A Beginners Guide to Aviation Photography

Part one: Some thoughts on Aviation Photography

Troll disclaimer. This is not the only way to photography aircraft and aviation events. This is information that I have learned and what works well for me. My tips and tricks may not work well for you. My goal is to share what I have learned with others. Knowledge without application is meaningless. –Thomas Edison

This is the start of series that would help someone start to shoot aircraft and aviation events more successful. This has been a project I have had in minds for years now. When I first had the idea, I wanted to do it as one lengthy article but never manage to find time to complete it. Now here, it will make a great series, giving me time to figure out topics, how to say as well as find images to support the post.

Tbird waving at Thunder

Before we go any further, there are two things I want to address. First, make sure you RTFM that came with your gear! And for those of you who are unwilling to read, you’re in luck. There is a wonderful website called YouTube where you can search the make and model of your gear and watch a video on how to use it. Before you start shooting anything with your gear, you should have a basic understanding of how to use it. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know how to use your camera and gear properly. Here’s the thing, I’m going to be using some basic terminology of photography like ISO, Shutter/Aperture Priority, F-stops to name a few and I’m not going to define or explain them. These are a few things you should know what they are as well as how to access them on your gear. Just because you own a camera, does not make you a photographer! And second, what gear you should have to shoot aviation events with. For most of us, this is a hobby and we do something else for a living. I know I do not have $10 to $15,000 to drop on gear and tell anyone who want to start shooting aircraft is unrealistic. That is why knowing how to use your gear properly is so important. Yes, having great gear helps but it is absolute useless unless you know how to use it properly. Like anything you buy, you get what you pay for. A $4600 camera body does far more than a $700 one. Buy the best that you can afford, learn to use it properly, find and work around its limits then grow into better gear.

Let me share with you my feelings about Aviation photography and want to get you to start thinking about how you feel about it. When I think about Aviation photography, I don’t think about all the airshows and aviation events I want to attend however I do think about a list of aircraft set in great lighting conditions where I can create unique images. For me, it is a passion. (going to have a future post on Passion and what it means to me) It’s something that if I was told that I could never shoot aircraft and any type of aviation event ever again, I would fight for my life to keep shooting what I love. It is something that I’m never going to stop trying to master. I love being behind my camera making new images as well as being around aircraft of any sort. Warbirds to modern fighters, from helicopters beating the air into submission to spotting airlines at the local airport. If it flies, I want to try a make a great image of it. I also feel that like any other art form, it should be creative and not just documenting aircraft and aviation events. Using elements of design to create visual interest, adjusting my camera setting to get a sense of motions along with telling a story.

Corsair at Thunder

This leads me into my first question for you, “What makes a great image?” I feel it comes down to three things, light, subject and the story behind the image. How well did you capture the light along with what does the image say? I’m no professional but I do know a great image when I see one. And in those images, the photographer mastered the exposure, composition and the image speaks to the viewers. You should not have to explain what the viewer is looking at. Great photos just don’t happen, Photographers work hard to make them. You’re going to have to work hard too. Here’s a helpful tip, collect images from photographer that you like and study they’re work. Collect them from Flicrkr, Instagram, 500pix even from their personal website. Books and magazines are also a great source to find image that you like. Ask yourself how did he or she shoot it? If you have a EXIF viewer and the data was not striped from the image, you can as least know what setting were used. What you will not learn is how they saw the image before they shot it. Your “eye” or creative vision is something that you and you alone must develop and nurture. Looking at photos from other photographers can help train your eye to start to see thing differently. It’s not going to happen overnight and you can read every book on photography about to how do so but it’s not going to matter until you try to put what you read into practice.

Every time I’m out shooting, I see other photographers and I ask myself “What’s going to make my images stand out from theirs?” This is the second question I want you to think about. For me, it forces me to get out of my comfort zone and do something different. Don’t shoot from the same location all weekend long. Be mobile! Not all the action happens in the same shot. Can I shoot from a higher location? How’s the light now V’s later? Go portrait or landscape? Always pushing myself and constantly nurturing my skills. Over the years of shooting, failing and learning, I’ve manage to build a collection of images I can call my own. A set of images that are well exposure, creativity composed and unique to me. Every show and event I go to, I try to add new images to my collection but it does not always happen. This is my approach to Aviation photography, to build over the long haul a set of images unique to me from my mind’s eye and from skills that I learned.

86 at Thunder

On to the last question I would like you to think about is, “What type of Aviation events are you interested in photographing?” There are many to choose from. Airshows, fly-ins, base visits and exercises, museum visits and finally, spotting. All of them offers different perspectives and opportunities to photographing aircraft as well as they have their own unique challenges. I enjoy warbirds and I attend airshows, fly-ins that are mainly cater warbirds as well as visit the museums where they are based. The internet is the best place to find out what is happening and when. Google is your smart friend, used and learn! I will talk more about each type of events in a future post in this series.

The reason why I started with these three questions and not jumping into what’s the appropriate settings and how to pick a show/event is that I wanted to get those deep and untapped juices flowing about how you’re going to approach aviation photography before you start shooting. Along with to get you to start thinking about what is it you’re shooting. Like any other art form, it is a learning process and it is going to take time. You’re going screw up shots, use the wrong shutter speed, forget to switch back to your previous settings and totally forget with the sneak pass is coming! There will be plenty missed opportunities to come. It’s just another chance to get it right.

Row of mustang at Thunder

I’m going to cover in future post of this series is the different types of aviation event and what to look for while choosing an event, setting to get results, element of design, panning and spray & pray, chimping and why it helps, getting out of your comfort zone and I will retouch on sorting images.

Side note: all 4 images were shot at Thunder over Michigan but not same years.

2 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide to Aviation Photography

  1. Pingback: A Beginners Guide to Aviation Photography | Peter Singhatey - Just Love Flying...

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