Avoid the Crowds


Static aircraft photography at air shows can be tough with all the spectators milling about.  There are some down and dirty tricks to getting great shots even with boat loads of people all around, give them a try!

  • Get in low and shoot high.  Front shots close in from the center of the prop will usually be above anyone's head. 
  • Get in close.  Shoot at minimum focusing distances and "find the picture, within the picture".  Badges, engines and nose art all provide great subjects. 
  • Get just behind the wing and shoot the wing and into the fuselage (like the shot above) - paying attention to only get aircraft and sky.  This is a great shot that guarantees you no spectators will be in the way. 

Stay in focus, 

Mark

 

Air Show Tips - Shutter Speed


P-51D

P-51D

An ultimate shot for me!

P-51 Mustang captured at 1/160th of a second on a low and fast pass.

Generally speaking, you can shoot jets at a very high shutter speed - unless you're looking for a certain type of effect (more on that later) but with prop driven planes it's important to shoot slow enough to show as much motion in the propeller as possible.  Yes, this is easier said than done - as the Mustang in the shot below illustrates.

shutter speed too fast.

shutter speed too fast.

Quick Tips

  • Determine you current "stable" panning shutter speed
    • Start at 1/750th and begin working down from there
    • Practice good panning techniques
      • Plant your feet shoulder width apart
      • Keep your elbows tucked in
      • Pick a spot on your target and keep one specific focus point on that spot
      • Pivot at the waist
      • Gradually start to slow your shutter
        • Different airplanes will have different "sweet spots" - as high as 1/350th of a second all the way down to 1/60th of a second

Take a look at the shot below taken at a later air-show and compare it to the "frozen" Mustang above.  Sharp focus is maintained but with a nice pleasing blur in the Mustang's prop.  You don't get the feeling that the aircraft are just hanging in the sky but rather a good sense of motion.

acceptable shutter speed.

acceptable shutter speed.

Jets

Generally speaking, you can use a high shutter speed on jets - makes for easier shooting and with a jet's speed you may need it.  There are times, however, when you'll want to reduce your shutter speed based on background and simliar situations.  The shot below is a good example, higher shutter speed for the jet worked just fine - but a slower speed would have significantly blurred the background creating an even greater sense of speed.

F-86 Sabre

F-86 Sabre

One last consideration for slower shutter speeds, be sure you're not dealing with three axis movement.  You can manage a shutter when:

  • the plane is moving closer or farther away from you (autofocus does this)
  • the plane is moving forward (a good panning technique handles this one)

However, if the plane is rotating, rolling or pitching up dramatically at the same time it's moving forward - you'll start to pick up some blur as you can't pan in multiple directions.

Multi axis movement

Multi axis movement

Have fun and don't get discouraged, it takes time!

Stay in focus,

Mark

Airshow Basics


Firebirds mirror.

Firebirds mirror.

Birds of a different feather . . . Air shows are a great excursion for the family - and a super way to extend your photography into new areas.  Here are tips and tricks to get you started.

Job #1 take care of yourself

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and not realize you're getting over heated so take care.

  • Protection from the sun
    • Even on an overcast day, the dangers are there
    • Stay hydrated
      • Drink more than you think you need.  Waiting until you get thirsty is not good enough
      • Stay comfortable
        • Clothing that is light and breathable
        • Good walking shoes - you will be doing some "walking"
        • Accessories
          • Chairs, sun glasses and ear protection - to name just a few
          • Check the air show website for FAQ's, it's not uncommon for a show to prohibit bags - you may have have to hump your equipment in without your camera bag.

Equipment

  • Lens selection
    • Short lens: something in the 24-70 or 24-105 range
      • Plenty of opportunities for wide angle crowd shots as well as static displays
      • In-flight lens: a 70-200 is minimum but a 70-300 is a better choice.  A lens that get you up to 400 is optimum
        • You'll want a variable telephoto as the aircraft are constantly changing positions
F-16

F-16

  • Camera body
    • Whatever you shoot with is fine
    • Bring an extra, fully charged battery
    • A comfortable strap (remember, you might not have your camera bag with you)

Some Basic Tips

Whistling Death . . . Japanese nickname for the plane that ruled the pacific skies..jpg
Whistling Death . . . Japanese nickname for the plane that ruled the pacific skies..jpg
  • Camera Settings:
    • Focusing Mode: AI Servo (as Canon calls it) is mandatory.  These guys fly pretty fast!
    • Multiple shots: set you camera to take images as fast as it can - you'll want to select from the best of a sequence
    • Aperture: it can be hard when you need light, but you don't want to shoot too close to your maximum aperture.  With even a single aircraft, you could need 12-20 feet of depth of field to get the entire ship in focus.
      • Single aircraft: f/8 is minimum, assuming a good distance between you and the aircraft in flight.
      • Multiple aircraft: f/11 is minimum, but f/14 is a safer choice
      • Shutter speed:
        • This one deserves a dedicated post (on its way) but some basics are:
          • Jets: you've got latitude here, use as fast a shutter as you can
          • Prop: this is where it gets challenging.  You want to see the prop "blur" in your shot.  This can require shutter speeds as low as 1/250th or lower.  But you need to have your panning technique down cold in order to ensure the aircraft itself is in focus
          • Harsh light
            • Most air shows take place during the middle of the day, not much you can do about it.  Here are a couple things to look into though:
              • Evening shows: many air shows will have a Friday night event at dusk - take advantage of these!
              • Get to the show very early.  Usually aircraft will be flying in during the early morning hours, including static displays.  This could allow you a shot or two with some good light
Blue Angels

Blue Angels

  • Expose for the aircraft - don't worry if everything else is blown out or blocked up
F-16 climbing

F-16 climbing

  • Composition considerations
    • Leave room to fly into.  Don't butt the nose of the ship right up against the edge of your frame
    • Look for different angles, including aircraft flying away from you - unlike animals or people, there is no "head angle" to worry about!
Falcon . . . weapons hot

Falcon . . . weapons hot

Pre-Show Tips

  • Check on show locations and dates
    • Especially the time the gates open
    • Special seating
      • Some shows (for a price) have VIP seating that can also include shelter and beverages
      • Flight line seating, get there early
        • Pay attention to the gate opening time.  If you don't have VIP seating, you'll want to get there early to grab a spot right on the flight line

In upcoming posts, we'll also take a deeper look at more advanced considerations

Check back soon for these informative posts.

Stay in focus,

Mark