Super Zooming in on Skydivers
A while back, I was watching an airshow on YouTube. To start off the show, a military plane flew high over the viewing area and some paratroopers jumped out. They floated down to the ground, landing near the crowd. That was interesting to watch, but I couldn't really see the paratroopers until they were close to the ground. For most of the jump, they were little dots on the screen.
I don't have a screenshot of the airshow that I was watching that day, but I do have a similar picture of paratroopers on a training jump that I took on another day. I posted it below. The little dots in the red circle are the paratroopers! This picture was taken at a focal length of 24mm which we'll talk about later in the article.
As you can see from this picture, we're going to need a magical device that can turn dots into paratroopers and skydivers. I think I might just have such a device...
Once I realized that I couldn't see skydivers high in the sky, the only thing I could think about was... how much I wanted to see the skydivers high in the sky! So, I grabbed my Nikon COOLPIX P1000 super zoom camera and drove to a company called Skydive Arizona.
Skydive Arizona is a pretty good name for this company because it's where people can skydive in Arizona :) Their website says that they are the world's largest skydiving center, so if you want to see lots of skydivers then this is the place for you. You can find Skydive AZ at the Eloy Municipal Airport in Eloy, AZ.
When I arrived at the Eloy airfield, I took the following picture of some skydivers at a focal length of 24mm. At this point in their jump, they've descended quite a bit since jumping out of the airplane. Although they are relatively close to the ground, they still look like dots in the sky. Actually, depending on the size of the screen that you're using to read this article, some of the skydivers in the picture are large enough to be upgraded from dots to blobs. For those skydivers, you can see one blob for the parachute and another blob for the skydiver.
A 24mm focal length is considered a wide-angle lens, so the skydivers would appear to be a little closer if you were standing at the airfield looking at them with the naked eye. I tend to use 24mm as a reference point because that's a common lens (plus or minus a few millimeters) on many cameras. So, for example, taking a picture of these skydivers with your phone would likely produce a picture similar to the one above. A wide-angle view can produce a good picture, but on this photo shoot I want to get a close-up picture of skydivers.
There are a couple of options for getting a close-up view of the skydivers. The first option is to wait until the skydivers are a few feet off the ground and then snap your 24mm picture. Although, unless the skydiver is about to land on top of you, you'll probably need to increase the focal length to something like 70mm or 100mm to frame a good close-up shot. The picture below was taken at a focal length of 50mm.
The second option for getting close-up shots of skydivers is to use a really long lens. You surely won't be able to do that with the camera in your phone. In fact, you won't be able to do that with most cameras and lenses on the market. To get a super zoom focal length, you're going to need a super zoom camera like my Nikon Coolpix P1000 which has a maximum optical zoom of 3000mm!
Let's look at that 24mm shot of skydivers again. But this time, I circled the skydiver that we want to see up close.
And here's a picture of that skydiver a few seconds later at a focal length of 3000mm. The 24mm picture and the 3000mm picture were taken from the same exact spot on the ground.
Check out this comparison between the 24mm wide-angle view and the 3000mm telephoto view. That's a magnification of 125x! I've had the Nikon P1000 for years and it's still hard to wrap my brain around the insane zoom range that you can get with a single lens. Amazing!
Now let's go even higher in the sky and try to get a shot of the skydivers as they jump out of the airplane. According to the flight tracking software Flightradar24, the Skydive Arizona planes that I saw over the Eloy airfield were flying at altitudes up to 3 miles (4.8 km) when people were jumping out of them. That distance explains why skydivers look like dots when they are jumping out of the planes! Heck, even the planes were hard to spot at that altitude!
Here's a frame from one of the videos that I recorded at a focal length of 24mm that shows one of the skydiving airplanes flying overhead.
But when we super zoom in to the plane like I did in the picture below, the plane is much larger and we can see a group of skydivers jumping out of the plane. Note that this image is a cropped frame capture of a video which is a lower resolution than the regular pictures that the P1000 takes.
THE TRIPOD LIMITATION
You might notice in the picture below that the skydiver and the airplane are not in the center of the frame (it's another video frame capture). That's because I had to take a lot of the pictures and videos of skydivers while holding the P1000 camera in my hands.
"Why not use a tripod", you ask?
Well, the Skydive Arizona planes were dropping the skydivers almost directly over the airfield. I was at the airfield, which meant that the action was almost directly overhead. It turns out that with most tripods - including mine - you can't point your camera straight up, so I had to handhold the camera for a lot of the pictures and videos.
In the picture below, the dotted red line is vertical and the solid red line represents as close to vertical as my tripod allows. The angle between the two lines might not seem like much, but it really makes a big difference.
But by using a little trick, I was able to use the tripod for some of the overhead shots. I found that if I shortened the leg of the tripod that was the closest to me, then I could point the camera a few more degrees closer to vertical. Notice in the picture below that the angle of the camera is closer to vertical. You can use this technique to take pictures and videos of lots of things that are overhead like the moon, birds or when you're at the base of a tall building.
However, I should say "Danger Will Robinson!"
You'll want to be really careful not to lower the leg of the tripod too much. That would position the weight of the camera too far to one side which could cause the tripod and your camera to fall to the ground. That would be bad. When using my tripod this way, I always keep at least one hand on the camera at all times.
SWITCH TO MANUAL FOCUS
Keeping the subject in the center of the frame while skydivers are jumping out of the plane is harder than you might think. When the subject is moving around in the frame, the camera's autofocus system struggles to keep the subject in focus. On this photo shoot, that resulted in some blurry shots and sometimes missing the shot entirely. I hate when that happens!
But using full-on manual focus is even harder with a moving subject. Imagine turning the focus ring while panning and tilting the camera to track the action across the sky and pressing the shutter button at just the right moment. No sir, I don't like it. Luckily there is a solution - you need to use autofocus mode AND manual focus mode. Wait, what?
In a situation like a plane flying high overhead, it's going to take some time for the distance between the subject and the camera to change enough to affect the focus of the image. So, zoom in and frame the subject while in autofocus mode. Then, when the subject is in the center of the frame and the camera locks focus, switch to manual focus mode. Now, no matter where the subject moves in the frame, the camera will not struggle trying to refocus.
There are two limitations with this approach. The first limitation is that you can't change the focal length after you've switched to manual focus because that could put the subject out of focus. If you need to change the zoom level then you'll have to refocus and start the process over again. The second limitation is that at some point the distance between the moving subject and the camera could change enough to affect the focus of the image. So, you might need to refocus and start the process over again because of that.
THE ZOOM RANGE
The Nikon P1000 camera's massive zoom range of 24mm to 3000mm allows you to frame just about any shot of skydivers on their journey from the airplane to the ground. But when you're carrying a camera that can zoom in to 3000mm, it can be easy to forget that there are great shots waiting for you throughout the entire focal length range.
For example, you can capture the colorful parachutes against the blue Arizona sky as the skydivers float down to the ground. Here's one at 500mm.
And you just might snap a picture of a super hero soaring overhead like this picture at 700mm.
Or you could finally capture a photograph of those illusive paratroopers where they don't look like little dots in the sky. The photograph below was taken at 1000mm.
So when you're on a photo shoot, get your jaw dropping pictures and video at the maximum focal length and then take some time looking for all the other amazing shots you can get with the huge range of focal lengths at your fingertips when you're shooting with a super zoom camera!
BY THE WAY...
By the way, did you notice this small building with the giant pipes on the roof in some of the pictures in this article?
Are you wondering what it is? It's an indoor skydiving facility run by a company called SkyVenture Arizona. Those pipes are used to manage the massive flow of air on which the indoor skydivers float. So now you know!
Watch the Video
I hope that you enjoyed the pictures of the skydivers in this article. I also recorded video of the skydiver action at Skydive Arizona. You can click on the picture below to watch the skydivers jumping out of planes, deploying their parachutes and floating down to the ground. Of course, there are lots of views at a focal length of 3000mm!
Thanks for reading this article and watching the video! You can also check out some of my other articles and videos below. Or you can browse through all of my articles.
Other Articles You Might Like
- Zoom: Buildings In the Grand Canyon
- LAX Plane Spotting from Clutter's Park
- Goodyear Blimp with the Nikon P1000
- Nikon COOLPIX P1000 and the Xcelerator Roller Coaster Tower
- Zooming in on the Stratosphere Tower
- FinePix S9400W Basic 50X Video Zooming