For years, while growing up in the SF Bay Area there was this thing called Fleet Week. I paid little attention to it as I was never interested in the military – some people I knew “back in the day” of high school were associated with the ROTC program which was basically a military training organization
with its members usually ending up enlisting into some faction of the military. I guess it’s my long standing low tolerance for authoritative figures inflicting humiliation upon you that I really had (and have today) a distaste for. The way I look at it, I respect you when you respect me kind of equal show of
reciprocation. Strange, but this doesn’t occur in the lower ranks and process of becoming a military person. First, breakdown your will, then build it back up. I guess, if you can endure this torture and pass the various tests along the way to becoming a non-grunt/maggot, it actually produces some highly
respectful individuals. Anyhow … I digress right outta’ the gate on this topic …
… back to Fleet Week. I had the opportunity to board the US Coast Guard George Cobb, a service type of vessel from San Pedro, California. They were in the Bay Area servicing Buoy’s and hosting a load of spectators during the weekends’ festivities. Good fortune fell upon me and I jumped at the chance to do something unique (for me). Of course this included a high potential for photo ops!
Anytime I have a sporting event or something where a high frame rate is desired, I break out my ‘ol trusty Nikon D700 w/vertical grip to increase not only the battery life, but frame rate as well. It’s a few generations old, but definitely a goody – one that I don’t see switching out anytime soon. With charged batteries (one in camera and in grip), I knew immediately which lens to yank out of storage – my trusty 28-300mm. Knowing it was going to be a bright day out on the water, the f3.5-5.6 was not going to be an issue. I also stashed away my much loved Nikon 20mm prime just in case I needed something a bit wider (it never came out to shoot BTW).
We started from Yerba Buena Island, under the SF Bay Bridge, around the NE side of Alcatraz on the Angel Island side, then headed straight for the Golden Gate Bridge. As most mornings, the water is typically more calm – this held true as it was nearly placid with little wind at all … it just felt like a perfect day brewing as the sun was out with clear blue skies above. With barely a rock or roll, we made it out just past the GG Bridge without leaving the Bay’s channel before heading back in time for the practice runs of the Angels. We arrive back into the Bay just south of Alcatraz
with a fantastic view of both bridges and of course the shoreline of San Francisco itself. After having lunch onboard, off in the northerly distance, you can see something in the air approaching fast – yes, it was the first 4 in the squadron of 6 (minus the 7th as sort of the MC for the show). In an instant, they’re right on top of us as they greet us with a ear-piercing entry in perfect formation before splitting off their own way be perform their maneuvers in front and overhead for the next couple of hours.
Barrel rolls, inverted flybys, vertical ascents
and low level passes to name a few, the smell of jet fuel was in the air, let alone the thunderous sounds of the turbines as they top speeds of up to Mach 1 – however fast that actually is (I think it’s around 700mph); pretty damn fast nonetheless. With such a clear bright day, all I had to do was set the ISO to 400 most of the day and not worry too much about shutter speed(not
lower than 1/500sec. I did, however, play around with motion blur for a little while, but decided to just freeze capture them as I wanted to get a high degree of detail on their planes and exit formations. While framing their flyby maneuvers, I made sure that my feet/legs were braced in such a way that I could feel a railing – mainly b/c when they fly directly overhead (with camera tracking and pointed vertical) you tend to lose your equilibrium … toppling over onto a hard unforgiving steel deck wouldn’t have been too pleasant, not to mention embarrassing.
What a fun way to spend an entire day with perfect weather conditions. Fleet Week … hmmm … I will likely not go to the actual events surround the wharves of San Francisco; not because of my lack of support for the Armed Forces –
which I think are awesome at what they do every day to help keep this country safe, but largely b/c of the crowds … remember, I just returned from living in China for 5 years and I am taking a break from crowds for a little while. Some opponents of Fleet Week say it’s a money drain (of the US Taxpayers) for what they see it as a propaganda war machine. I am not going to debate this nor deny what it is designed to do as it really shows off great skill, dedication and stamina that pushes human limits beyond what most of us can endure, but isn’t a little nationalist pride in showing off the best of the best ok from time to time? Forget about the war machine that is ever so present in our government today, but you’ve got to admit
that these guys (and gals) are representative of our military’s might and skill. Yes, the total spend (in a year) is around $37M to support the Blue Angels alone, but that’s pennies compared to our total spend in the Middle East … ok, I can sense where I am going with this and better stop as political debates are never good for this type of forum … because, isn’t it all about photography?!? These men and women who fly these F/A-18s with such precision is a sampling of what our military is capable of is just plain awesome. I was just hoping for the USCG Geo. Cobb to breakout the song from Top Gun … Highway to the danger zone, danger zone … or something like that!