For years I was afraid, afraid of the slow shutter speed shakes. You see I always wanted to nail that clear crisp shot of the jet flashing down the runway at breakneck speeds often times jacking my shutter speed up as high as the light would allow. 1/1000, 1/2000 it couldn't be high enough. I had a case of the slow shutter speeditis.
Over the years I began seeing images of aircraft that really stood out against their background, tack sharp fighter jets with nothing but a beautiful blur for a background. They conveyed a sense of speed, power, motion unlike any of my tack sharp photos of similar aircraft. I wanted that in my photos, but I was scared. What if I missed the shot? What if I never had the chance to see this plane again? I continued down the path of denial, down the path of high shutter speed syndrome.
Slowly I realized all of my photos were becoming the same. Shooting the F-18E Super Hornet roaring down the runway with full afterburner was just not as appealing to me any more. The King Air taking off, why would I want a shot of that I asked? Its just a King Air, boring. But I would see these images of the King Air portrayed wonderfully. What were my images missing I asked. A sense of motion, of speed, power. That's what they were missing.
I began experimenting with slower shutter speeds. Blurry image after blurry image, frustration quickly followed. How are these guys hand holding 200mm, 300mm, heck even some 500mm lenses and create these wonderful images that showcased what I was missing? I quickly went back to the drawing board aka Google. "Aircraft panning tutorial", "slow shutter speeds aviation photography" and other related queries were madly typed into the search engine. I began studying those amazing aviation photographers who were skilled in the kind of photos I was longing for and were kind enough to share their secrets.
After many hours of mindless reading, pouring over videos and tutorials I realized that they all had one thing in common. PRACTICE....Really? Practice I asked myself. I have shot thousands of aircraft, and have tens of thousands of aviation images. How much more practice do I need? I however persisted. I practiced. Blurry image after blurry image, frustration was taking over again. Wait, what was that? A sharp one? One by one I began getting keepers. At first maybe one out of one hundred were usable, but that one was glorious! I began seeing that motion, speed, power and it was addictive, it was a challenge and I gladly accepted.
I started to build confidence, quickly going out the door was the thought of failure and doubt. The high shutter speed syndrome was going away. I knew that my odds had gotten better, keepers were not one out of one hundred anymore now I was getting a keeper maybe one out of ten. And the challenge was exhilarating. That boring King Air was now seen as a challenge. Lets see how bad ass we can make a King Air look. BTW I really do love King Air's. But I digress.
What does this long winded post really mean? Get out there. Practice. Challenge yourself. Accept failure. Embrace failure. Practice, practice, practice. Work on your motion, your stance, how you hold your camera. Use different focal lengths. So what if you have a 100-400mm, don't always shoot at that long end. Back it off and crop in post production. Get to know your system and your limits and then push those limits.
Reward yourself with that ONE amazing panning shot of that Airbus, Hornet, Citation, King Air. All of those failures will be worth it for that ONE.