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Airshow photography technique - What has worked for you and what hasn't?

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javam 13 1.1k 19 United Kingdom
26 Jul 2010 4:21PM
There are plenty of discussions around the internet (and a few on here) about what settings to use for airshow photography, but I thought maybe some discussion based on recent experience might be useful to anyone struggling to get the results they are after.

It seems a reasonable number of us have made it to a show in the last few weeks, so what worked, what didn't and what eureka/doh! moments did you have?

For my own part I was definitely in need of some WD40 to free some rust from technique at Duxford as it was only towards the end of the show I realised I had not been using the AF button on the camera, only the shutter release.

As some will know, if you have a dedicated Auto Focus button on the back of the camera or can map AF actuation to one through a custom function it enables the camera AF system to continue to track the aircraft independently of the pressing the shutter button. If you just use the shutter button (like I was to start with at Duxford) every time you release it after taking a shot or a sequence of shots the AF stops tracking the aircraft so even if you continue to pan subsequent shots are either out of focus or a moment can be missed while the camera has to reacquire focus.

Anyway, my in focus hit rate increased significantly once I remembered to start using the AF button again as did my cursing rate when I was reviewing the shots I had taken.

Feel free to post an image in here and ask what did I do wrong. Please include details of what settings you used if possible though as that will take the guess work out of the responses.


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discreetphoton 13 3.5k 20 United Kingdom
26 Jul 2010 5:05PM
Bookmarking for later Smile
lawbert 11 1.8k 15 England
26 Jul 2010 5:33PM
Bookmarking also...I live close to Duxford and have taken many pictures from the side roads around the event to capture the aircraft banking without the results I was really after...
I will dig out a few images and upload to here tommorrowSmile
lawbert 11 1.8k 15 England
27 Jul 2010 3:21PM
I personally struggle with getting enough movement in Props.
My shutter is generally to high I guess and I always shoot in aperture priority.
My thoughts are to set the iso as low as possible (I think I can get it down to 50 on my 50d) an aperture then of 16 or so and hope it works!!
Is there a better approach to take?
I also use AI servo and rarely have a problem tracking the aircraft but again Im guessing with a lower shutter that this will call for some very good panning.

An example....B17-Flying-Fortress (Pink Lady for a change from Sally B) taken in 2008 at a viewpoint close to Duxford Airfield
Canon 30d
Sigma 50-500
Shutter 1/800
Aperture f6.3
Iso 100


javam 13 1.1k 19 United Kingdom
27 Jul 2010 5:10PM
I know there are some people that swear by aperture priority for airshow shots, but for me shutter priority is all important as props need a slow one and jets generally need a fast one, so my camera is always in shutter priority at an airshow. I then adjust iso to allow for the shutter speed I need and an aperture a couple of stops down from fully open. As telephoto lenses suffer less from being wide open (in general) I really do not find that aperture control is all important for getting the right results, but shutter speed definitely is.

So for props where slower is better I dial in 1/320th or 1/250th and an ISO of 100 (the lowest I have available). If the conditions allow and my panning is going ok I then drop the shutter speed down. Around 1/100th or 1/60th will give you almost a full circle prop blur, but your panning has to be excellent at that speed. A mono pod can help as can image stabilization set to panning mode although the latter will only damp out shake, it will not stop motion blur.

Helicopters need an even slower shutter speed say 1/160th or lower, this is not as bad as it sounds as they are generally moving slower so the panning is easier.

When a fast jet appears I crack the shutter speed up to 1/1000 or faster and adjust the ISO up to allow for correct exposure and to again lift the aperture slightly off wide open.

For example, most of my prop aircraft shots at the RIAT a couple of weekends back were 1/320th - 1/200th at ISO 100 and a small aperture, most of the jets were taken at 1/1000th to 1/1600th at ISO 200 and a wider aperture.

If you drop the shutter speed down and work on your panning you will get more prop blur but you will also get more duff shots so to counter this take a longer burst of frames to increase the likelihood of getting more keepers.

Taking this approach at Fairford I think I have at least a couple of sharp shots of every aircraft that flew with the odd motion blurred shot in a sequence where my panning was not quite smooth enough.

As you getter better at panning the hit rate will increase and you can reduce the number of frames you take.

Hope that helps.

PP 16 222 England
27 Jul 2010 8:08PM
Neil, thanks for the feedback on this, some useful points which I will try out at my next airshow visit.
lawbert 11 1.8k 15 England
28 Jul 2010 3:08PM
Many Thanks for that Neil....Very informative and interesting....I shall break the habit of a lifetime and set the mode dial to S next Duxford airshow (which should be reasonably soon I think) and give your valuable information a go and will certainly post the results here.

TrevorPlumbe 11 60 England
20 May 2011 7:17AM
One point not discussed is metering ie centre,spot or matrix.I've tried them all with spot working for me (sometimes!), anybody got any comments/tips please
digicammad 14 22.0k 39 United Kingdom
20 May 2011 10:06AM
I found that centre weighted with a +EV exposure compensation worked best for me, it was too difficult to make sure the spot was on the plane at the correct time.

macroman 15 15.3k England
20 May 2011 10:29AM

Quote:I found that centre weighted with a +EV exposure compensation worked best for me, it was too difficult to make sure the spot was on the plane at the correct time.

Yep! That works for me too +1/3 - 1/2 stop overexposure works well on those dull grey days when the underside of the 'plane is in shadow, downside is sky is often plain white, but a bit of post processing willl solve thatn Grin. I use both aperture and shutter priority.
Same goes for autofocus, I normally go for wide area continuous focus mode, spot is useless as it's tricky to keep a 300mm zoom centred on fast jets and aerobatics.

I have noticed that on bright sunny days at Clacton Airshow the undersaide is often well lit by reflected light from the sea, so I modify exposure to suit.
macroman 15 15.3k England
20 May 2011 10:30AM


Alpha 100
70-300 Sigma lens @300mm FL
Exposure, 1/400sec @ f11
Aperture priority
EV, 1.7
ISO, 400
Meter, Centre weighted average
FanPilot 7 46 2 United Kingdom
20 May 2011 11:21AM
If shooting in raw, do you actually need to have exposure compensation when it can be handled in software? (I'm still learning and this would be useful to know in other aspects as well)
macroman 15 15.3k England
20 May 2011 11:58AM
Don't know, but intuitively I'd think that overexposure is over exposure, whatever system you use, and that getting it 'right' to start with would save a lot of work later.
Carabosse 15 41.1k 270 England
20 May 2011 12:02PM

Quote:If shooting in raw, do you actually need to have exposure compensation when it can be handled in software?

Shooting in RAW means exposure errors can be easier to correct, but you can't redeem the irredeemable!
javam 13 1.1k 19 United Kingdom
20 May 2011 1:29PM


Alpha 100
70-300 Sigma lens @300mm FL
Exposure, 1/400sec @ f11
Aperture priority
EV, 1.7
ISO, 400
Meter, Centre weighted average

Difficult to tell for sure, but based on the settings I would be surprised if this was as sharp as it could be. The exposure is fine and the ISO setting seems about right for the lens and light conditions, but 1/400 and f11 is moving things in the wrong direction. I would be looking to use a faster shutter speed and a wider aperture as you do not need the depth of field. 1/1000 is a good starting point for fast jets.

As stated above, I go shutter priority all the time for the reasons given.

In terms of metering I used to use spot on my Pentax cameras, but I switched to eval (iirc) on the 7D last year with compensation dialed in as needed.

Try and get the exposure right at the time rather than in processing because although you may have enough headroom in Raw to recover them it is going to introduce more noise and increase the amount of processing you need to do.

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