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Selfridge Open House: Helpful tips for aviation photography:

  • Published
  • By MSgt. David Kujawa
  • 127th Public Affairs
The long-awaited 2014 Selfridge Open House & Air Show is finally upon us. The Selfridge Air Show is the perfect place to practice some of your photography skills. The following tips will help capture some spectacular images.

Without commenting on camera brand preferences, the following tips will mainly be geared toward SLR digital cameras and not so much the "Point and Shoot" cameras. In order to capture an image that stands out with great composition, exposure, and sharpness and you will want to use a camera with which you can manipulate the settings on, and switch out lens.

Aviation photography is one of the more challenging genres you can shoot as a photographer: fast-moving subjects, bright backgrounds and keeping your camera stable at long focal lengths are some of the challenges. I will explain some of the best aviation photography tips I've learned from the pros, as well as my own experience, to show you the best way to take stunning pictures of airplanes.

You will need the right equipment for aviation photography, particularly a telephoto lens with plenty of reach and the right camera settings and shooting techniques.
We will assume that weather conditions are perfect, a sunny day with blue skies and some clouds; the clouds will add interest and texture to your backdrops, and the sun will bring out the color and detail of the aircraft.

Best camera settings for aviation photography:

01 Aperture Priority mode
Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode for control over the aperture. Lighting conditions can change quickly, so start off with an aperture of around f/8. You need a wide enough aperture to enable a fast shutter speed, but you also want to capture a broad enough depth of field to ensure your subjects are sharp. Start out with an ISO between ISO100 and ISO400.

02 Shutter speed
When you're shooting in AV mode, the camera will select the shutter speed, so you'll need to keep an eye on this (to freeze fast-moving aircraft). Ideally you don't want your shutter speed dropping below 1/1000 second. Keep checking your exposures, as you may need to stop down to f/5.6 to obtain a faster shutter speed. You can also increase the ISO to get a faster shutter speed.

03 Capturing motion
There are a couple of exceptions when it comes to shutter speed. If you want to capture some motion blur to convey a sense of speed, you'll need to use a slower shutter speed, and pan to follow your subject. Around 1/60 second should give good results, but you may need a few goes to get the panning technique right. If taking pictures of airplanes with propellers, a shutter speed of between 1/200 sec and 1/500 sec will create a slight blur in the propellers while keeping the rest of the aircraft sharp.

04 Accurate focusing
Switch your lens to AF, and set the autofocus mode to AI Servo to track moving subjects. You can also set up back button focusing, which enables you to press a rear button - the AF-ON button is the best choice - to meter and focus, so that you can use the shutter button just to fire the shutter, without any delay. When you're taking pictures of airplanes in flight you'll need a telephoto lens with a reach of at least 200mm to 400mm in order to capture close-up shots with plenty of detail.

3 Speedy tips to Getting Great Photos of Planes on the Ground & in the Air:

· Practice shooting other fast moving subjects, cars, birds, etc., before you get to the air show. Expect to use the first day of the air show as your practice day, getting down the timing you will need to capture good photographs of planes in flight.

·Take "pretty portraits" of the planes on the ground, during the early morning when the light is dramatic.

·Twist your body at the trunk, while smoothly following the plane in the viewfinder, continuing this motion until the shutter stops firing.
Some of the ground-to-air photos look like air-to-air images. Often the planes performing in air shows are about 90 feet above the ground, and because they're so low and they're banking and turning, the photo takes on an air-to-air perspective.

If this is your first time at an air show, think of your first day as practice. On the second day, you'll likely see a huge increase in keepers as you get used to photographing the fast-moving planes. Good luck. Enjoy the Selfridge 2014 Air Show!

(MSgt. David Kujawa is the enlisted superintendent of the 127tth Wing Public Affairs office. He has won several photographic awards as a photojournalist with the Michigan Air National Guard.)