2022 Chicago Air & Water Show Photo Tips by Nick Sinnott

Thank you for supporting Chicago Photography Classes and hope that these tips on photographing the 2022 Chicago Air & Water Show will help you enjoy this weekend’s event. Over the last 20 years, I have tried to see every show, and it is worth it every time. I have photographed the show from Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach, a boat, Fullerton Ave. beach and Diversey Harbor Area. 
Unfortunately, I will be unable to make it to the !party” this year but wanted to give you some tips to help you with exposures and compositions. 
Show Days 
The official Chicago Air & Water Show is Saturday and Sunday, August 20th & 21st from 10 AM until about 3 PM. However, the practice show is on Friday, August 19th (about the same times) and provides you with almost the same show (sometimes extras) with fewer people. 
What To Bring 
•SUNSCREEN! Trust me, sitting there all day, even if its partly cloudy can be brutal if you don’t have sunscreen. 



•Water – while there will be lots of vendors selling water. If you 
want to pay $3 for a bottle, it’s up to you. 

•A stadium seat pad is always nice; sitting on hard concrete all day 
takes a toll on the rear! 
Camera Gear 

• 1 to 2 DSLR or Mirrorless camera bodies. I shoot the show with two camera bodies.    
•A normal Lens (24 – 70 mm focal range) 

•Telephoto Lens (100 – 600 mm focal range). Preferably between 
200mm – 600mm. 

•Dress for the weather. 

•Towel…not just to sit on but to cover your camera from time to 
time to protect it from the sun as well 

•Extra Batteries and Extra Memory Cards. 

•Still time to rent camera equipment from Dodd Camera or your 
local camera store. 

How I Set Up My Cameras 

•One of my camera body’s has a 24 – 70 f/4 wide-angle lens on it. The other camera body has the telephoto lens. The advantage to using two cameras is that you do not have to switch lenses in the middle of the show. Some of the acts are fast paced and switching a lens takes too long. 

•If you are using one camera body keep start with the longest focal length lens you have. Most of your photos will be at the longest focal length. 

•Shoot in both Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority (Time Value) Modes. Before the show, in Shutter Priority, I set the shutter speed to 1/150 – 1/200. Then in Aperture Priority, I set the Aperture to F/5.6 – f/8. WHY??? 

o When photographing the prop aircraft or rotor aircraft, I want a slower shutter speed to get prop and rotor blur. Shutter Priority Mode set at 1/150 – 1/250 will do the trick. 
o When a jet comes by I can quickly switch to Aperture Priority and shoot it at f/5.6 and f/8. 
o When a prop plane comes back, all I have to do is switch back to Shutter Priority and I’ll be back at my shutter speed that I want. 
•My Metering Mode is normally set to Center-Weighted on the Telephoto Body and Matrix (Evaluative) on the Wide Angle Body. 

•My Drive Mode is on high-speed continuous 

•My Quality – Always RAW!!!! 

What Aircraft to Expect This Year (Highlights) And Mode to Shoot 
•This year the Navy Blue Angels are the Headliner and will perform at around 2:00 to 3:00 pm. (Aperture Priority) 

•USAF F-22. This aircraft can maneuver on a dime so I’m sure we’ll get a great show from this aircraft. (Aperture Priority) 

•USAF F-35 – Loud and Fast!!! (Aperture Priority) 

•US Marine’s Osprey – Large double prop aircraft that will convert 
the props to a vertical take-off and landing. (Shutter Priority) 

•Team Aeroshell (Not confirmed): The aerobatic team that puts out 
a ton of smoke…really cool against a deep blue sky! (Shutter 

•Team Oracle (Not Confirmed) – great aerobatic team. (Shutter 

•C-130 Hercules Fat Albert – a large 4 – turbo propped support 
aircraft for the Navy Blue Angels (Shutter Priority) 

•P-51 Mustang (My Favorite!) (Heritage Flight) – Classic WWII 
fighter aircraft. Just the sound of the engine makes me smile! (Shutter Priority) 


Diversey Harbor Entrance

This is North of the Show Box and outside of the massive crowds. While most of the air show aircraft will not be near you to photograph with less than a 300mm lens, this is a great place to photograph the Blue Angels! The Blue Angel’s F-18s will be flying right overhead of the Diversey Harbor as they set up for the next maneuver. Best place to stand is against the white railing. Here are some of my favorite shots from that location.

Fullerton Ave Breakwall

Great spot at the North end of the Show Box which provides ample areas to sit and photograph the show. The view provides great views of the city skyline and you’ll be able to photograph the aircraft (especially the military aircraft) with the city as your backdrop. Here are some of my favorite shots from this location:

North Ave Beach

Show Center! Certainly where the action happens all day including massive crowds. In years past, we were able to get on top of the dune bluffs to be able to shoot over the crowds on the beach but they have since closed these areas to re-establish dune grass and other native plants. Last year, we photographed at the water’s edge and had a great time! What a refreshing way to photograph with your feet in the water and sand between your toes. Caution: sand will get EVERYWHERE…try to avoid switching lenses while on the beach.
You’ll be able to capture all of the show from this spot but get ready to practice your panning methods when the jets are flying left to right and right to left. This is certainly the spot to capture the entire show.
Since it will be more difficult to include the city from this location, make sure to try and include foreground elements. Here are some of my favorites from this location:

North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott
North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott
North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott
North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott
North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott
North ave Air Show by Nick Sinnott

Examples of Photos and Settings

500mm, f/4.0, 1/1250 (Telephoto Lens)
95mm, f/4.0, 1/1000 (Slightly wider shot to include crowd)
70mm, f/10, 1/160 (Normal focal length to include all aircraft)
500mm, f/11, 1/320 (Shutter speed Priority to get prop blur)
280mm, f/14, 1/200 (prop blur)
500mm, f/6.3, 1/320 (Rotor Blur)
31mm, f/11, 1/125 (Wide Angle to include city)
280mm, f/7.1, 1/1000 (Including buildings in background)
16mm, f/6.3, 1/640 (Including the whole environment)

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