Tips for Taking Photos of Planes at Airshows

GUEST ARTICLE: There are a few things you are going to need if you want to go to an Airshow to take photos of planes. You are going to want a long lens. 200mm is really not going to cut it, you’ll never be close enough to get a full frame shot of the planes in flight.

Smoke Trail
Smoke Trail photo credit: Wolf Cocklin

You are going to want to start to look at spending some real money to get yourself a 300mm+ kind of lens. The other option is to look at hiring a lens for the day or weekend of the airshow.

Next you are going to want a spare battery, you will chew through one battery at least, using my D90 without the flash and not using the LCD much I can get over 2500 shots, but do you want to risk missing the big final display because you ran out of battery?

And finally you are going to want more storage than you can throw a stick at. I am a big fan of 4gig cards and not the bigger 8 or 16gig versions, the reason being that if a single card fails then I haven’t lost everything or a large percentage of what I’d shot during the day. Also your bang for buck works out very good.

At the last airshow I went to I had a number of SanDisk 4 gig Ultra II SD PLus SD cards which meant I could just keep shooting all day long.

When I got home and started to sort through my 2000 odd photos ditching the ones with the just a Jets tail for example as it was moving to fast, the USB cards meant I could import into Lightroom very quickly without having to deal with card readers or plugging the camera in.

The other advantage of the USB SD cards is that you can take your notebook with you and just plug the cards in and use the computer as a backup device and not need to worry about small cables and card readers.

The only problem with shooting at Airshows however is you will always have lens envy. The person standing next to me had a 500mm Prime for example…. And that I am afraid will always happen at an airshow.

Lots of expensive cameras
Lots of expensive cameras photo credit: Wolf Cocklin

When trying to get a partial blur on the propeller, the trick is to use a slow shutter speed of around 1/125 to 1/250.  Obviously if you want the prop to be a complete haze in front of the aircraft slow the shutter even more.  And if you want a frozen prop use a faster shutter speed.

Ready for Take Off
Ready for Take Off photo credit: Wolf Cocklin

With high speed jets you’ll want a fast shutter speed around 1/1600 to get the vapour off the wings during high speed banking, like this shot of a F-18 Hornet

The tone dropping was done in Photoshop CS4, even in the coloured shot the red of the prop and sharks mouth stood out so well that in my eyes this treatment just suited the shot naturally. This other blog post I did has the details on how to do the effect – Tone Dropping in Photoshop in 7 easy steps)

EDITOR: The SanDisk 4 gig Ultra II SD PLus SD cards mentioned in the article were donated by Sandisk for me to use as a prize for the next Guest Writer to submit a photography tips article.

This guest article has been written by my friend Wolf Cocklin (@wolfcat on Twitter). Wolf is interested in photography, mobile, GPS, tech stuff and what the future holds in all of these

If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution


2 responses to “Tips for Taking Photos of Planes at Airshows”

  1. great shots! Thank you for all this great information.

  2. I am an amateur of photograph. I like to take photos of nature. But your pictures of Airshow is really cool. Maybe I should have a try.

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