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Air Show Photography

Techniques > Air Show Photography

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Category: Sports and Action

Air Show Photography Tips - Heading to an air show with your camera? Have a read of these photography tips before you head out of the door.

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Air shows are a great place for photographers to shoot action shots of planes in flight, plus they are a great day out which means your family will be entertained while you're busy taking photographs. Many take place during the summer months, however there are still several shows planed for Septemeber and October if you're thinking of taking your camera gear along to one. 

Listings for the UK annual airshows can be found on the military air shows website.

Images and tips come courtesy of David Pritchard (discreetphoton). 


Smaller air shows will usually take place much closer to the crowd line, so these are ideal if you don’t have a long lens. Something around the 70-200mm lens on a cropped sensor body is adequate for photographing display teams in most cases. For shots of single aircraft or close-ups of ground displays, add a teleconverter or use a lens with more reach. 

As holding a lens skywards will strain your arms very quickly, especially with heavier lenses, a tripod is useful, however a monopod does take up less space and is less likely to be knocked.

Take lots of memory cards, as they are quickly filled and always pack a raincoat, sunblock and a hat as you never know what the weather will decide to do!


For propeller-driven aircraft, shutter speeds are particularly important as you need to get your shutter speed low enough to get some motion blur in the propellers, or the aircraft will look static. When it comes to jets, choose the fastest speed you can get away with! You'll also need to perfect your panning skills for this type of aircraft. 

Do note that jets tend to climb very quickly during shows, and are easily lost from your viewfinder, however positioning yourself at the edges of the display area should increase your chance of capturing a more dynamic shot as this is where jets usually slow for turns. Keep an eye out for the afterburners and condensing vapours, which can really lift an image, too. 

As you'll be shooting into a bright scene (the sky) you may need to use exposure compensation. Working manually with spot metering can also help with a bright sky.  It's also worth shooting in RAW as this increases your options in what can be a rapidly-changing set of exposures.

For display teams, a wider angled lens can be handy, as long as your timing is right. They are often accompanied by smoke trails, too, which really help to add a sense of motion and drama to your shots. For this type of imagery, find a spot near the middle of the crowd line to ensure you capture the whole display.


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