Another week, another trip to Lincolnshire! With just over a week to go until the Red Arrows head off to Cyprus for the final push on their winter training, known as "Operation Springhawk", I decided to whizz up the A1 once more. The car is starting to know it's own way to Scampton now I think, and I've got the route firmly etched in to my memory! Thanks to a helpful tip-off on timings the night before I knew the time for their first sortie of the day, and so left home at 6am to be up there ready.
For a change the weather when I arrived was absolutely glorious - sunshine and a deep blue sky - and there was already one more car parked in my usual area when I arrived. That turned out to be owned by someone I've previously spotted on Twitter - the very lovely and talented Claire - and we immediately struck up conversation - lovely to have another Lady-photographer about to chat to!
I generally have a rough plan of where I want to be at various times during the day if they are doing multiple practise flights, and also an idea of any specific shots I want to work for. The best laid plans can go awry though if you arrive and find that the wind has turned as that means a change to the direction of takeoff and landing - jets usually prefer to do both into the wind. This time all was as I'd expected, so the first shot of the day was always going to be a head-on takeoff...
...settings also can vary depending on the conditions. Someone asked on Twitter recently what settings are used for shooting the Red Arrows - now settings are one of those things that most photographers feel you really should be able to work out for yourself, and in any case there is rarely a "one size fits all" solution that will work for everyone. Even once you're set up for the conditions, things can sometimes change - on a bright sunny day like Friday, I usually prefer to use Spot Metering - as I find that metering from the bright red of the planes gives great results, with the jets really "popping" against the sky, and smoke trails being well-defined. This time though I simply found that the sky was too blue to make this work and I had to switch modes.
Other than that, I set the aperture on the camera and then if needed I change ISO as the light levels change to keep the shutter speeds up. If I'm shooting from head-on to the display line then I tweak the settings to get a faster shutter speed for synchro crosses and things like that, too, to give a better chance of getting both planes in sharp focus. For the most part though you have 22 minutes with an awful lot going on - and particularly in the close quarters of Scampton, everything happening directly past you at high speeds - and you have little chance to think about changing things mid-show.
With the first practise over and the jets heading back to the line for refuelling, we had an hour and a half to kill before the next slot. For those living close to the base this gives them a chance to dash home, download photos, grab a bite to eat etc. No such options for me though so instead I chose to go and recce another possible photo spot for later in the day, a mile or so walk from the car parking to the other side of the base. On this occasion I decided to give it a miss - the landowner there has been a little unhappy with people taking photos on his land of late, so I decided that it was better avoided until the dust has settled, and instead decided to stick with my original plan of doing the second practise slot from a spot I've used before, and which I know can give good results. The downside of this spot is that you get less of Synchro screaming in and out directly overhead, like Red 6 was doing above, but the plus side is seeing the display far more as it is intended to be watched.
You also get a superb opportunity for taxi-ing shots as they return to the line after the display - they literally come directly towards and then past you!
That's Red 2 - Flt. Lt. Stewart Campbell - in his first year with the team this season. Taxi shots are good for more than just the thrill of seeing and hearing the jets pass by so close as well - they enable you to note who is flying which jet - and that in turn means when you find shots of singles, so long as the serial no. is visible, you can identify which team-member you're looking at!
After lunch it was time for the final practise slot of the day - the weather had changed a little by this time with more of a mix of heavy grey cloud along with flashes of blue sky and white cloud. Harder to get the exposure right, but lending itself to something a bit different on the photo-front...
Also the sort of weather which really works well with the smoke trails - although at the moment they're still working just with the plain white vapour - the dye will be added to produce the characteristic red, white and blue trails for the display season of course but at this stage of the winter work-up it's more about getting the "Smoke on - GO" at the right moment - something which the team will be reviewing in their debrief after each practise. On Friday they were finishing each session by streaming trails as each pair broke off into the circuit to land...
That's it for me now for Scampton trips for a while. By the time the team return from Cyprus resplendent in their red flying suits and with Public Display Authority awarded we'll probably be heading for the Hebrides, and by the time we get back the display season will be firmly underway. In the meantime I've got a new facebook photography page - https://www.facebook.com/photozone72 - please pop over and "Like" it if you're a facebooker, there will be more aviation pics going up there every little while.