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

The Pain of Sorting

If you have spent any time photographing airshows, you know just how rapidly you can shoot a 1000 images. After I shoot a two-day event, I can easily have over 8000 images. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to sort through thousands of photos. After years of shooting, sorting, and uploading images, I have come up with a system of sorting image that helps me find the images I want to show and share. They are no right or wrong way to sort your images. This is just what I have learned that works well for me. It may or may not work for you. With that being said, this is how I sort my images I want to share.

To start, it would good have an idea of what you are trying to show? Are you just documenting the event? Showing a series of events. Are you trying a photographic technique like panning? Maybe your following a certain act or performer. Me, I want to show the overall feeling of the TICO show for my blog. I try to limit myself to 50 images per event. Images with vibrant clarity and unique to me. Before I even start my sorting process, I make a duplicate set of images I’m going to be working with. I never play/sort/edit… with the original’s files. In my system, I look at every image I shot during that event. Yes, every last one of them. The truth is, you do not know what you got until to see it. It’s exciting went you stumble upon something unexpected. You also have to understand that this process happens over a couple days and not in one sitting. Personally, I could not imagine taking images and not looking at them. What would the point of capturing images and not looking at them?

cropped-open-show-folder.jpg

Basically, my system is viewing all my images from a show or an event and in a series of rounds, I delete the crap and get to a set number of images that show what I’m trying to tell. I used Window image viewer to view and delete unwanted photos. I find the copied folder(s) and open the first image and start sorting. Hitting the next image button if it’s a keeper or delete it if it’s junk.

window image viewer

The first round of images I delete are the painfully obvious out of focus photos. Along with images that my subject is blocked by something. Hats, heads, antenna, speaker, airshow smoke, other aircraft…Gone. Along with images that parts of the subject is cut off. Missing noses, tails, wings, horizontal stabilizer. The struggle is Real.

Rules can be broken. It could make for something interesting images.

For the TICO show, I shot a tad over 7,900 images over 3 days on 2 bodies. (7DMKII and 70D) After the first round, I’m down to about 3500 images. For the next round of deletions, images that don’t fill the frame as I liked. I enjoy showing aircraft as large as possible with little to no negative space around it. So, all the images I feel are too small must go. You have to find the images that has the spacing that you like.

Also, in this round if there are a few clouds in the sky (not completely overcast but a few here and there) like on Friday and Saturday, those images stayed. But the images with a clear blue background, delete. Aircraft live and play in the sky. For me, it’s pretty boring seeing an aircraft perfectly centered in a clear blue sky.

No clouds

And with!

I love showing clouds, but my new thing is blurring them. It’s difficult to do but it shows a sense of motion along with making your subjects really stand out and pop. Some photographers use image stabilization while panning, I get better results without and don’t use it. This works well for me. You have to use what works well with You.

Another type of image I delete in this round are uninteresting belly shots, images where the wing of the aircraft is covering the canopy along with going away shots. Images where you are looking at the ass end of an aircraft with nothing interesting to see. Like the flames of an afterburner, some dangling vertices or a puff vapor. In general, I feel  most belly shots are boring image. And I don’t want to lose my readers attention with dull images. The proposes of sorting this way is to find the most visual pleasing image possible.

Now, I am down to about 250 images. In this round, it’s time to get rid of the multiples or duplicate images that looks the same but shot on different days. For instants, Sunday’s weather crapped out and very few Sunday images made the cut. Here are two similar  shots, the first one is from Friday’s show and the second is from Sunday’s show. I feel Friday images are much better than Sundays. After this round, my image count should be in the 100 to 120ish range.

Final round. Now, the hard part starts. Weeding it down to 50. This is where it is important to know what your trying to show. To pick the correct images for you. What helps me, is to ask myself a series of questions and being brutally honest with myself.

What makes this image better than the others? Does this image express what it is I’m trying to show? Which has the better uses line, color, composition, symmetry? Which image has the better or cleaner background? Is there something else taking away attention from the subject? Which image has the better exposure?

After this round, it’s post process time. The less time I spend in Lightroom and or Photoshop, the sooner I can upload and post. Now I’m down to 50. This number is not set in stone. Events like AirVenture at Oshkosh are too grand to cover with just 50 images. Again, therefore I feel it is so important to know what it is you are trying to show. My sorting process is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a system. A system that help me weed through the crap and discover my gems. I hope my process can help you with your madness of sorting.

To see my final selection of images, look here https://anadventureinawesome.com/2017/05/27/better-late-than-never/

Until next post,

Steven

The Lessons behind an Image: Part One

For the past 14 years, I have had a passionate love affair with photography. Like with anything we love doing, we run into problems as we learn and grow. And the more problems we face, work through and learn from them, the better our work will be. I’m a huge fan of the “Try, Fail, Learn, Repeat” Cycle. And I have learned some difficult lessons in photography because of this learning cycle. Normally this series is about the story of an image. But today I’m going to switch it up and call this one “The Lessons behind an Image.” Sharing a valuable lesson, I learned from one of my photos.

Part Four: Lessons learned

2004 was the start of my love affair with photography. Earlier in that year I got my first DSLR camera, Canons Digital Rebel. With a whopping 6.3 megapixels, numerous 7 Auto focus points and that cheap silver plastic body, it was one of the first DSLR you could buy for under $1000. I loved mine and took it everywhere. And that June, it came with me to the Grosse Ile Air Extravaganza for my second airshow of the season. Of the couple of hundred images I shot that day, here’s a series of eight I want to share with you. It’s of this gorgeous P-51 Mustang.

film roll of mustang

Of the eight images, for me only one stands out. As soon as I saw the Mustang, I knew there was an interesting image there. And at the time, I was very new to photography. I really didn’t have an understanding of what I was doing. I knew there was an image of this beautifully polished P-51 with a bunch of crap around it. I remember feeling the struggle and lack of confidence of trying to capture the image in my minds eye with the camera. I had two problems. First, what do I see that is so interesting? Where does it start and stop? And second, how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? You can see in the second image in the series, there is at least 7 cars, a C-130, a row of porta johns in between the canopy and the vertical stabilizer, some tents over the right wing and what the heck are these folks looking at over the left wing!

To overcome my first problem of what do I see that is so interesting. Where does it begin and end? Here is where the beauty of digital photography comes in to play. With a large enough media card, you have the opportunity to shoot far more than if you were to shoot on film. Since I began photography, I have always believed to carry with you more than enough memory cards. I never want to get into a situation where I would run out of memory while out shooting. Two things I remember many photographers telling me at the start of my photographic journey. One, invest in glass and two, get the largest memory card you can afford. It will give you the freedom to shoot all day and never have to worry about how many shots you have left.

So, I shot the mirror like finish Mustang like a machine gun. I shot with more confidence knowing that at the end of the day, I could explore my subjects freely and capture what interest me. This runs into my second issue; how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? How I did it was the easy part. I just positioned myself in a way that the aircraft itself covered up the unwanted clutter. But what I feel is more important is the why. And it is a lesson I have come to learn over the years, but I can still trace it back to this one image.

Knowing where the edges of your images are. To Isolate your subject along with hiding the unwanted and unnecessary clutter. Looking back on the image, when I took the shot, I didn’t know where the edges of that image was. But you can see me searching for them in the series of images. Close, getting closer, spot on, getting cold and then revisiting it. I feel knowing where the edges of your images are an important part of knowing what it is you are trying to show. One thing through the years that has help me define the edges of my images has nothing to do with aviation at all.

It was when I lived in Downtown Detroit and I would frequent the conservatory on Belle isle. There I came up with a system that taught me to slow down and to see what it is I was looking at. Once in the conservatory, I would walk through all the rooms, gear still in my bag, searching for things to shoot and keeping mental notes of subjects of interest. Then after making my way back to the entrance where I began, with my ideas for images, I would then gear up and retraced my steps. When I got to something I wanted to shoot, I would stop, focused in on what is catching my eye. Once I have an idea of what it is, I would set up my tripod, compose the shot, shoot and review. If it is not to my liking, I’ll recomposes and shoot again until I’m happy.

 

FAR_90

It was the complete process of evaluating the location, finding subjects of interest and the slow act of setting up my tripod. All the while, curiously studying my subject and mentally composing the shot. That help me start to discover where my images began and ended. From this one image, I learned two things. One, to keep shooting your subject until you feel you have captured the image that is in your mind’s eye. And Two, knowing where the edges of your images are. It took me many years and thousands of images, before I was conscious of how important these two lessons were to my photography.

Be sure to check out

The Story Behind an Image, Part five