I’ll offer you a piece of advice before I start this article: If you’ve never been to an airshow or air display – GO! It’s fantastic. Airshows are an exhilarating, close up look at some serious firepower. There are usually breathtaking displays of aviation excellence… not least with the World famous Red Arrows display team (I recently went to an airshow with friends who had never seen them before and they were gobsmacked at how impressive they are).
There’s also loads to do for the whole family and I would wholeheartedly recommend taking a picnic, kick back and enjoy the show (hey… another tip before I’ve begun).
Of course, if you’re into photography, why not take your camera too… plenty do. Here’s five small tips for capturing the day’s action. It’s not an exhaustive list and it is only based on my experiences, but I do think these will help in taking some corking photos.
All the images in this article were taken by myself.
Control Your Shutter Speeds: At a decent air show, you’ll see a wide variety of types of aircraft. However, you can loosely categorise them down to three types; jets, propeller planes and helicopters. The last two have external rotor blades or propellers which rotate incredibly fast… however, nowhere near as fast as your camera can capture an image. Because you want to give the impression of movement, you’ll need to slow your shutter speed down to anywhere between 1/25 to 1/125 second in order to blur the movement of the rotor blades. If you select a high shutter speed, you’ll end up ‘freezing’ the action and all sense of speed is lost.
On the other hand, jets move very fast but have no rotor blades to worry about, so crack up those shutter speeds to as fast as you can without compromising your ISO (try to keep your ISO at 100 in order to allow you to crop tightly into your picture without having to worry about dreaded noise).
Panning: Most of the air display will take place from side-to-side; i.e. from the crowd’s perspective, left-to-right or vice versa. This means you’ll need to practice your panning technique – especially when using the lower shutter speeds for prop planes or helicopters. You can read all about how to pan here.
Composition: The beauty of composition is there are no real rules, but rather your own interpretation of a photo. There are some guidelines that can be good to remember when composing a good aircraft shot. I like to leave a good amount of space in front of the aircraft. Don’t put the nose of the jet right on the edge. The human eye likes to imagine and interpret where the subject is going. If it cannot see what’s in front, then it can lead to confusion and sub consciously, the image becomes less pleasing.
Long Lenses Rule: Let’s face it… an 18-35mm lens isn’t going to cut it for action shots. You’re gonna need a bigger lens. The majority of the shots in this article were taken with a 70-200mm but in all honesty, I could’ve done with more focal length. A 300mm or even 400mm would be ideal, but failing that expensive option, extenders can double your range whilst being relatively cheap (well, cheap compared to buying a fixed 400mm!)
Look Around: Remember, there are usually lots of other activities going on at an airshow. If you don’t have a long lens or feel that you want to take a more diverse range of shots, then have a wander. There’s usually plenty of activity around static displays, demonstrations and historical re-enactments. If portrait shots are more your style, you can get some fantastic pictures of enthusiasts who are usually more than happy to pose for a photo.
Whatever shots you do end up taking, remember to put your camera down once in a while and take in your surroundings. Airshows are there to dazzle and amaze us. It’s an attack on your senses (usually your ears!), so take a moment to suck it all in.
Author: Stuart Tree