For safety reasons, a 500-foot buffer zone was maintained around the race track, but the media boat was allowed the cross into this area (you can read more about the safety measures). As such, we occasionally found ourselves a literal stone’s throw away from the No. 7 pylon at the end of the course, where pilots would pull up hard into a vertical turning maneuver, the screaming engines of their aircraft momentarily drowning out every other sound. At this distance, keeping the planes lined up in a camera’s viewfinder — especially when shooting with a long lens — was incredibly difficult.
Not bringing a monopod was a rookie mistake, but we were able to consistently pull off sharp photos.
However, this task is simpler today than it would have been a few years ago. While other members of the press were weighed down with full-frame sports cameras like the Nikon D5 and large telephoto lenses, we made due with a Canon Rebel T7i — an entry-level consumer DSLR — and the relatively compact Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (amateur) and Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport (pro) lenses. We will have a full hands-on report on the gear soon, but for now, suffice it to say that we were surprisingly impressed with the results we got from an entry-level DSLR. The camera doesn’t make the photographer, but when autofocus and burst rate can keep up with the action, it sure makes things easier.
By the end of the weekend, we photographers stepped off the boat with sunburns, aching backs, and tired feet — but also with big smiles. For most, photographing an air race is a rare opportunity — for some, it’s once-in-a-lifetime. It was tremendously challenging, but equally rewarding, and made for an experience we won’t soon forget.
The Red Bull Air Race heads to Chiba, Japan, next on the 2017 circuit, while the final race will return stateside on October 14-15, in Indianapolis.
Editors’ note: We were guests of Red Bull, but all opinions are our own.