In this section I will share some tips about preparation and photography at Axalp. Fliegerschiessen is held in mid October. This means that Mother Nature can throw anything at you.
In honesty, I have had many days up there when the weather was lovely in the afternoon with >20 degrees. But, you should also anticipate for rain, snow, fog and/or high wind with low temperature. And being the Alps, the weather can change extremeley fast and unexpectedly.
As stated before, the Alps are beautiful. But they can be unpredictable and unforgiving. Whether you visit the offical areas or the alternative locations an absolut prerequisite is that you are in good physical condition, sure footed and well prepared. Even if you are in good condition but do not live in the mountains, it will always help if you do some leg training at home to make sure that you can cope with climbing. If you have doubts about your physical condition please consult your general practitioner. I cannot give you medical advice.
I would also advise to not make the trip with children under eight or with pets. When in doubt: do not go up.
When preparing for your Axalp trip make sure you pack at least the following items:
Multiple layers of clothing with a thermo shirt underneath
A water and wind resistant jacket as a top layer
Gloves and a beanie. Maybe not for during the climb. But after you arrive at the top both are very nice to prevent you from cooling down.
Extra shirt to change when you are on top of the mountain. This will give you a nice and dry layer after your ascend.
Sturdy hiking boots that are waterproof and that give good grip on rocks and mud.
Headlamp. If starting before dawn, they are really helpful to see where you are going.
Trekking Poles They are not mandatory but I have always found them really helpful. It can be really slippery (especially at the end of the day) and specially if you are packing heavy like I am, it is a great addition to distribute weight and increase balance.
Enough water and food for the day and some hot tea for in the morning.
Sunglasses and high factor sunscreen. If the sun is shining it is intense and you burn very easily up in the mountains.
Off course you will want to bring your camera to Axalp to take some awesome shots. While it may be tempting to bring all your gear, try to pack as lightly as possible. You will thank yourself for every kilogram you do not have to carry up the hill. Having said that, for the past five years I have always taken my 500mm prime. The 3kg that the lens alone weighs makes me suffer during the climb, but I am really happy with the extra stops of light I have available and sharpness the 500mm F/4 gives over my zoom lens. So here again: weigh up what is more important to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉
Short answer: as long as you have. If you have a zoom lens that covers (the best part of) 100-600mm you are more than fine to cover all the action. Try to at least bring a lens that has a focal length of 400mm at the long end, but more is always welcome since you are shooting (small) fighter jets, and they tend to become small in your viewfinder quite fast if they climb away over the Wildgärst.
For Wildgärst you might want to have a bit more given the distance to the show, but if you go there, I guess you are there for the inverted shot in the first place and that requires lots of focal length as well.
Definitively bring a small zoom lens as well (24-70mm or 24-105mm for example) to capture the amazing views and take some pictures of the lovely atmosphere up on the mountain.
Lighting can be tricky at Axalp. Most of the day you are shooting against the sun. In the morning especially the amount of available light can be really bad. The ever changing backdrop from the mountain changing to clear skies can leave you unsure how to set up your camera. I tend to overexpose in most cases (mostly at least +2/3 stop) to bring out more shadow detail in the dark areas of the planes. How the background then comes out, I take for granted. Obviously while doing this make sure you don’t blow out the highlights as they are not recoverable in post processing in many cases.
In order to capture the fighter action you will typically want to shoot with shutter speeds above 1/1000. While that may be perfectly achievable given the available light in the afternoon, you may find it difficult to reach this in the morning or on cloudy days without pushing the ISO value too high.
To get the best result, try to establish (at home) what the maximum ISO value is you find acceptable from your camera. If you use that as a given you can then push your shutter time to be as fast as possible until you reach that level.
The helicopters will usually be never be a problem since you typically never shoot helos with shutter speeds of above 1/200 in the first place to prevent the rotors freezing up in your image. When the VIPS are brought up during lunch, you will have some time to practices your panning skills, gradually bringing your shutter speed down to 1/5s to get that full rotor blur. Always a nice sense of achievement when you pull that off with a sharp image. But you will have many “sub optimal” pictures. You can also use longer shutter speeds to blur the background for the jets, that requires even more skill and luck!
Do pack some extra batteries. Especially when it is cold. You will most likely take a lot of shots, and if the temperatures are low your batteries will drain sooner than you think. Talking of spares: also have a spare memory card at hand to avoid not being able to take more pictures. I tend to shoot double the amount of pictures at Axalp than I do on a normal day of shooting.
I don’t like taking photos and filming at the same time, but many people also take a GoPro. A good idea as it does not add too much weight and the Axalp demos are very good for filming.
Lastly, I would not take a tripod/monopod mainly considering the weight. They might really help to improve your keeper rate on your low shutter speed helicopter panning shots. But, I usually think that when capturing the fast jets, they are not suited for the narrow arena you are shooting in and I have noticed that for the fast action in Axalp hand held gives you more flexibility. Also given the climb you will have to make, you will thank me for not having to carry it up the mountain.
3. ALTERNATIVE LOCATIONS
NEXT5. TRAVELLING TO AXALP
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