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, 



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.


  • 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


  • 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,


Continuous Learning – Podcasts

Continuing with our theme of ongoing education, let’s touch on Podcasts.  A Podcast is basically an audio show (although more video based ones are becoming available) that can be downloaded and listened to on your cell phone, music player or computer.  My preferred method is in my car through my music player as I have plenty of “windshield” time.

These podcasts are not purely instructional, but rather more of a variety type show with discussions on technique, equipment, interviews and industry news.  If you haven’t tried photo podcasts before, here a few to get you started.

The Digital Photo Experience

Hosted by Canon Explorer of Light Rick Samon and talented wild life photographer Juan Pons, this is one of my favorites.  These guys are just plain down to earth, nice guys – not to mention great photographic artists.

This Week In Photography

Hosted by former U.S. Air Force photographer Frederick Van Johnson, TWIP is a very professionally executed podcast with diverse topics and excellent co-hosts

The Digital Story

Hosted by well-known photographer Derrick Story, this is an informative weekly podcast that spends a little more time on micro 4/3rds and other compact camera systems.  Derrick usually has a segment called the “nimble photographer” focusing on easy to carry/use gear and equipment.

Checkout the links and give them a try!  They can be setup to automatically download new episodes on your phone or music player so you’re already stocked with content when you want it.

Stay in focus,