Air shows present pretty interesting subjects for you to photograph. Shooting them is not always as easy as it sounds, so we hope this article will help you get better at photographing fast moving aircraft at air shows!
1. The Right Kit
Photographing air shows can require some pretty expensive equipment, especially if you want to get close-ups. On the other hand, you DON’T always want close-up shots if you are shooting formation flying. You will need the basic camera body and a good zoom lens, as a bare minimum. Accessories such as lens hoods are always welcome when you are going to be shooting at tricky angles to the sun. Do dress comfortable in the outdoors – cargo pants and a photographer’s jacket help you minimize scratches and damage to both you and your camera gear!
Well, you will be using a lot of tele lenses to photograph air shows. Remember the more you zoom in on your subject, the steadier should your hands remain. As a general rule, you need to inverse the focal length to get the minimum required shutter speed. For example, you would need a shutter speed of at least 1/300 preferably 1/600 of a second, if you are shooting in the 300mm range. Anything more than this and it is not wise to shoot without a tripod.
Just like shooting birds, shooting planes in motion requires that you learn the panning technique well. Keep your subject centered in the view finder as you move the camera in an arc, in line with the motion of the air craft. Fire away WITHOUT interrupting this panning motion, and you can get some spectacular photographs as a result. Panning throws the background completely into a blur, while retaining the detail of your subject thanks to the relative movement of the camera! By the way, shooting air planes requires less skill than shooting birds in flight!
4. Shooting Propellers
Air shows often have old propeller planes, and if you can get to photograph one you will want to keep the blur factor in mind. If you use too high a shutter speed, it MAY freeze the action of the propellers and make them appear to be static. Too slow a shutter speed can make them look invisible! Just the right shutter speed would give you a nice motion blur, conveying the feeling of movement and action. Try shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/250 to find what works best.
5. Save your Energy
Air shows usually tire people out, in spite of the enjoyable moments. Do remember that usually the most exciting events are saved for the end of day. So save your energy to be able to give it your best during the later hours of the show! Try and come early so you can reserve a good spot to shoot from. Stay hydrated and remember to carry cash – many air shows do not have counters where you can spend plastic!