Bournemouth Air Festival

I would love to start this post with ‘I was visiting Bournemouth and there happened to be an air show going on’, which would be more in keeping with the usual way I stumble into great photo-taking opportunities, but truth be told I’d been planning this trip for months. In fact, train tickets and bed and breakfast were booked within a week of me coming back from my last trip to Dorset, and I’d been intending to go since I first heard of the Bournemouth Air Festival around this time last year, just as the 2010 event was coming to a rain-soaked close.

My desire to come to this sort of thing armed with a decent set of camera gear dates back even further: six years.

On that occasion in 2005, my family and I were in Weymouth during Carnival Week, and had come along just at the right time to see a display from the Red Arrows. At the time, my camera kit consisted solely of a Canon Digital IXUS i, a tiny 4 megapixel point-and-shoot that didn’t even have an optical zoom (although it did shoot video, albeit in 320×240 at 15fps). And with this camera I found myself trying to compete with my dad – a professional photographer with pretty decent gear – in trying to get the best picture of the display. He won, but considering the disparity between our respective cameras I think I held my own pretty well.

Four years later, in 2009, whilst visiting Swanage with my now wife and her family, we completely by chance arrived during carnival week and just in time for another display by those inimitable Red Arrows. This time, however, I was armed with a Canon EOS 400D, which could shoot at 10 megapixels and even – gasp – zoom in on things.

Although I fired the shutter over 400 times during their display, and took some snaps I’m very proud of, it was on that day that I started thinking that the 18-55mm kit lens I had was no longer sufficient as a sole lens. I needed to get some more zoom; a couple of months later I purchased a 55-250mm IS lens to extend my focal range. Although I have used that lens extensively over the last two years, I never actually took it back to an air display and so I never got to try out that lens at such a show.

Flash forward to today, and it is my new kit that got taken to Bournemouth – including my new telephoto that goes right up to 300mm.

Bournemouth Air Festival is an annual four day event held in late August where aerobats from all over come to display between Bournemouth and Boscome Piers. This year’s show ran from the 18th to the 21st August; Holly and I headed down for the first three days.

Shooting something like this sort of event is quite different from many of the other shoots I’ve been on. It bears its closest resemblance, as far as my own work goes, to the recent London Surrey Cycle Classic, in which the action happens very quickly and all you can really do is shoot without pause and filter out all of the crap afterwards. I can’t remember how many photos I took at the cycle race, but most of them were ultimately deleted as I picked the best of the images. Bournemouth Air Festival was like that, but for four hours a day for three days (well, four, but I was only there for the first three). All told I took over 4,100 photographs during the event, a number which, don’t worry, I have whittled down considerably. To say, however, that I just indiscriminately pushed the shutter the second a plane flew past would be unfair. I made occasional attempts to capture things from interesting angles and compose my frames accordingly, and switched between shooting modes depending on the subject. There’s even some dusk and low-light photography. The fact that certain planes performed on multiple days also meant I could choose to shoot with a telephoto lens one day and a wider angle one the other, without risking missing the action with a lens change.

Ultimately, a project of this size has forced me to change my working methods a little. My usual three-step editing process (which I’m sure I will elaborate on at a later date) had to be kicked up to five steps in order to achieve my target reduction. Due to the volume of subject matter, even though I have cut down my photos by almost 95% that still means I have over 200 to show you – and that’s with sometimes as few as half a dozen shots of some of the performers. This had also led me to reconsider my post structure a little. I have maintained my usual primary structure (I haven’t reverted to using galleries), but have paginated this post to make it easier on people with limited bandwidth. I have also deviated a little in my photo ordering; usually I will post in near enough chronological order and tell the story that way, however due to there being multiple days, with performers often displaying on more than one day, I have grouped the images by performer and attempted to blur the different days’ photos into one coherent set.

Unlike any other project I’ve worked on thus far, I also took a fair amount of video, which I have cut together for your viewing pleasure. Take a look.

Admittedly this is not my best video, so I am likely to return to the footage and take more time over it when it isn’t holding up the rest of the post.

Sorry to have waffled for so long, the pictures will be coming in a second. You can use the links below to jump straight to a page, or use the page numbers at the bottom.


Day 1

On the Ground

Night Air

RAF Training Vehicles: the Tutor, the Tucano & the King Air

B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” & the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Royal Navy Merlin HM-1

RV8tors & the Matadors

The Hunter & the Sea Vixen

Gerald Cooper

The Blades

Royal Air Force Hawk T1

Breitling Wingwalkers

RAF Aerobatic Team: the Red Arrows

Day 1 >>

4 thoughts on “Bournemouth Air Festival

  1. The Breitling Wingwalkers flew over Knaphill today (29th August) around 3.15, probably on the way from Dunsfold to Cardiff, but I didn’t have my camera at the ready 😦


    1. I now have this image of the planes flying over with the girls still on top, reading newspapers…


  2. Nice photos, thanks for sharing!


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