Since this week marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day and with the number of airshows that are happening around the country, it seemed like a good time to write a little about different areas of aviation photography and how to approach certain scenarios. A good place to start is of course with your feet on the ground. Static photography is certainly the best place to start as all parked planes are easy subjects to work around safely. Airplanes have one very special feature to them that stands out and that is the lines. Planes are made of great lines and the relationship between those surfaces and light is what makes an image come to life.
Whether it’s working at an airshow or at a private hanger, you have to think about what the story is. There is nothing wrong with capturing the moment that exists when approaching an aircraft but if you want to really make something special you have to work at the angle and the gesture of the plane to make a statement. One of the best ways to bring out that gesture is to go in tight with a longer lens like a 70-200 VRII or even a 200-400VR. A long lens does a great job of isolating details like the prop hub, the blades, the canopy, guns, or other characteristics of planes without having to get close physically. When working around other people using a long lens helps to keep heads out of the way while still able to get a shot.
When it comes to telling the whole story one image is never really enough. This is where going wide by using something like a 24-70 AF-S to capture in everything is just as important as going in tight to get detail shots. Just like with a good landscape image a wide shot is only going to be strong is the foreground and background are strong. Some of the se planes are really big, and not having a good sky behind the plane is not going to help. It is important to watch all the elements. One way to help overcome this obstacle is by getting down low and shooting up. This helps to blur the details in the foreground and accentuate the plane while making the plane look bigger. Even with a bald sky shooting this way can make the image more interesting.
The last thing I want to point out is that no matter what the age the plane is, whether it’s jet powered or prop driven, the devil is in the details. Just like with any subject the light is key and where that light is highlighting the plane is a great place to focus on. One great way to help bring your eye to that point is by using a simple gradient on the top and bottom that brings down the exposure. Another simple way to accomplish the same desire is to use a vignette.