Oregon International Air Show (and how I photographed it)

Freedom Flight

Freedom Flight | Oregon | 2017

Yesterday I visited the Oregon International Airshow at Hillsboro Airport near Portland. As an airplane nut and former certified pilot I just had to take the opportunity once I found out the event was on during my free weekend in the Pacific Northwest. And sure I wanted to take many photos, although being limited to my Olympus PEN-F and my mZuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 Travel Zoom. To visit the Air Show with me and for some aviation photography tips continue after the jump…

E-2 Hawkeye

E-2 Hawkeye | Oregon | 2017

I  started walking down the various aircraft displays, starting to shoot details in P-Mode, worrying only about the composition and not so much about the settings, knowing my camera produces good images at P setting. The weather was still cloudy, and just taking wide-angle overall photos of the planes looked dull and kind of boring. Additionally, the aircraft were surrounded by plenty of people and the booths of the groups that were presenting the exhibition objects.

On top of this, photographing details is always a good way to get me into the “flow”. So I just wandered around between the planes, looking for interesting shapes and textures, as illustrated by those photos of an E-2 Hawkeye AWACS plane from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Hawkeye Props

Hawkeye Props | Oregon | 2017

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky | Oregon | 2017

There was really a high turnout on visitors on this Saturday morning, also a good opportunity for some candids of the old and young people enjoying being close up to the displayed aircraft, like this father and little daughter looking into the turbine exhausts of a Royal Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet.

Silent Beasts

Silent Beasts | Oregon | 2017

Oregon Air Show 08

Check the Deck | Oregon | 2017

Future Pilot

Future Pilot | Oregon | 2017

The aircraft performances started at noon, so prior to that the pilots were getting their planes ready on the flight line. Although barriers were put up to protect flight ops from the visitors, I could get close enough for some ambient shots of the pilots and maintenance crews working on the planes. Having the zoom definitely helped, and for those situations the 14-150mm is perfectly suited. So I was able to capture Jacquie Warda putting last polishes on her sparkling Extra 300 high performance aerobatic plane and the ground crew putting oil into the stunt bi-plane of aerobatic legend Mike Wiskus.

Clear Sights

Clear Sights | Oregon | 2017

Oil up

Oil up | Oregon | 2017

Fuel up

Fuel up | Oregon | 2017

Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet | Oregon | 2017

The zoom also got me close enough to photograph the “cheat sheet” of the planned aerobatics in the cockpit of Brent Handy’s Pitts S-2 stunt bi-plane.

While walking up to the runway area to watch the performances, I came across a beautiful vintage 1920 TravelAir bi-plane, where I took some more detail shots of the cockpit and the wood and fabric wings.

Vintage Flight Deck

Vintage Flight Deck | Oregon | 2017

Oregon Air Show 10

Wood & Fabric | Oregon | 2017

Then the aerobatic displays started. And here I wished I had planned to go to the Air Show all along and brought the proper equipment for it, my OM-D E-M1 and the mZuiko 40-150mm F/2.8 Pro Zoom with the MC-14 Tele Converter as this combination would have had much better and especially faster autofocus capabilities than the PEN-F and the 14-150mm travel zoom. But as it goes, I had to work with what I had. So to capture fast moving airplanes mid-flight with acceptable sharpness I set my shutter speed to 1/2000 sec, later dropping it to 1/1250 sec to get a narrower aperture while retaining ISO 200. I also set the focus to single point focusing and AF-C continuous mode, so it could track a moving object. To have a higher success rate of nailing a good photo I also set the PEN-F to burst mode, something the mirrorless cam is quite capable of (a s long as you have a fast SD card in it).

Smoke and Sound

Smoke and Sound | Oregon | 2017

Despite the limitations on the equipment side I was quite happy with the first results, as you can see from this shot of Brad Handy’s Pitts diving out of the smoke filled sky. The performances of the stunt pilots were just awesome.  The photo was taken at 1/2000 sec and f/6.3 with ISO 320.

Rising Up

Rising Up | Oregon | 2017

Of course it didn’t hurt to get some ambient shots of the visitors following the displays high up in the blue Oregon sky.

P-47D Thunderbolt

P-47D Thunderbolt | Oregon | 2017

Next came the warbirds. As an airplane nut, this was my favourite part, seeing this huge World War II fighting planes flying around Hillsboro airport. At one point, the P-47, a Vought F4U-7 Corsair and a Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk flew a joint display. The sounds of those big radial engines was just incredible.

Vought F4U-7 Corsair

Vought F4U-7 Corsair | Oregon | 2017

When photographing warbirds (or all planes for that matter) in flight, it is beneficial to add some interest to the image, like clouds or parts of the ground. So I tried to press the shutter with that in mind. The above photo of the WWII Navy fighter looks very much like a picture I took out of a plane flying in parallel, but in fact it was taken from the ground. The pilot had the plane banked towards the ground in a way that I managed to get this “in-air” shot. This was the best of a burst shot of 10 photos I took during this pass of the aircraft. Again, it is important to burst-shoot here, as these planes move quite fast through the sky and it is quite challenging to keep the full zoom trained on the object of desire (and I was shooting at the far end of my zoom range almost the whole time).

Oregon Air Show 14

Folding Wings | Oregon | 2017

While the planes taxied back in after the performances, I had other good opportunities to squeeze off a few close up shots.

Stunning displays of jet fighters like a Navy F/A – 18 Super Hornet followed. But the absolute highlight was the performance of the most advanced fighter jet on this planet, a F-22 Raptor. What the pilot was able to do with this massive supersonic plane was just mind-blowing. I was able to capture some great shots of the Raptor. But what I wanted to share as final image was the formation flight of the Raptor and a vintage P-51 Mustang, a Freedom Flight display as part of the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation.

Freedom Flight

Freedom Flight | Oregon | 2017

This was totally amazing, it fully gave me the shivers and I’m very grateful I managed to capture a few nice shots of this historic formation. Can you believe these two iconic planes are separated just by about 70 years?

I hope you enjoyed this photographic excursion to the Oregon International Air Show.

For all my free tips and inspirations around photography visit my Learning Center.

Have a great Sunday! Marcus

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29 comments

  1. Marcus, I have never been at airshows. I can imagine how it can be impressive. Meanwhile, I enjoyed looking at your great pictures. And I also learned something interesting about you, that you are a former certified pilot.

    Greetings from Utah.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Absolutely wonderful Marcus. I love airshows. I attended one this year and got some fab shots – Typhoon was my favourite.

    I wish we still had the USAF bases here in the UK. I went to many of their shows in the 80’s. They knew how to put on a show.

    Liked by 2 people

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