Common mistakes made in Aviation Photography

I like to shine a spotlight on some common mistakes I’ve made in the pass along with countless others who love photographing aircraft. Mistakes if left unchecked, can turn into bad habits and poor processes. There are four common errors I want to discuss that deals with aviation photography, but the same infractions can be seen in other genres of photography as well.

The first is pure black shadows. The undersides of wings, tailplanes and anywhere that falls into shadow. If your image were shot in early morning or late afternoon, most likely your shadows will be extremely dark. It’s those images shot mid-day with shadows that are as dark as night that I want to address. Here’s the thing, shadows are darker tones not pure black. Don’t believe me, go outside and take a look. So, why does this happen? One of two reasons. Either it’s a result of poor exposure or bad post processing. You the photographer, should understand how your camera exposes an image and know how to properly adjust your settings to get the correct exposure. If you use Lightroom, Photoshop, Elements or whatever… You should have a good understanding on how to correct and adjust exposure in your software. I can’t stress this enough, Google and YouTube are your know it all friends. Take advantage of them and learn from them.

The freezing of propellers on aircraft and rotors on helicopters is the next issue. When you freeze the rotors on a helicopter or the prop on a plane, you end up with a very silly looking image. As if they’re floating motionless about to fall out of the sky. It’s an easy mistake to make and can be challenging to overcome. It’s a result of having your shutter speed too fast. And it goes against that saying of having your shutter speed be at least your focal length. Meaning, if you’re shooting with a 400mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/400th of a second. Even at 1/400th it’s just barely enough to blur a prop and will still freeze a main rotor. Here’s a technique that I’ve use with a fair degree of success. I’ll start shooting around 1/320th and after each pass of an aircraft, I’ll lower my shutter speed. Shoot and chimp to see if it’s sharp. If it is, I’ll either go slower or stay where I’m at. And if the image is blurry and out of focus, I’ll crank up the shutter. Getting rotor blur on helicopters is much more difficult. They spin much slower than props. Which means you’re going to need to lower the shutter speed even lower. I’m not going to try and make it sound easy. Because hand holding and shooting a large telephoto lens at slow shutter speeds is not. But with time and practice, you can and will find the shutter speed range you’re comfortable with.

Next, let’s discuss poor composition. Not talking about images of flying aircraft. Which is heavily influenced by what auto focus point you have selected. I’m talking about images of aircraft on the ground. Placing your subject dead center of the frame is not only boring, it’s less appealing then a well composed image. An overlooked aspect of composition is foreground and background. Having them cluttered or distracting can take attention away from your subject. I feel the biggest accomplice to poor composition is being in a hurry to “Get the shot” and not thinking about what’s visually interesting and how do you want to show it.

Therefore, I feel every photographer should nurture their creative eye as much as possible along with develop some type of shooting routine. To understand what makes an image “Pop”, how to draw your viewers eye deeper into your image and to connect with them. It’s always good to have somewhat of an idea of what you want to shoot before heading out to an event. Just knowing what it is your trying to capture is a start to having a routine. And it’s part of mine. Once I’ve an idea of what I’m trying to capture, I then try to find the edges of the frame that is catching my eye. I then compose my image, shoot and review. If I’m not pleased with the way it turned out, I then recompose, shoot and review until I’m satisfied. There will be situations where you will not have enough time to go through your routine. But if you have one and you practice it enough. When the time comes, you’ll be ready and be able to quickly go through the motions of your routine to capture the moment.

Good Composition

Finally, is poor sorting of images you’re showing. Showing 7-8 slightly different images of the same aircraft is a quick way to lose your viewers’ attention. If it’s your personal website, Facebook or Instagram. You should be able to find the best images of what it is that you want to share with your audience. Coming up with a sorting process will help you find the right images to show. Having some sort of process and the discipline to follow it is key. Here’s a link to my process that I’ve been using successfully for years, “The Pain of Sorting”. It may work well for you or it may not. You should find a sorting process that is right for you.

With a better understanding of exposure, a newfound confidence in panning, some experience with composition along with knowing how to find the images that best express what you want to show, your photography will continue to grow.

 

Until next time,

Steven

Elements of Art in Photography

As we learn more about photography, we come to realize that there is a lot more going on then just point and shoot. At some point, we seek out images from professionals to see what we’re doing wrong. And to our shock, we got a lot to learn about line, color, texture, form, space, symmetry, repetition along with composition. Features that has been helping artist communicate their ideas to viewers for centuries. Those features are called the Elements of Art. When properly used, they can help your audience understand what it is you’re trying to show. They are scores of helpful information online as well as plenty of books on the subject. When I’m behind my camera, I’m always conscious of what it is I’m trying to show and what elements I can incorporate into my images. Of all the elements, here are seven that I frequently use.

  • Line – A perceived route guiding your viewers eyes through an image.
  • Color – Red, yellow, blue, green, purple along with every other color.
  • Form – The shape of an object or subject.
  • Symmetry & Asymmetry – Visually the same or different from side to side.
  • Scale – The size of an object in relation to another.
  • Composition – The creative placement of your subject in an image.
  • Quality of light – How intense the light illuminates your subject.

I want to share with you examples of how I’ve managed to incorporate the elements of art listed above into my photos. I like to use line to guide the viewer’s eyes to the intended subject. It could be literally or implied and gives me the opportunity to play with composition. Since most of the western world reads from the left to the right, I want the viewers eyes the travel in the same direction.

Taillight red, Windex blue, strawberry ice cream pink, sunflower yellow or army man green, all colors we know exactly what they look like. Color can change the mood or feeling of an image, it can be vibrant and full of life and can even stir up some emotions. Along with composition, you can emphasize your subjects to make a bold statement.

Living in a 3-D world, everything we see has some form to it. But to find and capture one that is visually appealing, that’s another story. I feel one must have a special attention to detail and a focused sense of aesthetics to properly capture a beautiful form. Like sensual curves of a posing woman or the sharply chiseled body side of a 2020 Corvette.

Symmetry is probably the most used element in photography and is easy to integrate into your photos. Like the use of line, symmetry can be implied. A reflection off water or some other reflective surface can be used to imply symmetry. I find asymmetrical images more appealing than symmetrical ones. And are usually composed more complex and I feel makes for a stronger image. Just composing your subjects asymmetrically, can be just enough imbalance to attract your viewers eyes.

Giving your viewers a sense of scale can clearly capture how small or large things are. It’s a dramatic effect that help establish a presence of an object or person. Like the towering height of an NBA player to an admiring fan or the unimaginable width of a sequoia to a nature lover. And the greater the contrast, the better.

I’ve always felt that having a strong and interesting composition is important in my photography. And I tend to shy away from composing my subjects dead center and lend toward the more appealing Rule of Thirds. Along with if I can see the horizon within the frame, I try not to place it in the center. There’s no one right way to compose a photo. It’s up to you, the photographer, to visualize how to creatively arrange details in your images.

Since we’re talking about photography, I feel it is valuable to add quality of light to this discussion. Just like all the elements of art, it can change the look, the mood as well as the overall presents of your photos. It can be soft and gentle or strong and contrasting. There’s an infinite number of ways to show off light, you just must go out and discover it. Since my love affair with photography began, I still chase the light to this day.

The Elements of Art are not limited to the ones I mentioned here. Nor are they limited to how I use them. Experiment with them for yourself and find ones you like. Use them frequently and nurture your creative eye.

 

Until next time,

Steven