mm is good for airplane tracking with a 200mm lens, and the VF-2/3/4 are all electronic and therefore wouldn't exhibit parallax.
    – inkista
    Oct 14, 2016 at 19:42

4 Answers 4


Pretty much any of the automatic exposure modes modes are going to expose for the sky to be medium gray, leaving planes as little more than dark silhouettes. You'll either need to dial in significant exposure compensation on the positive side or shoot in manual exposure mode. You can meter on a building or other object that is about the same brightness as the planes you are shooting. The planes flown by the Blue Angels are a relatively dark blue color.

If you're handholding the camera and composing with the rear LCD you need to be sure and use fast shutter times. With the 2X crop factor of your EP1 combined with the 200mm lens the old 1/effective focal length rule of thumb says 1/400 second. But holding the camera away from your eye destabilizes it and I wouldn't want to go below about 1/1000 second in such a case.

Other than that, most of the advice applies in the accepted answer to How do I take pictures of planes flying at an airshow?

  • The OIS lets you get away with a slower shutter speed.
    – vclaw
    Oct 15, 2016 at 8:08
  • @vclaw To a point, but holding the camera out from one's body is inherently more unstable than the classic three point hold. There's a reason Steadicam can sell rigs for $$$$ even though many video shooters who use them also have stabilized cameras/lenses.
    – Michael C
    Oct 15, 2016 at 16:55

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Distant objects are hard to locate at high levels of zoom...or more technically objects that subtend small visual angles are difficult to locate through a lens with a narrow field of view.

  2. When the object is moving, the problem in item 1 is much worse. The faster it moves across the field of view the worse it gets. The less constrained the movement, the worse it gets. Aircraft won't fly backwards...usually, but their movement is not highly constrained. It's also fast.

  3. Hand holding the camera makes items 1 and 2 worse.

  4. The camera will not auto focus on objects that are not being tracked. 1,2,3, suggest that autofocus may wind up putting the camera out of focus and make finding and tracking objects difficult.

Some mitigations.

  • Shoot with a wider field of view.

  • Stabilize the tracking with a monopod or a tripod with a free moving ball head.

  • Consider manual focus with the lens set to the hyperfocal distance for it's focal length and aperture to maximize depth of field and to avoid trying to find objects that are not in focus due to the current state of the autofocus.

  • Experiement by tracking moving objects with your camera before hand to get a feel for what works and what doesn't.

  • Practically speaking in daylight conditions, it should be possible to shoot much of the airshow with a single aperture, ISO, and shutter speed and manual focus by keeping the aperture small enough that the aircraft are beyond the hyperfocal distance. For a 4/3 sensor, 200mm lens at f8, the hyperfocal distance is ~1650ft. At f5.6 and 200mm it's ~2350ft. At f8, 135mm it's about 1100 ft.

  • Over the course of the show, it may make sense to change between modes. As the aircraft come close, switching to a shutter priority mode (or manual mode with a fast shutter speed) and using autofocus may better capture the action. Again experiment and keep in mind that picking a single setting for an entire event is not required, not necessary, and not really recommended.

  • Chimp early and often.

  • Don't fret the shots you didn't get.

  • Have fun.

  • Aircraft are not the same thing as mountains and trees. Using the hyperfocal distance (which is highly subjective based on assumptions about display size and viewing distance) will not result in sharp images of aircraft at flying distances. It would be better to set the lens to infinity than the hyperfocal distance of, for example, 200mm and f/8 which is 313 meters (1026 feet) for a 4/3 sensor when the planes might not ever be closer than several multiples of that.
    – Michael C
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:48
  • Use a monopod or tripod for objects flying straight overhead (as stated in the question) at several hundred mph? Good luck with that.
    – Michael C
    Oct 14, 2016 at 18:56
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    @MichaelClark My experience at airshows is that part of the event occurs roughly overhead and other parts occur at lower altitudes and higher angular velocities that appear more horizontal. Per Wikipedia, I was using the second definition of 'hyperfocal' distance: the distance beyond which objects tend to appear in focus for a lens focused at infinity. I think we agree that the aircraft may not ever be closer and I won't swear by the numbers the free app on my old phone threw off beyond the extent to which the concept is applicable.
    – user50888
    Oct 14, 2016 at 19:11
  • At airshows you are correct that most of the performance is done at an easier angle for viewers on the flight line. But this questions states that they will be passing directly overhead her house. I once worked at a place that was just the right angle and distance from the regional airport so that when the Blues came to perform they would fly directly overhead frequently as they left the performance area nearer the airport to go out a ways before turning around to re-enter the main viewing area for their next maneuver at the air show a few miles away.
    – Michael C
    Oct 15, 2016 at 7:44

"Program mode" will help, but I would rather use "shutter priority". In program mode, your camera will automatically select the right settings for a correctly exposed image, but what you really want is to fix the shutter speed. It's exactly what "shutter priority" will do.

As the aircraft you will try to capture are going relatively fast, this mode will fix the shutter speed and adjust aperture and eventually ISO is set to auto. If ISO is set to auto, be careful because the camera may select a very high ISO to compensate for low luminosity and/or too fast shutter speed. With the Olympus EP1, you can select the maximum ISO speed allowed in auto ISO, it's up to you to do it (Is it better to shoot with a higher ISO, or use lower ISO and raise the exposure in post-processing?).

Regarding which shutter speed to select, it really depends on how fast the aircraft are going to fly relatively to your position. If they are going straight to your direction, you could use a slower shutter speed (say 1/125) than if they are flying from left to right (then you will maybe need something like 1/1000).

Unless you think our AF is too slow and that you know exactly where they are going to pass, continuous AF is the way to go. You won't have to bother about it (just select the right collimator).

You could try using different settings near a driveway. Focus on a remote car and see if your AF follows it correctly, even when it goes past you. Try to be outside at the same time that the show would be, to emulate the luminosity you will meet.

Have a look at :

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    "...select the right settings for a correctly exposed image..." Using P or Tv mode to shoot planes in flight usually results in correctly exposing for the sky.
    – Michael C
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:12
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    Hand holding a 2X crop sensor camera with a 200mm lens and holding the camera out from the body far enough to compose with the rear LCD is probably not going to work very well at 1/125, even if the subject is completely static.
    – Michael C
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:14

1) I do not know if your camera has a delay displaying on the screen. I once took one camera that had delay to an Indianapolis race... I did not capture almost any car. So I really recomend that you do not rely on the screen at 100% if you have not tested this.

Go to an avenue and take shoots of passing cars. Just be careful please.

2) Go to your rooftop and take shoots of the sky. Know your roof. But if you are lucky to have a nice landscape know it. Experiment with exposures.

3) If you have a photogenic house on an open space surrounding, imagine if that gives a good composition. Probably a nicer picture would be having your home in the frame with little planes behind, instead of trying to capture a close up of the planes. It is a risky choice but probably worth it.

  • Thank you all! I will use your tips and try harder next time. And it is the little VF1 viewfinder. Oct 16, 2016 at 19:52

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