About This Image: Air Show

July 14, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Air ShowAir Show I admit it: I have become somewhat of a nut for images thick with details.  Whether it's an intricate Albrecht Durer etching or a dense photograph, I find images that cannot be fully absorbed in a single viewing, or two, or three, to be immensely rewarding.   

In 2012 I decided to actively pursue capturing such images across all genres.  "Air Show" is a good example of my early efforts.

The scene is Navy Pier during Chicago's annual Air and Water Show.  As the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team roars overhead I work the crowd.  It's one of those rare moments in which I'm invisible even though I'm standing just a few feet in front of the crowd.  Everyone is looking skyward.  Nobody's looking at me. Rare, indeed.

Let me start by considering that images such as this must work as a whole.  That is, the details must coagulate to produce a compelling overall scene, otherwise nobody will look at it twice.    "Air Show" came together very nicely in the span of just seconds.


Here is the frame I shot immediately before the one I chose.  You can see it's close but not nearly as coherent as the other image.  The left side is coming together but the right side is still incoherent.  The lady in blue and her daughter had yet to lean toward each other and the two guys and gal were still too loose.  And, of course, the baby on her mother's shoulder at the center of the frame had not yet pointed skyward.  When I saw her point I knew I had something good.  Click!

The delights of this image, however, really lie in the embedded scenes some of which could make for good images on their own.  The pointing baby is arguably the centerpiece of the scene.  Although it's small and not in the foreground it really holds the image together.

Air Show Detail 2

The cluster of five people on the right side came together very well.  They tightened as a group and their body positions and facial gestures made for an excellent collage of emotion.  It's hard to imagine how they might have been better arranged or directed.

Air Show Detail 3

As you look deeper into the scene, perhaps on a later viewing, you begin to spot still other sub-scenes, such as this group anchored by the boy in his white-rimmed sunglasses.

Air Show detail 4

And the cute little girl with her water bottle at the far left of the frame.  She seems like the only person in the scene not looking skyward.  Perhaps she was watching me?

Today's digital cameras, even modestly-priced models, are exquisitely adept at capturing extraordinary details in a scene.  But capturing candid images that use this detail to great advantage is extraordinarily challenging. There are just too many variables that need to cooperate to make such images commonplace.  My personal goal is to get four such good images each year, about the pace I've been maintaining.  I'll share notes about several other such images here soon.


- Ken Tanaka -

Camera:  Olympus OMD E-M5


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