From “Top Gun” to top shot

June 1, 2009

Ever since I first watched the movie “Top Gun” I have been fascinated with fighter aircraft. It has always been a dream of mine to fly one, but that dream has changed to the pursuit of captioning images plane to plane, which is no longer a scenario available to the general public. I attend 2 air shows a year, and I greatly look forward to each, even though the demonstrations don’t change from year to year.

One of the demonstrations I always look forward to is the one featuring the latest in military warfare aircraft. I had the privilege of seeing the F-22 Raptor team last year at this same show. This year the Navy brought along the F-18F Super Hornet.

I know from shows past about water vapor appearing on the wings. Capturing these images is very difficult due to the speed and angle of the aircraft, not to mention that if you’re seeing vapor, it is probably a really bad day for photography. It usually means a humid, overcast day – add the grey color of most standard military aircraft and you have an exposure “nightmare”.

With this sequence it was really simple – it was pure luck and a bit of timing. They announced the pilot would be making a “high speed pass” from the right, would come straight down in a dive and level off at show center. I knew there would be a great opportunity in the descent for some “vapor shots” but what happened surprised even the air boss announcing the show.

With my Nikon D3 set at 1/8000th of a second at F4 at 400ISO, I started tracking the plane as he began to dive, firing away cautiously as to not fill up the buffer on the camera, but still getting the shots I was hoping for. Then the fun began and the cloud formed once on the descent. I saw it, but knew it wasn’t “tack” sharp and I wasn’t going to miss it again if it happened. In a sense I “cheated” a bit, laying down and making good use of the 9FPS I had my D3 set to. The end result was about 18 frames of the cloud forming around the jet, and disappearing into the air.

I looked back at the sequence in the camera when all was said and done, and I was very hesitant to zoom in to see if it was sharp, especially on the best of the image sequence. However, my excitement got the better of me, and when I decided to check I was able to clearly read the pilot’s name in the camera, so I knew I had nothing to worry about.

The best part of it all is I was on a “spec” assignment for a local newspaper. The air show refused me access to the roof of the building so I would be away from the fans. The paper along with other agencies never ran the image as it didn’t appear to impress them.


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Since the papers aren’t interested in it, is there a chance the rest of us can get high(er) resolution versions of these shots than the ones published above?Oh, and what lens was that?

Posted by IraqiGeek | Report as abusive

Does the second images show multiple cloud formations with missing sequences, reading left-right-and-top-down?

Posted by parv | Report as abusive

Curioso efecto físico al romper un avión militar la barrera del sonido…Secuencia de imágenes del efecto "nube de Prandtl-Glauert", producido cuando un avión F/A-18F Super Hornet rompe la barrera del sonido durante una exhibición aérea en Nueva York. Tal y como se comenta en este otro sitio (…

Posted by | Report as abusive

It was shot with a 400mm 2.8 VR lens with no VR active, hand held.The sequence is what was provided to Reuters by myself. I did not upload the images I felt weren’t “tach” sharp.

Posted by Christopher Pasatieri | Report as abusive

Christopher,Thank you for sharing this photo. It is breath taking and awe inspiring. God Bless you. Chaplain George

Posted by Chaplain George | Report as abusive

never seen such a photographs, very intresting

Posted by hari babu | Report as abusive

very interesting photo.But very difficult to take these type of photos.It show a correct photographic skills.Please continue to send very interesting,new photos to us.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

its spectacular photos.

Posted by kk lal | Report as abusive

Simply superb. One wonders if its clouds or ice formed around the plane.

Posted by Joe Zach | Report as abusive