PC-12s are a common aircraft in the North American aviation scene so this one is nothing special. Seeing one on approach, albeit in nice light, is not cause for much celebration. However, it does mean that, with the light on the nose and a prop spinning up front, it is worth dropping the shutter speed and getting some prop blur. If I try and fail, I haven’t lost a shot of something that I wanted desperately to get and, if it works, it’s a bonus.
I took this a long time ago but just came across it again. I was under the approach path for SeaTac and one of the many Q400s that come in and out every day was setting up on final approach. Since it was nothing special, I figured a low shutter speed was in order. With the light on the front of the plane, this should show up the prop disc nicely. It worked out pretty well.
While hiking through Moran State Park, we came up to a road. As we got there a vintage car of some sort was coming towards us. Annoyingly, I had changed the camera to its base ISO to photograph some waterfalls and hadn’t reset it to auto ISO. It was dark in there so, when I shot the passing vehicle, the shutter speed was way too low. It means the shots were blurred but it actually wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
While walking along the Sammammish River Trail, a couple of Mallard Ducks flew by me at low level. I pulled the camera up at short notice to get a shot. No time to change the settings so this is what I got on the spur of the moment. As it happens, the shutter speed did a nice job of blurring out the background and making them look super speedy. I kind of like it!
Shooting Dash 8s and Q400s at YVR is not going to be particularly interesting so I was able to spend some time playing with shutter speeds progressively lower and lower. Shooting very low shutter speeds on the 500mm handheld is a bit of a crapshoot but you never know what you might get. Besides, the evening light meant it wasn’t so bright that you were at ridiculous apertures with the associated endless dust spotting!
I was quite prepared to have got absolutely nothing from these shots. However, either my luck was good or my technique has improved – I think we both know which it is – and I got a few sharp ones with plenty of prop blur and background blur combined. Background blur always makes for a more interesting shot. However, when you want to make sure you get the shot, you aren’t always willing to risk it. Having something that is not a make or break shot means you can have a lot more leeway for experimentation.
I was waiting for some visitors at the airport. At SeaTac, you stand at the top of the escalator waiting for people to come out from the shuttle station. I was starting at the escalator for quite some time and decided to see just how slow a shot I could take with the cellphone. Using ProShot, I have a lot of shutter speed control but the brightness does eventually overwhelm things a bit. However, it was still possible to play with some interesting effects with the steps blurring out along with anyone standing on them!
An impromptu shot of a cormorant is a good thing as far as I am concerned. Normally when I photograph birds, I am shooting wide open at as high a shutter speed as possible. However, this time I was set up for shooting at a lower shutter speed when the cormorant came by. Consequently, the success rate was down a bit. I did still get some shots though and the motion blur gives more of a feel of speed, even if it is just the water blurring out.
This post is really a question about what people like in an image and what they are prepared to tolerate. I was at Concrete for the vintage aircraft fly-in up there a while back. This is an event where you get to be very close to the aircraft. I was able to experiment with shutter speeds that were very low to get lots of prop blur. Because the planes are so close, you are not using a long lens and so the low shutter speeds are less likely to cause a problem with camera shake.
However, another problem comes to the fore. Since you are so close, using a low shutter speed and photographing something that is moving past you, you get parallax issues with sharpness on the plane. The different parts of the plane are moving at different speeds relative to you as it passes so, if one part of the plane is sharp, another part is unlikely to be so. The question is, what is acceptable.
I have spoken to friends about this in the past. One or two of them have expressed their unhappiness with having a blurry part of the airframe. Others prefer the blur this allows to the background to emphasize the speed. Some are most bothered about the amount of blur on the prop.
My first instinct with a shot is whether the nose is sharp. For me this is a bit like whether the eye is sharp on a wildlife shot. If the nose is sharp, I can tolerate a blurry back end. But, when the plane is going away from you, the tail is more prominent in the view. In this case, is it better to have the tail sharp than the nose since the blur of the backend will be the thing you see first and will drive your first impression of the image. I would really like to know what people prefer.
Ask any aviation photographer about camera settings and they will quickly turn to shutter speed for prop aircraft. The goal is a nicely blurred prop and no frozen blades. This requires a slow shutter speed and this can have downsides. If you are using a long lens, getting a sharp shot of a moving target with a low shutter speed can be tricky. A bit of spray and pray with the shutter button can be required. Interestingly, if you are closer to the aircraft and using a shorter focal length, things are not necessarily better. When you are close in, the different parts of the airframe are actually moving at different speeds and angular rates to you so one part might be sharp when another isn’t. Sometimes this looks okay but often it just looks crap.
I have become less focused on gaining the great blur for ground shots. Air to air it is something a lot more worthwhile since the other plane is not moving relative to you – well, hopefully not that much. Therefore, you can experiment going slower with hopefully some good results. Similarly, when I am shooting helicopters close in and hovering, I will give it a go too.
Recently, I was at the Waukegan show and I decided that, since what I was shooting was not something that I had to get (either I would have other chances or I wasn’t so bothered anyway), I would play with some really low speeds. I ended up shooting at 1/80th of a second which, on a 500mm lens is a stretch. Needless to say, you are not going to see the failures. When I have played like this before, I have had times when not one of the shots was of any use. However, this time I did get a few lucky results – yes, they were luck. You can have great panning technique (which is not always true for me) but the math is not in your favor when doing this. Therefore, I shall be happy with the results this time around. I won’t be doing this all of the time but playing around is an important thing to do when you have the chance. Just don’t do it when you really want to have a shot you can keep.
While a lot of people have been quite vexed by the introduction of a subscription based approach to the Adobe software suite including Photoshop, I decided to get over it and upgrade to Photoshop CC. One of the features introduced in CC is Shake Reduction. This is an effort at dealing with motion blur in images. It isn’t going to rescue a crappy shot but it is potentially able to to take an almost good shot and rescue it. I decided to experiment with it on an image I recently took.
The image above is a combination of the original image without sharpening and the filtered version. (It is recommended that you turn off sharpening before running the filter or it will make things break up more.) The effect actually seems to be quite useful. I should note that I tried it on several shots and they didn’t all respond as well to the filter. However, it did make quite a good upgrade to this image. I shall potentially use this again if there is an image I really like that is not quite as sharp as I would like. Another tool to potentially use but not one I think I can rely on.