If you have attended an air show, you can agree with me that nothing beats the excitement of seeing jets and planes performing stunts in the air. It is simply glorious. The best part of all this excitement is being able to capture the action and freezing it for eternity. But there is a catch, airshow photography can be really intimidating. You will have to get the lighting right and the speed at which the jets will be moving can throw off even the best photographers in the game. Don’t forget that you have to capture motion in your photos or end up with lifeless pictures. As I said, really intimidating. Nonetheless, with a crazy amount of practice and great knowledge of your camera, you can proudly go home with an F-22 portrait as a trophy. Here’s how.
Airshow Photography Tip #1
Carry the right tools
I like to think of airshow photography as a chance to tell a story. Start with the planes on the ground if you get the chance then progress to the actual show in the sky. For grounded planes and jets, your basic photography rules apply. Shoot at the golden hours and explore different angles of the plane. Depending on your desired composition, you will need different lenses ranging from a wide-angle to normal ones.
The challenging part is when working with moving planes in the sky. The most crucial tool you ought to carry with you is a long lens. This is for the obvious reason that your subject will be far from you and you aim to get clear pictures. Long lenses are also quite great for panning, (which you will be doing a lot of).
Speaking of panning, you will not need your tripod for shooting planes in the air as it tends to get in the way of your panning. If your lens it too big to handle with just your hands, a monopod will be a better equipment to have. A firm grip of your camera placed close to your chest will enable you to make swift accurate tracking motions in order to capture fast moving jets.
Airshow Photography Tip #2
This is no doubt the most agonizing part of airshow photography. You have to ensure that your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are right without shooting in auto. To make things worse, you might need to switch through settings for different planes.
To narrow it down, you usually encounter planes and jets in air shows. For both, depicting motion is crucial and takes different approaches. For planes and helicopters, the motion is in the moving blades of the propeller. To capture this, you will need to blur the propellers by shooting in slow shutter speed. Jets, on the other hand, have no propellers and are quite fast moving demanding a fast shutter speed.
Switching back and forth from shooting jets to planes can be a bit of hustle due to the different settings required. In such a case, use aperture priority mode for jets and shutter priority for planes and helicopters.
Airshow Photography Tip #3
Get the vantage point
If you are a sucker for creativity in your shots, this is not the time to inhibit your creativity. Airshows provide all kinds of angles from which you can capture the action from. However, there are a couple of shots which always steal the show.
In some shows, the planes usually pass over the crowd giving you a great chance to take an overhead photo of the crafts. This requires you to be alert not to miss the action and of course, you need to be good at panning.
You can also take anterior/exterior photos of the plane as it is taking off or landing. Unfortunately, you have to be lucky enough to be positioned strategically at the end or beginning of the runway in order to get the perfect shot. You also have the usual shots of planes in flight that require you to be great at panning.
A common rule of airshow photography is to never photograph a plane from behind. This is because you risk obscuring the major parts of the plane. However, shooting from behind is acceptable when the plane is using its afterburners. It gives the photo a dramatic impact, to say the least.
My personal favorite is taking a photo of a plane from another moving plane. As thrilling as this sounds, only a few lucky photographers are graced with this opportunity. This is not as hard as it seems since both planes will be moving at the same speed. What you may have to watch out for is the plane turbulence. To practice this kind of shot, you can use cars before the actual action.
Airshow Photography Tip #4
As I said, shooting in auto is not much of an option when it comes to airshow photography. Since the sky is bright, your camera will often underexpose the photos by increasing the shutter speed and reducing the shutter speed. The result? A bunch of half-lit photos or silhouettes of your subject.
To properly expose your photos, you should let your photography skills do the work by setting the camera fully on manual mode. This lets you dictate the settings hence get the shutter speed and aperture right.
If this is too hard for you, put the camera in spot metering mode to divert the focus from the sky to the subject. This way, you reduce the chances of your photo being dimly lit.
Airshow photography is no walk in the park but with some practice, it can lead to some rewarding shots. Perhaps even a career. To practice, you can take shots of fast moving objects beforehand such as cars or your pet in motion. You can also use the first day of your show to learn the ropes, the rest of the days will eventually bear fruits. Finally, don’t be obsessed with getting the perfect shot and miss out on the glorious spectacle right in front of you. It’s an airshow event, you don’t see this every day. Have fun for heaven sake!