air show

Perspective Matters

A low perspective almost always adds interest. 

Whenever possible, shoot at eye level (or the equivalent in your subjects) to gain interest, perspective and drama.  It's comfortable to make pictures from your standing position but that rarely gives you the best angle.  Squat, get on your knees, sit or lay down.  Like my friend Rick Sammon says "use you camera like a spaceship!"

For the shot in this post, I scoped out a spot on the return ramp and laid down, waiting for the turn,

Stay in focus, 


Aircraft Panning Basics


Panning Shots - The Practice is Worth it!

It takes practice and patience to develop a good panning technique, but the shots captured will make you proud.  Chances are you already have some of the basics down and just don't realize it.  Panning relies on good form and a steady motion - similar to a golf swing, skeet shooting and other activities.  Here are some quick tips to get you started:


  • Don't move your feet or your shoulders - pivot at your waist
  • Consider the arc of your pan, and face closer to your ending position - twist back to get to your starting point
  • This places what should be your best balanced position towards the end of your pan, allowing for better control
  • Holding technique

    • There are many ways to do this and not necessarily "one" right way - this is how I do it:
    • Press the camera against your face to increase stability.  A larger, cushioned eye-cup can make this more comfortable and effective
    • Tuck your elbows into your side, increasing stability
    • Lean slightly into your shot - this will create a more stable "triangle" between your face, front hand and tucked in elbows


  • Checkout the article on Air Show Shutter Speed to learn more about proper settings and the different scenarios you will encounter
  • Shutter speed will be limited by your panning technique, with propeller driven aircraft requiring the most skill.  Begin your practicing with no lower than 1/750th of a second shutter speed and move down as you become comfortable
  • Spread your feet about should width apart - provides a stable platform and good balance

    P 51 Mustang<br /><br />
1 160th Shutter    and 200 MPH

    Select your target

  • While you can use multiple focus points, I've found it best to use the single point selection option - and lock it on target
  • Pick a spot on the aircraft, place your focus point of choice on it and keep it there (yes, easier said than done)
  • This doesn't have to be the center point.  As illustrated below, your target won't necessarily have a viable center spot
  • Aperture 1

    Aim and move

    • Depending on your target and the arc it's traveling, the speed will not be constant - you'll have to adjust with your target
    • The bike shot below (shutter speed of 1/ 180th) was extra difficult as the bike and plane were not traveling at the same rate of speed for most of the run.  20 images yielded only one that was sharp enough.
    • The bike shot below (shutter speed of 1/ 180th) was extra difficult as the bike and plane were not traveling at the same rate of speed for most of the run.  20 images yielded only one that was sharp enough.
    • Once you've locked your focus point in place, practice your panning
    • Aperture 2

      Follow through

      • You want to shoot on continuous - as fast as your camera can go.  With practice you'll surely get better and have more "keepers" but even the best rarely achieve better than a 50/50 average keeper rate on difficult targets
      • Start early . . . end late
      • Begin your shooting sequence a second or two early - it will give you time to get the "rhythm" and allow your image stabilization to spin up
      • Use image stabilization?  Well, it depends.  Read up on your camera / lens.  Some systems have a special setting for image stabilization during panning
      • At the end of your series of shots, keep the motion going past the point of action.  You will naturally tend to slow down at the very end and you want to ensure you're still in rhythm when your last shutter click occurs


      • There really is no substitute for it, and it's amazing how much better your equipment seems to work when you practice!
      • Don't get discouraged.  Action shooting has a lot going on, focus on one issue at a time (panning, lower shutter speed captures, exposure, composition) and build up gradually.  Want to learn some other Air-show basics, check out this article from the beginning of the 2013 season.

      Have fun and stay in focus!