B-25 “Betty’s Dream” captured by D5 / 200-400VR

Smoke from pyrotechnics at an airshow can be a God send or curse. It all depends on you and in some part, the wind. Especially on bald sky days, smoke brings a visual depth and if handled correctly, drama to an otherwise stale photo. Along with being on top of your photo game with solid Panning and exposure, you gotta think like a pilot, act like the control tower and depend on your senses to make magic from the smoke. Here’s how …

Tora Tora Tora’s P-40 captured by D4 / 200-400VR

Putting yourself at the right place on the flight line is EVERYTHING when it comes to making magic of smoke. How do you determine this PRIOR to the airshow even starting? You gotta look at the in field and watch the folks setting up the pyro. By watching them you can determine if there is none, a little or a lot. If the amazing CAF Tora Tora Tora group is there, you know there is going to by pyro. Look at the guide, see what acts are flying and then do a little looking and you’ll see where their pyro is set on the field. This will give you an idea about what the pilots are thinking as they need to fly through, around, above or away for the explosions. Next, think like the tower, how are they going to direct the planes through the smoke? You might need to do a little research before even arriving at the airshow to come up with the needed info. Talking to a pilot that uses pyro is also a great idea. Then you have to look at the winds, which way are they going to blow the smoke. All of this tells you where you need to stand.

For Betty, it was a real still air day so the smoke was going to rise and rise fast. That’s because of the heat of the explosion causing the smoke. Looking at the pyro team, I knew I wanted to stand near show center as that’s where the biggest bang for the audience buck can be spent. For the P-40, I knew that the Tora Tora Tora pyro team puts up a wall of fire near the end of their show. Looking at where they set the pyro, the direction of flight of the P-40 and very importantly this day, the direction of the wind, I was as far left of show center as I could get to make the shot. No two shows even with the same act are the same. Think it through and you too can make magic of smoke.

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