Written by 4:57 pm Aerial & Aviation Photography, Photography

10 Aerial Photography Tips for Great Blue Angels Photos

The Blue Angels are some of the most difficult things to capture. These tips will help get you a winning shot of this amazing aerial event.


I always enjoy photographing the Blue Angels as its a real challenge. I’ve photographed numerous Blue Angel performances in San Francisco it never gets any easier. You never know what you’ll get! But these tips will help get you a winning shot, especially if it’s your first time shooting this amazing event.

Blue Angels Logistics

In San Francisco that means get to the show very early. Parking is always a challenge and will test your patience. Don’t let the search for parking ruin your day. If you want to avoid that aggravation, then take public transportation and/or prepare park far away.

Bring a lunch or a snack. Get the nutrients and fluids you need in your system ahead of time so you can keep your eye on the show and not your bag of chips. Finding an unobstructed view can be a challenge. Arriving early will not only enable you to find the best location possible but will give you the time to scout out various spots to set up.

Blue Angels Maneuvers: Know Where Center-Point Is

Center-point is the physical location that all Blue Angels maneuvers are centered around. This is the mark they aim to crisscross over and navigate around. For Fleet Week in San Francisco specifically, that point is in front of Aquatic Park. Knowing this location is critical if you plan to capture the Blue Angels’ criss-cross maneuver.

Best Locations for Photography the Blue Angels

As with real estate, location is everything. In San Francisco for Fleet Week, there really isn’t a bad spot. I have taken photos of the Blue Angels from a variety of locations over the years, including Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, Pier 39, Crissy Field, Angel Island, and around the Golden Gate Bridge. It will all depend on what type of photo you want, what background subjects you’d like to have, and the amount of hiking or crowds you’ll have to deal with. Honestly, there isn’t a bad spot.

Best Lenses for Blue Angels

It is possible to get great photos of the Blue Angels in San Francisco with virtually any focal length. Most air show photographs that you’ll see are taken with longer focal lengths to zoom in on the planes. What focal length you’ll need for such shots depends on your location and the magnification factor of your DSLR.

It’s possible to get great, tight photos using a focal length of anywhere from 200 to 400mm. Unless you’re very far away, a longer focal length than 400mm is overkill. In addition, super long focal lengths make it challenging to track the planes. That being said, it is possible to get phenomenal photos of the Blue Angels with a shorter and even wide focal length. Shorter focal lengths enable you to capture not just the planes flying overhead but the crowd around you.

Normal Autofocus or Servo Mode

You’ll have to experiment with this. For those who are unfamiliar with the difference: autofocus requires you to half-press the Shutter Release Button to focus on your subject. Servo enables you to focus your subject in or near the center point of the frame and,as the subject moves closer or farther the camera, automatically focuses for you.

The upside to Servo is that you can pan with a subject with minimal work to keep it in focus…in theory. If for any reason your camera confuses your point of focus, your camera will keep your subject (the planes) blurred. If this happens enough, you’ll be ripping your hair out. To avoid this, you can stick with normal autofocus and half-press and shoot as quickly as you pan. This can take some practice.

Learn more about the nuances of autofocus settings in All About Autofocus: Focus Area vs Focus Mode for Beginners.

Shutter Speed Recommendations

• Faster than 1/800th of a second for slower maneuvers.
• Faster than 1/1200th of a second for faster maneuvers.
• Faster than 1/2000th of a second for speed demonstrations.

To attain such fast shutter speeds, you’ll need to pay attention to what ISO your camera is set to. 400 ISO is a good starting point, but if weather conditions are cloudy you may need to bump your ISO up.

Don’t Use A Polarizer

If you do, minimize the polarization to get the fastest shutter speed possible and to minimize over-darkening the sky.

Include Your Surroundings

Clouds add a heightened sense of, well, altitude! Landmarks and people provide a needed sense of scale.

Be Considerate

Fleet Week brings out tons of people. Sure, you may cross paths with someone having a bad day. But it’s in your best interest to take the high road with most any confrontation. Remember that this is a family event and there will be many kids in attendance! If you’re in a location where you might obstruct the view of a child or shorter person, do what you can to move and clear the way for them to see the show.

These tips should put you on track to get some great photos and have a great time at the event. If you take photos of a Fleet Week airshow, add a link in the comments. I’d love to see what you captured!

Check out some recommended lenses and lens support systems for air shows available to rent!

Reprinted with permission from Jim Goldstein.

Tags: Last modified: May 23, 2020