Photographing airplanes

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How to photograph planes in airshow

If you are looking some serious know how and tutorial how to shoot mind blowing pictures of airplanes you might get disappointed. I’d rather share my experience about the numerous mistakes I’ve made. Still you may learn something.

Disclaimer: This is not a guide, just some of my comments and thoughts about the subject.

Choosing your camera (and learning to use it)

I have a long history as a Nikon SLR/DSLR user but I do have used other brand cameras as well. My #1 tool is Nikon D700, an old but trusty friend that fits in my hand and I know all the buttons by heart. For the past couple of years I have tried to use mirrorless cameras with some mixed feelings. I have a Olympus OM-D EM 5 and a set of lenses (as someone may say that I’m more like a camera collector than a photographer). The mirrorless cameras are small and light, easy to carry around. You can get some really stunning images too but they have their shortcomings. For the Olympus you need to find best settings to get any good enough images. For me it took time and I finally got it – after the air show.

Lesson #1. Use a camera you are comfortable with. The one that can focus fast and on some very small objects. In my case, keep using the DSLR.

OH-XGT the last flying Gloster Gauntlet

OH-XGT

Learn to edit your photos

Every digital photo should be edited in whichever software you are comfortable. Learn to do it, it pays. I use mainly Adobe Lightroom for keeping my photo library and editing RAW files. Some edits I do in Photoshop. Adobe has some very affordable offers for photographers for Lightroom & Photoshop bundle. Get the new CC version, it’s worth it. As I said before, choose your gear wisely and learn to use it. Otherwise you need to do some silly tricks editing your photos to have any results from your photo session.

Lesson #2. Learn to edit your photos

SE-BII North American AT-16ND Harvard

SE-BII

Without editing my photos, I might not have got any good images at all this summer. Someone may think that I did not get good images no matter how much I edit them. To my defence I would like to remind that photography is art and art is the artists idea of reality. So, I edit my photos as I like. Here’s some more.

SE-BII North American AT-16ND Harvard

SE-BII

SE-BIL

SE-BIL

Hope for clear skies

Blue sky is the best background for planes. Some clouds are ok but a grey sky is your enemy; it spoils everything. So be careful with exposure. If the sky is just plain grey (as it is often here in Finland, at least when I’m photographing airplanes), get creative.

B525, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

B525, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

I used a graduated filter in Lightroom to put some color on the sky. Like it or not. I like it more than the dull grey emptiness.

Fouga Magister

Fouga Magister

Lesson #3. Be prepared to bad weather and deal with it

Get enough reach, a high quality long lens

A fast high quality long lens, preferably f2.8 is “a must”, with VR if possible. It helps to focus on the small dots in the sky and keep the exposure fixed if zoomed. On my Nikon I used a Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 with a Sigma 1.7x teleconverter. With the teleconverter I got some more reach but lost some in focusing. Still, it was way better than the Panasonic  45-200 f4-5.6 on my EM-5. D700 + MB-D10 Multi Power Battery Grip + Sigma 120-300mm is quite a beast to carry. It weights more than my sins but it has its benefits. A heavy system helps to get steady shots with the price of sore back.

Klemm 35D planes on finnish sky

Klemm 35D

 

Fokker D.VII

Fokker D.VII

Lesson #4. Use all your money in the best lenses and camera bodies there are on the market. At least you look professional on the airfield.

Planes on the ground

If you can’t shoot them on the sky, shoot the planes when they are on the ground. Stationary objects should be easy targets regardless the camera you have. A phone is good. Here we have a couple of planes just posing on the ground.

Lesson #5. Shoot the planes on the ground. Shoot details, so you do not need to regret afterwards (like I do).

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

B525, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

 

Bücker 131 Jungmann, SE-AIK

Bücker 131 Jungmann, SE-AIK

 

OH-XGT World's last flying Gloster Gauntlet

OH-XGT World’s last flying Gloster Gauntlet

The most important thing to do in an air show

The most important thing to remember during an air show is to enjoy it. Just leave your camera alone for a while and look at the show, listen to the sound of old radial engines or roar of modern jets. If all you see is what you see through the viewfinder, you are not getting all you could. Just enjoy!

Lesson #6. Leave your camera and just enjoy.

Douglas DC-3, OH-LCH

Douglas DC-3, OH-LCH