Up in the air! How to capture great plane photography

Ritchie George photographs aircraft at airshows
(Image credit: Ritchie George)
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From a young age, I have always been fascinated with military aircraft. In addition, my father and grandfather were both into photography, and it seems that their enthusiasm has become a part of me.

At air shows, I find it best to use auto ISO, simply for the ease of not needing to worry about selecting the correct sensitivity – especially with all the action going on! I always set my maximum to ISO32,000 but I rarely get anywhere close unless the weather is awful. Using a variety of software, I will fine-tune my photographs during editing and find these programs incredibly useful for correcting any issues with high-ISO images.

Since 2018, I have taken my interest more seriously. I bought my first kit – a Canon EOS 1300D and a 75-300mm lens – purely for taking photos at the Royal International Air Tattoo. But it didn’t take me long to get the photography bug and before I knew it, I was taking photos of anything and everything. I loved exploring the use of different lenses for different genres of photography. I have now upgraded my camera to a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and a Sigma 150-600mm lens purely for aviation photography.

I don’t take lots of kit with me, but I always make sure I have my wide-angle lens, especially for taking photographs of static aircraft. In my bag there will also be a 150-600mm lens, ready for any flying displays. Sometimes I will deliberately stand towards the end of the runway so that I can capture a variety of angles.

Check out more of Ritchie's photography on his Instagram: @rkg_photography_uk

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

Four different ways to photograph aircraft

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

01 Fill the frame later

I don’t try to get too close by zooming in as far as possible every time, as this can cause problems further down the line. I’ve lost many potentially great photos due to the aircraft not fitting into the frame. I much prefer to crop photographs later when editing them. With the huge amount of megapixels packed into pretty much every camera on the market, the quality when you crop later isn't as greatly affected as it once was.

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

02 Capturing multiple aircraft

I will admit that photographing multiple aircraft can be tricky, especially prop aircraft. In this photograph I went with an f/8 aperture, which gives a decent depth of field, and shutter speed of 1/250 sec. This then captures the propeller blur but also keeps a good sharpness on the middle of the aircraft. 

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

03 Shooting faster subjects

Believe it or not, capturing faster modern jets is relatively easy if you have a fast shutter speed (minimum 1/1,000 sec) and you can then track your subject from afar. I like to start by using back-button focusing, a camera technique that separates focusing and shutter release to two separate buttons. It is a useful way to stop the camera's autofocus system from getting continuously engaged when the shutter is released.

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

04 Photographing smoke trails

Smoke trails can be a real pain. The day this photograph was taken, it was overcast and this did not help. The image came alive when editing, when the De-haze slider helped to bring out all the detail.

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