Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Air Shows in RBL (Really Bad Light)

Also in this issue:
  • The best Sony cameras So Far (video)
  • I'll speak to your camera club - for FREE!
  • New Facebook Group for Portrait Photographers of all levels
  • RX-10 IV ebook coming 
  • And more...
Let's start with the announcements first.
In the Pipeline

My Sony RX-10 IV arrived earlier today (amazing camera), which means the new ebook is just a couple of months away.  I'll also be working on the just-announced Sony A7R III once it ships.  Email me at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com to be notified when either of these are ready!

Sony A9 and Fujifilm X-100F .epub and .mobi files are finally done.  Owners should already have been notified.

Olympus E-M1 II .epub and .mobi files are next; and yes, you'll be automatically notified when they're done.

I'll Speak at your Camera Club - for FREE!!!

You read that right.  And I'll go anywhere in the world to do it.  Camera clubs love my talks because I often force people to challenge their own long-held beliefs.  Have your camera club president contact me for details.

A New Facebook Group for Portrait Photographers

A new FB group centering around portrait photography and lighting has been started by master Portrait Photographer Brian Ramage. All are welcome to join, no matter the skill level. (I've been named an administrator to the group - I'm very proud.)  More info here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LearnPortraitPhotography/  Come join us!

The Best Sony Cameras So Far

(Footnote: I should have mentioned the A7S and/or A7S II.  This is what happens when you don't use a teleprompter. :-) )

Air Shows in RBL (Really Bad Light)

Really hard to do.  These guys make it look easy!
It seems that there's a conspiracy against photographers by people who plan air shows.  I'm speaking particularly about the Huntington Beach, California air show in my home town.  It's a great tourist event, but they always schedule it at the time of day when you have to look into the sun in order to see the planes.  Fine if you're a spectator; awful if you plan on using a camera.  

So what did I do?  Here's a short laundry list of techniques that, taken together, increased my chances of a usable shot.  

First, the gear.  The A9's not needed here; as the distance between the camera and subject isn't changing all that much, and 20 fps is simply not needed.  My wife and grandkids were with us, and so I brought a lot of cameras that might do the job - all APS-C bodies so I would have the benefit of the 1.5x crop factor when full-frame lenses were attached:
  • A6500 with FE 70-200 f/4 (hey, 11 fps is no slouch!)
  • RX-10 II with the built-in 24-200 f/2.8 lens (the RX-10 IV with it's 24-600mm lens would have been ideal here, but mine still had not arrived at that time)
  • A77 II with Minolta 100-300mm APO 
  • Sony A700 (!) because my wife had a hard time seeing through the other cameras' EVFs on such a bright day.  So I dusted off this DSLR with an optical viewfinder.
All cameras were set to Shutter Priority mode at 1/2000th of a second, the fastest drive mode available, wide-area AF, and Continuous Autofocus (AF-C).  "Why not use a center focus point?" I hear you ask.  Because there were many occasions when the planes appeared without warning and I needed as much automation as possible to increase the chances of getting a sharp image.  Plus, with rare exception there was no distracting background subjects, meaning the AF would not be fooled.

So which one came out with the best results?

Let's start with the RX-10 II.  I gave it to one of the grandkids, set it to .jpg only, and enabled Digital Zoom feature, turning it into a 24-800mm lens.  Yuk!  It could track the planes OK but the results we got from the Digital Zoom feature pretty much validates my recommendation not to use this feature  unless you're shooting video.  (Click on any image to view it larger.)

Digital Zoom will essentially crop your image so the subject appears larger within the frame; then it will up-sample it back to 20 MP, making it look worse than a .jpg from 2001.  This is from the RX-10 II.

The RX-10 II does exceptionally well with its native lens range, though.  Moral to the story: Don't use the digital zoom feature.

The A77 II did a little better with an effective focal length of 450mm, but it had a (relatively) harder time acquiring initial focus.  

The worst AF acquisition and tracking performance was the decade-old A700, which is no surprise and serves as a reminder of just how far modern cameras have come.  When the planes were far away, they would be positioned between the phase-detect autofocus points and the AF just got confused.    

(I TOLD you it was Really Bad Light!  It was made worse by shooting close to the horizon, where all the fog and exhaust was.)  Not surprisingly, the Alpha 700 had the hardest time acquiring focus.  Here I took it off AF and set the lens distance manually so the beginning shooter had a better chance.  
The best AF tracking and best image quality (due to that awesome white Sony lens) was the A6500.  Even when the planes were far away, it never got between focus points because there are SO MANY baked-in PDAF points that it was impossible to miss the tiny speck.  :-)

Post Processing

Now then, the bad light.  There were a few situations where I had warnings that the planes were coming behind me; for those I could turn around and for a precious few seconds I had good light.  That's the A6500 image posted above.  The rest I had to shoot RAW and post-process to brighten the shadows (since the planes were backlit, they were ALL shadow).

Here's what the controls looked like:

Here's the initial RAW file with no adjustments.

Step 1: Move the "Shadows" slider to the right, lightening the shadows.

Step 2: Use the curves tool to increase the contrast: Lower-left-hand-corner of the curve moved to the right to raise the shadows to (almost) match the blackest point of the input, upper-right-hand corner moved to the left to do the same for the whites.  Sometimes I drag the middle of the line upward to increase the brightness of the midtones as well.

Step 3: Back to the "Basic" panel, increased the saturation and vibrance, and moved the blue-yellow slider away from the blue to let the other colors stand out.

Here's a situation where shooting RAW provides your best hope of having the images pop.  Or does it?  Just for fun I took the out-of-camera .jpg and applied the same tweaks as outlined above, using  Photoshop's RAW camera filter:

Moral: .jpgs are more malleable than you thought. :-)

So now I have shots that are just like 98% of the other competent photographers that were at the event.  What can I do to make mine stand out a little bit?  One trick I have up my sleeve is to convert it to B&W ("It's more artistic!") but keep a tinge of color.  So I de-saturated most, but not all, of the colors.

Here's the original image.
After cropping, here's what I did in Lightroom:

Raise the shadows, and darken the blacks.

Played with the curves until it looked "right" to me.

Under HSL / Color / B&W, I clicked on "Color" and desaturated only the blue channel

And voila!  

Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Gary, I just got the announcement of the Sony A7rIII today from B&H Photo. Please send me your review when it comes out and tell me more about your "Affiliates" program. Bart

  2. I enjoyed your trip down memory lane with the Sony cameras. I began my digital photographic journey with the Mavica FD-7 in 1997 and still have it (it works -- and I have an external floppy disk reader to be able to view the images).

    I moved to the F-828 and then the R1 before Sony went down the Minolta route. I believe if Sony had "stayed the course" and not bought Minolta's camera technology, they would have arrived at the A7 series many years earlier.

    I now have the A7R2 and A6500 and I'm very happy.

  3. Hi Gary,
    I have been selected as the Vice President for the Cobb Photographic Society for 2018. We are located outside of Atlanta Ga., in Marietta, Ga. and are the oldest print competition photo club in the Norh Georgia metro area and meet on the first and third Mondays of each month. I would love to correspond with you further about coming to speak to our club and possibly even being a guest judge for one of our upcoming competitions. I personally have been a customer and a fan of your books and blog for some time and I am also a Sony shooter. I might mention we have several in the club as well.
    It would be great to hear from you to look at schedules for 2018 and take you up on your offer to present to our club. Thanks for your time.
    Best Regards,
    Greg Evans, VP Cobb Photographic Society

  4. Thanks, Gary. Great blog post. I too was shooting an air show this summer with the RX10 mark 3. I got a few good shots out of several hundred. I just received the mark 4 and am looking forward to seeing the difference pd focus makes with things like air shows and sports.

    GP Photos

  5. Hi Gary, enjoyed the video. I actually have a Mavica, too and it works, too. I have the Maxxum 9, A700, the 7D that just quit on me, had the A99v, now have the A99m2 and A77m2 (I took yours and a couple of others advice on looking at it to replace my dead 7D but I'll still miss it.) Till next time.

    1. I wonder if there's a cemetary for dead Maxxum 7D out there... It would be great if some of them had working shutter assemblies ;)

  6. Hi Gary,

    Really interesting comparison of Sony cameras through the ages :-)

    I've had Hasselblad, Minolta, and then a range of Sony cameras including A700, A900, A77, A77II and now in a bold (yet scary) move to downsize and simplify, have just sold all my A77II gear/lenses for an RX10 IV (to complement my RX100 II which I absolutely love).

    Very keen to read your upcoming eBook on this new camera as I was initially a tad disappointed straight out of the box, but with some setting tweaks I'm getting better results. So the big question for me is whether I can live with a 1" sensor, having had full frame and APS-C sensors previously. I'm hoping so and I have no doubt after reading your eBook on the camera once it arrives, I will have a much higher level of confidence. I really appreciate your insight and experience. You are definitely my 'go to' guide!!!

    1. See my recent blog post comparing an identical shot between the RX-10 II and the A99 II with Zeiss Prime - once printed, people couldn't tell which camera took which picture): http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.com/2017/03/full-frame-vs-small-sensor-dont-laugh.html Also, send me your email address and I'll add you to the notificaiton list. GF

  7. As a 'died in the wool' retired (n)aviator who still loves to photograph loud and fast aeroplanes, this is a great blog on shooting at Air Shows and what you can do afterwards. Thanks Gary

  8. Hey Gary - how come you didn't take your a99ii for a spin at the air show? How are you getting on with it? Marco

    1. As I mentioned in the article, I was after the 1.5x crop factor that APS-C bodies can offer.

    2. The A99 II is still my favorite studio camera.

  9. Cool article about the air show post processing. You've provided some great ideas about how some shots can better stand out. I'll give it a try and attempt to make my shots not look like 98% of airshow photos ;)

  10. Can't wait for RX-10 IV ebook! Please let us all know when it's out. Your ebook for a 600 was a great help. Also thank you for being so kind to respond to me by email, Gary. You're a gem!

  11. Dear Mr. Friedman, I'm a frequent reader of your blog since it is an oasis to cameras lovers. I'm an Ilce-6300 owner and I can say your book to this camera helped me a lot, thank you very much for yor excellent work. Marcio Cruz - Brazil