Air shows provide a host of interesting photograph opportunities for apprentice and seasoned photographers alike. The crowds, the speed, and the outdoor setting however pose a unique set of challenges. Follow these steps to take better pictures of air shows.
Prepare your equipment
Make sure that you have everything you need to make the shooting experience a good one. Equip your camera with a wide angle lens that is capable of capturing wingtip to wingtip shots of even the largest jets. Take enough memory to capture images all day long. Take several smaller chips or use one larger memory chip. Plan to fill between 4 and 6 GB of memory over the course of the air show day. Finally, make sure that your battery is fully charged and, if possible, bring a charged spare.
Set yourself up for the best shots
If you are trying to take all your pictures the day of the actual air show, get a seat in the center of the air strip or field of flight. These seats are typically immediately to the right or left of the announcer’s stand. All the day’s action will be choreographed to occur mid-field. Also, sit as near the safety rail as possible. The further back you are, the more heads there will be between you and your target. For the best aerial images, try to get into the show on media day, or during a rehearsal to photograph stunts and flybys without the crowd. This allows you to focus your attention on static displays, booths and the crowd the day of the actual show.
Toronto Air Show 2010 by Inacom
Wait for shots that go beyond the ordinary
Why snap a photograph of a plane rolling down the runway, when you can snap a photo of a plane lifting off the runway? A photo that shows one tire off the ground as the plane lifts into power is far more powerful than a picture of a plane with both wheels on the ground. Similarly, the picture of an acrobat that has both hands off of the plane and is stepping into position, with one foot off the wings, is much more powerful than an aerial acrobat that has both feet firmly planted and who is hanging on to the safety rail. Look for moments of action, when there is tension to take a picture with emotional power.
Take advantage of the Golden Hour
Take more photos during the hour just before sunset than any other time of the day. At this time the light and color is right for highlighting airplanes in flight.. The risk of under or over exposure is minimized during this hour, and the bright colors of the sunset sky will provide a brilliant and unique background for even the most mundane shots.
Take control of your camera
Set your aperture, focus, shutter speed and other significant settings manually. The camera’s automatic settings are programmed for taking pictures along the horizon and not up in the air. The risk of overexposure, and blurred focus is greatly increased when taking airshow photos with automated settings.