Pictures of planes, like pictures of birds, can be incredibly difficult to capture, if not more. Their size and speed can lead to shots with awkward compositions or poor focusing, let alone exposing against a bright sky.
Below we offer 6 of our best tips for getting yourself into position and your digital camera set up ideally to take top-notch pictures of planes in flight or on the ground.
Action Photography Tips: 6 ways to get better pictures of planes
Tip 1: A setup for success
Set your digital camera to Shutter Priority (Tv) mode and it will be easier to switch between shutter speeds and maintain focus for different subjects. For fast jets, set your shutter speed to around 1/500sec to freeze the action. For older planes and helicopters, go for 1/200sec to get smooth motion blur on the propellers.
Tip 2: Get kit clever
A sturdy tripod is essential for aviation photography, as it will increase your hit rate for sharp shots and prevent your arms from aching after carrying heavy lenses for hours. By kitting out your tripod with a gimbal head, you’ll not only get extra support, but it also enables you to move the lens up and down smoothly as you pan.
Tip 3: Remember to shoot statics
Planes on the ground make interesting subjects too, so when there’s a break in the action, be sure to grab some static shots as well. Use a wide-angle lens and get close up to interesting features, such as the nose, cockpit or tip of the wing, to get a sense of size, scale and power.
Tip 4: Figure out your focus
You’ve got the lens, you’ve chosen your shutter speed and your DSLR is fixed firmly to a tripod – the final step in getting sharp shots is choosing your Autofocus and Drive modes. If your camera has an AF tracking mode, this is great for following moving subjects and refocusing in an instant, while selecting Continuous Shooting mode will give you a burst of shots that ensure you capture the aircraft at the apex of its movement.
Tip 5: Find your nearest airshow
The best place to photograph planes is at your local air show. In the UK, the air show season starts in May and ends in October, with most events occurring over a weekend. You can find comprehensive lists of aviation shows online, but be sure to also check for details in your local newspapers.
Tip 6: lens choice
It’s hard to predict the flight path of aeroplanes as they speed across the sky, so a telephoto zoom lens will ensure that you fill the frame, no matter where the air display is heading. The Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM has an excellent focal length range that covers all eventualities and high-quality optical stabilisation that gives you sharp shots, even at the 500mm end.
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