There are many digital photographers out there, some even calling themselves professional aviation photographers without knowing the true fundamentals of aviation photography. The following are a few tips you can use to better your photography if you really want to be known worldwide as a top dog in the hobby. For those who just shoot casually, then you may want to disregard these tips.
1. Canon? Nikon? Which one is best? This is very silly and stupid. These are all very good and provide great pro systems. You don't even need the top of the line camera to shoot good. A middle-level camera with 4-5 fps is good enough (and at least 7-8 MPx resolution) and a good lens system. I know someone who still uses a Leica digital rangefinder. He shoots calendars! Contax, Sony, Pentax, etc etc, they are all good. All it takes is for the one "Driving" it to shoot properly. I know this is slide area but one of the best air to air photographers (and aviation photographer in general) is Bob Shane of Phoenix Arizona. He taught me a great deal on how to shoot properly when I was wild. He still uses very old Nikon FM
cameras and with those, he is one of the best award-winning Kodachrome shooters ever. FMs were low end manual cameras but very well built. He did not need a F-4 or F-5. Same with digital, it will all depend on the shooter.
...here we go. The winner is..........
2. Live Props... The biggest mistake among digital photographers is being afraid to lose a flyby of a prop plane by shooting at 1/2000 shutter speed. This is the most ridiculous thing you can see...and very laughable. Imagine a plane in the air that looks like the engines are turned off yet the exhaust is still there! Well, many still do this. Slide photographers were experts at shooting slow speed because due to the low exposure of the film, high speed caused vignetting, or dark tunnel effect corners. To shoot action props, you don't even need a VR
lens. My technique is to pre-focus on the area that you are going to shoot the prop and then set the speed to anywhere between 1/100-1/250 speed. Carefully hold the lens and shoot in the area that you focused in. By keeping the hand steady, you should have a good shot with blur in the props. Remember, since the shutter is slow, your aperture is more closed so focusing should be from edge to edge. For air to air shooters, especially those who shoot aerobatic planes side by side, you can go lower speeds to completely round the props. These shots look dramatic but they are actually very easy to do because aerobatic planes hold position with rudder action thus it is like they are stopped right next to you. That is why there are so many of these types of photos being taken today. They are not as hard as they look but seem dramatic. Same with those who take shots from the rear of planes like C-130s or B-25s. Don't be afraid to shoot slow. It takes practice. You can shoot jets a bit faster on digital...up to 1/800 or 1/1000 since vignetting is not that much of a problem with digital unless you are using a very cheap thin telephoto lens. Avoid those.
3. Sunny days. Shoot only on sunny days with sun at low angles (Early morning or late afternoon). On ramp and taxi shots, you want ALL
wheels lit up in sunlight. A more front angle is good. 3/4 front is a nice angle, especially for props. Avoid a more rear sun angle. It gets you dark noses and the shadow of the elevator streaks along the fuselage. On hot or windy days, avoid telephoto shots as heat haze can be prominent and this makes the photo look really bad.
4. On ramp shots - a. Get rid of the cones. b. Get rid of any clutter, APUs, Stairs, and close all doors. c. Look at the ground. If there is excessive oil or something like manhole covers in the foreground, move to another angle. d. Remove the towbar. e. Watch for glare. f. Make sure all titles and artwork are visible plus the registration too. g. Look at the background. Make sure no pieces of other planes are sticking out like the tail of a plane sticking out of the subject's nose. This looks ugly. When you do ramp shooting, chances are you are directing the shot of the plane. Use it to your fullest advantage.
5. When shooting from a fence, make sure YOUR shadow is not visible. This looks really bad. Also AVOID GLARE. That is really bad when half your windows are erased with glare....really really bad.
6. Avoid normal approach shots unless you are at the same height of the plane (in most cases). Why? Take for example Frontier or Caribbean Express. These are billboard titles. Shooting normal approach shots from slightly underneath hide these titles. That is not good for upper level photography. These you need to get from a wing level angle, terrace angle, or air to air. Others may get away with this because titles are up front. Also, avoid cutting the tail designs with the wing. Landing shots like Miami's runway 12, are very even so these are good complete side-on shots which can get the entire fuselage designs.
7. Don't do 50mm side-on shots all the time. I know this was the standard of the hobby but here is why. First, it looks boring when too many look the same. Exploring different angles is nice. Second. Take for example, the JetBlue with the soccer player or Air Canada's older 767 with track star Donovan Daley. If you take these at 50mm side on, you block the main feature of the plane which is the artwork.....terrible photography....really terrible. These types need to be taken from a lift, terrace, or air to air to be parallel to the fuselage and the entire artwork can be seen.
8. Light poles. Some photos show shades of light poles or parts of buildings in fuselages. Avoid these shades showing in the fuselage at all costs. It looks bad.
9. Engine covers - Canopy covers - etc. Get rid of these if possible when doing a ramp shot. They look ugly and it is an ugly picture too.
10. If you do air to air photography, plan the shot ahead of time with your pilots. Make sure everything is in place....time of day, speed of both planes (so one is not faster than the other).....rubber lens hood for internal glare (or dark clothing)......good sun......clean window or open door.....do not fly behind subject plane as vortexes can be deadly....yes, it has happened.
11. At airshows, avoid taking shots of static planes when they are roped off, covered, and with bathrooms, vendor stands visible in the background. The best thing is to get to the show on off-days or get the planes as they come in and leave after the show so that they are clean.
12. Fisheye lenses - use these primarily for cockpit shots and airport terminal / control tower overviews. Avoid using them for the planes themselves. Banana and glider shaped airliners (looooooong wings) are not very popular with the heavy duty enthusiast. Avoid using this lens too much unless it is for artsy purposes only.
13. Super telephoto - be careful with anything over 400mm. The hotter it is, the more heat haze you will get. If the subject is too far, forget it. Normal range of enthusiasts is from about 28 mm to 300 mm.
14. Use fill flash for many shots even if during the day, especially on dark ramps where the bottom is not lit up as opposed to a lighter ramp or snow.
15. If you are close to someone who owns airplanes or close to someone that can let you in a ramp, don't be afraid to experiment....Use remote lighting......light up the interior of the plane at night......place remote lighting in the rear to accent the background......use a red or green light in the cockpit to give that "infrared" look......do not shoot night shots for too long of an exposure as any rear background airport lights will mush or smudge too much which will hurt your shot.
16. ALWAYS USE RAW......RAW.....RAW or the HIGHEST possible JPG (2-3 megs)! It takes more space but you want the best resolution for your shot. If you are going to do this professionally, someone will eventually ask you for a poster of the plane. If you buy a high end camera only to shoot smaller jpg images, you are done. You just lost business with that customer. SHOOT RAW. You do not need to shoot a burst of 30 photos at a time like for slide film. All you need in digital is 3-4 good shots of each subject and each action. SHOOT RAW! You can always convert the raw image to a smaller one for internet use but keep your original file IN
RAW more. USE THE MAXIMUM OF
YOUR CAMERA (and of course shoot full frame too....DO
NOT CROP). Large cropping means losing the potential resolution.
17. Always use the lowest possible ISO setting for better quality. I use 100 for daytime and maybe a little higher
200-400 max for night. Anything larger will start to give you grain, especially shooting low resolution (Which I hope you are not).
18. Do not brag about you being the best professional out there and you or your outfits are the "only" ones allowed to shoot in certain places or that you are the ONLY official photographers ever of certain shows and no one else is....etc. This looks bad for others (and especially for you). Many top dogs have contacts up the rears and they can get into practically ANY PLACE and ANYWHERE shall they wish.....so no one is an "The Only Official Photographer" at any point. Also, keep quiet on your photo shoots if they are for special setups for your customers. Be unique on your planning and don't let people steal your idea and get ahead of you.
19. When you go spotting with your friends....share the uploads later. Don't take everything for yourself to make all the fame and fortune. You are there shooting the same thing. Share! One time, I had a photographer who called two of us to spot. Only 15 minutes in, a new livery came in. Suddenly, this photographer had "Stomach aches" and needed to go home. He did not have aches.....he just wanted to upload the hot new plane to EVERY site and magazine to be first. That is being selfish. That is being an ass****! He got all the money but he also lost two friends in the process!!!!!!
Have etiquette! Have fun but share too!!! No one is any better than the other. You share! That is the way to make
good friends in this hobby.
20. Have fun.....find different angles......look for puddles of water to reflect a shot.....use a mirror.....do closeups of pilots.......do rotations near the runway.........etc. You can open a great deal of enjoyment and still shoot the professional level by following these previous steps to better your talents and show "aaaahhhhh" to people!
I've made past mistakes....yes.......but now my eyes avoid these. Now I follow these rules. I don't shoot unless
it is right.....and it saves camera cycles too. Take these steps into consideration and you will become a very good and demanded photographer in the future.