2016 San Francisco Fleet Week

As a young boy, I was always fascinated with the idea of space and flight.  I would imagine soaring though the air and pretending that I was a pilot of a really cool space ship.  Circling around the stars and flying by each planet as I named them off one by one.  One day, my parents took me to Moffet Field in Mountain View, CA.  Back then...in the, ahem, 80s, Moffet Field was home to numerous air shows.  One of the participants of the air show was the Blue Angels.  We never went there with any photographic gear.  We went to experience the show.  You can only imagine what that was like for a little boy who has already dreamt of flying.  When the Blue Angels soared overhead in all of those tightly-grouped formation, it was like poetry...except this poetry used jet engines.  I was in awe.  I recalled looking up into the blue sky and squinting ever so faintly so that I could see the planes.  My dad looks down and says, "Here...put on my sunglasses."  He takes them off and as I fumble around with them on my small head, I was able to see them...flying low, then flying high.  Making loops, going up...down....just seemingly everywhere.  I was very excited.  

Untitled photo
Untitled photo

Weeks after the show, I was still talking about the Blue Angels and that was when he bought me a plastic model airplane of an Blue Angel.  I remembered how delicate it was...and how impatient I got...when I had to wait for the glue to dry first!  But as the years went on, we never went to another air show.  I never understood why but I also never asked.  Then at some point...the air shows stopped.  

My childhood years disappeared in what seemingly felt like a blink of an eye and now I find myself with children of my own.  I have heard about the San Francisco Fleet Week for a very long time but I never gathered the family around it.  Oddly enough, I never thought about it...until one day, I let my son borrow my sunglasses and it triggered that memory of when my dad shared his sunglasses with me.  That was when I decided to make an annual outing.  The 2016 San Francisco Fleet Week is our third family get together and it is going strong.  We decided to pick a spot on the beach...Crissy Field Beach to be exact.  Since the crowds generally get really ridiculous, we make an all day gathering out there.  


We would set up our tents, sunshade, lawn chairs, and our trusty cooler.  The cooler would have sandwiches, juice, soda and chips.  Everything we could ever need to enjoy ourselves out there without leaving the site (yes...even a small bucket with kitty litter).  Many laugh at my kitty litter bucket idea...but when you have tons of photographic gear with you, the last thing that you would want is to leave all that gear alone when you have to tend to nature's calling.  If the fear of using public restrooms scare you, I would assume this is a better idea!  Once the 'living' gear is set up, its time for the photographic gear!!

Usually, there will be other photographers out there that will also make that effort to take photos next to you.  It's just one of those things....anytime a tripod is set up and a large lens is plopped on there, suddenly, everyone wants to talk shop with you.  I usually don't mind but I also like to focus on the task at hand...get it?  Focus?!  

The photo on the right is actually a Manfrotto video tripod.  Many years ago, I shot video but has since abandoned the craft.  But I don't feel like I should buy another photography tripod.  Sure, they're lighter but having a video tripod out in the sand for a heavy duty camera use?  It's a win-win situation if you ask me!  But the setup there is the Canon 1DX with a 400mm f2.8L lens.  During "some" of the planes, I will usually add on a converter.

Untitled photo

Once I finish with that setup, I usually have another smaller setup on my hip...a Canon 1DX with a 70-200mm f2.8L lens.  This setup is used when the planes are flying overhead.  I can't exactly pan/tilt the 400mm because that means I would have to stoop.  Even if I could stoop THAT low, the camera won't allow for me to shoot perfectly straight up.  So I have to rely freehand on my 70-200 setup for that.  The scary part about shooting up...is falling straight down.  For me, I lose my sense of balance when I shoot that way, almost as if my equilibrium is off.  The way I counter that feeling is slightly bending my knee so that I am touching the tripod with my knee/shins.  This gives me a sense of orientation so that I won't accidentally fall backwards.  As you can see from the photo, I'm near some very big rocks.  I'm standing on sand, but if I fall, I have a 50/50 shot at landing on the rocks.

I also have a third camera body setup...basically it sports a 17-40 f/4L lens.  Why this lens?  For two reasons...the first reason would be planes that leaves massive smoke trails where I would want to get to be able to see the trails in the photos and the second reason, the real reason, is to capture the reactions of my kids watching the planes.  

Once everything is setup, I sit...and I wait.  

That moment when you hear the sounds of jet engines coming from a distance that is when you let the shutter fly as fast as they do.

Untitled photo
Untitled photo

Naturally, my ultimate favorite are the Blue Angles but this year, they also included an F-22 Raptor...which instantly became a hit with a lot of the beach-goers.  

Soo.....with all of the excitement about jets and places, you're probably wondering what ever happened to my kids who were supposed to be in mix of all of this.  Well....the kids basically would play in the dry sand, then wander off into the beachfront to play with the wet sand, come back for some food and drinks, then do it all over again.  Their excitement for the planes isn't as high as my excitement but they do acknowledge their existence...mainly with comments like, "It's too loud, Daddy," or "I don't like how they fly so low, Daddy."   

I'm hoping that one day when they're older and they have their own families, they can look back and remember these moments and say things to each other like, "Remember when Dad went to the air show with all of his cameras and took pictures of the planes?"  

...as they are standing together in the middle of their air show with their own families.