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Old 10-11-2012, 07:44 PM   #1
cicopo
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Aviation Photography 101


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PLEASE NOTE, I'm hoping this will be a general discussion with input from members shooting other brands of camera than I shoot (Canon) since I can only answer Canon specific questions. It is however aimed at DSLR users simply because they are a better tool for the job. P & S cameras can do some of this but their shutter lag makes it more difficult to capture fact moving targets at slower shutter speeds. The opening information is my own & it's based on how I shoot R/C but that doesn't mean it's the best or only way to do it. If you shoot R/C & have some advice to share please join in.

Hello: my name is Larry & photography is one of my hobbies, and for the last 5 seasons Iíve been shooting many of the local fun flyís & sharing my photos with the clubs. I see a lot of others with DSLRís & various lenses & Iím always happy to help them get good results but rarely get asked for my advice. Maybe they assume I wonít help but just like in any hobby Iím all about talking about how I do things. With that in mind Iíd like to start a discussion thread devoted to shooting planes in flight, both R/Cís & full size, because the goal is the same & so (generally speaking) are the methods. Proper aviation photography requires that a plane (or heli) in flight look like itís flying, under power, so that means the prop or rotor blades need to look like they are turning. Using high shutter speeds will freeze the prop or rotor blades, and make it look like someoneís flying dead stick. That doesnít look too bad until itís a multi engine plane with all the props stopped but nicely captured because the high shutter speed also froze the plane right where it was in the sky. You get a nice crisp shot of the plane or heli but it doesnít actually look like itís flying.

For those of you who donít think it matters how you get the shot as long as the plane or heli is in focus my advice is to take a look at what the publishers print. Check the magazines you have, & see whether the covers show ďdead stickĒ planes up in the sky, or in the articles in the magazine. If youíre the editor which shot would you buy? One with prop blur or one flying dead stick? You can get great dead stick style photos by hanging the plane from a tree branch with mono filament line, & using a tripod. It will look just as ďin flightĒ as the one actually flying but shot with too high a shutter speed. To me & most aviation photographers who contribute to the photography forums I belong to submitting photos of planes flying dead stick (most of them shoot full scale but there are a few of us who specialize in R/C) will get you heavily criticized. If you do think it makes sense to have the plane look like itís under power but donít know how to get that kind of photo read on, because thatís the purpose of this thread.

Firstly youíll need to know how to shoot your camera in the ďShutter SpeedĒ mode, which allows you to pick a shutter speed thatís slower than the engine turns the prop (or rotor blade). Many P & S cameras can do this but in general my advice is aimed at DSLR users for a number of reasons & Iíll get into many of them. Iíll also point out that the better the camera & lens combo the easier it will be to get good results, but that doesnít mean started cameras canít do the job once you start practicing. Practice is the key, just like it was when learning how to fly, drive etc. Learning how to set the camera isnít that hard but will require a bit of time reading the manual because although I (and hopefully many others) can point you in the right direction we canít know exactly how to adjust every model of every brand of camera.

Recommended Shutter Speeds to try, and I suggest you start with the fastest & as you get better slow it down.

Helicopters, use 1/250 -1/320 and you may get away with 1/400

Prop planes 1/400-1/800, and on some high revving glow engines you can get by at 1/1000 but only while taking off or on full power fly byís
.
Jets, EDF of Turbine let you shoot nice fast shutter speeds, so I always use 1/1000 or higher. The only time I use a lower speed is when trying to get background blur, but that also requires the jet to be flown low enough to have a background other than the sky & clouds.

Youíll need to combine those shutter speeds with a panning action, which follows the planes flight path, and shoot as if flies by, either single shots or bursts, but follow the plane well past the last press of the shutter button. Smooth panning is the key when combined with the right shutter speed. One piece of good advice I read on a panning thread a while ago recommended trying to keep your AF point (they usually light up when the shutter button is in the half press mode) on a spot on the plane as it goes by. The more accurately you can do that the sharper the image will be.
Also youíll need to set the AF system to track moving subjects, and Canon calls that mode AI SERVO, and according to Wikipedia Nikon & Pentax call it ďCONTINUOUS FOCUSĒ mode. This is very important, because the cameras computer calculates the changing position of the subject all the time you track it with the shutter button half pressed, or on some cameras you can assign the AF tracking to a different button, which some prefer.
One other variable that you might want to look up about your cameras AF system is whether or not you can set it to IGNORE a sudden appearance of something that comes between your camera & subject for a moment or 2. Sample situations where you donít want the AF to select the new object are another plane momentarily crosses through the path or say the plane is doing a low pass & youíre shooting from well back of the flight line. You want the AF to track the plane & ignore the pilots as it flies across the flight area. Handy trick when trying to get a pilot in the frame for scale purposes.

Other Considerations.

Background blur used to show speed. Itís not done by using ďfastĒ lenses such as an f2.8 aperture designed to have a shallow depth of field BECAUSE that fast lens will require a very high shutter speed. Itís done by using a slow shutter speed combined with a near perfect panning action.

Image Stabilized lenses. Unless the lens has a panning mode (mode 2 in the case of Canon) turn it OFF. Single mode IS or OS / VR / VC etc will give you trouble when used to pan. It shouldnít make any difference to cameras where itís internal to the body from what Iíve read but I really havenít spent any time researching it.

Zooms lenses are far more useful than a prime for these photos, and I personally use what are considered super zooms, but mine are pro grade & designed for sports photography ($$$).

ISO & other things affecting the exposures. I try to find an ISO that will let the camera use an aperture just a bit smaller than wide open when looking at the background across the flight line, and still avoid getting smaller than f11 or f16 against the open sky. This is primarily to avoid tiny dust spots on the lens or sensor from showing up on the image. Really small f stops produce them as tiny dots that are out of focus.

Exposure Compensation. Youíll need to know how to use this feature on the fly quickly. It is the quickest way to override what the camera chooses to shoot at with your choice in shutter speeds. Depending on weather (dull overcast sky vs nice bright blue sky, or shooting towards the sun instead of having it at your back, can really screw up your results. You need to expose for the plane & not the sky, and quite often Iíll have to add a full 2 stops of exposure compensation under adverse conditions. Check the LCD regularly to see if the plane is blown out, a silhouette, or has decent colour. Blown out requires - EC, silhouette requires + EC, nice colour means youíre close enough to finish with a bit of software work later.

Keep in mind that I shoot Canon and have used their terms for certain things, so if you canít find that exact terminology in your manual ask about it & Iím sure youíll get an answer from members using your brand of camera.
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Old 10-11-2012, 08:00 PM   #2
cicopo
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Samples for referance

Panning blur (shutter speed = 1/60sec)



Nice prop blur (1/500 sec)



Ignoring something in the foreground. (1/800 sec)

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Old 10-11-2012, 09:14 PM   #3
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Great post Larry,

I agree with your comments re. keeping the speed a bit low to get the flying or motion effect. I for some reason have usually kept it high to get some clear pictures...to prove your point of getting a relatively clear picture at the expense of no 'motion" effect, check out the following pictures.

I use a Nikon D300 with a 400mm zoom lens. The following pictures were taken at 1/1600, 1/1000, & 1/1600.
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Old 10-11-2012, 09:44 PM   #4
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Cool thread lets keep it going. Have been flying for much longer than this photography thing. Just upgraded my camera and lens and looking to get off of auto next season.
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Old 10-11-2012, 10:00 PM   #5
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

I've been taking pictures for years, but only recently really started doing more than basic clicking. One of the big benefits of digital cameras is you can experiment as much as you want, with no added expense in new film rolls or developing. Just delete & shoot again!

Speaking of experimenting, I did some playing around at the field the other day. To demonstrate the effects of shutter speed, here's a couple of photos of one plane running (at minimum power), shot with different shutter speeds: The first is taken at 1/125, the second at 1/320. Wish I'd taken one or two more; I imagine 1/500 would still have some blur, but not much. And above that would be "frozen".

Another great thing about digital: the EXIF file attached to each picture. No need to take notes about what settings you used - they're saved for you!

Equipment need not break the bank either. I've done the bulk of my camera-gear buying at Future Shop. The Canons & Nikons they carry are pretty decent for most of us. I've seen fantastic results from guys using inexpensive gear... because they know what they are doing. I'm not there yet, by a long stretch... so I will be devouring the info in this thread!
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Old 10-11-2012, 10:30 PM   #6
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

It's great to see some participation, especially from a Nikon user since I see a lot of them at the events. Kevin is absolutely on the money with the idea that once you've bought the equipment there's no cost to experiment & the EXIF is your friend. There's no shame in getting poor results when experimenting, and I still do it on a regular basis. You don't know your limits if you don't move out of your comfort zone.
I've covered several "all electric" events & so far I haven't been fooled re my recommended settings UNLESS the pilot is one who shuts the motor off now & then to conserve the battery. Here's a Fun Cub at 1/640



and an electric heli at 1/250

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Old 10-12-2012, 06:48 PM   #7
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Very kind of you to start this thread for the benefit of all. I for one will be subscribed. I have been taking pictures since the "Brownie" days. My latest camera is an 8 year old Kodak 700 dslr. It has been a bullet proof and very functional camera. It surprised me actually. I have been concentrating on the flying part of the hobby for a few years but will be getting into photographing the planes soon. Sooner with the short cuts I'll find here probably.
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Old 10-14-2012, 09:58 AM   #8
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Excellent thread. Thanks very much for sharing your experience with specific camera settings - there are a lot of things I'll do differently based on your information. I'll start by taking the camera out of Program mode!

I have gotten lucky a few times...

BŁcker BŁ 133 Jungmeister - 1/400




Unknown biplane - 1/500




P-51D - 1/800

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Old 10-14-2012, 05:22 PM   #9
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Hey grosbeak; can you tell us what camera you are using? If it gets pictures like that on auto, I can see why you left it in "program" mode.
While I'm here I'll just mention something else that I have found to make a better pic. If you keep the subject (plane) to one side of the pic so that there is open frame (sky) in front of it, it is a more pleasing photo. It looks like it has some place to go in the pic and draws the imagination of the viewer to think the plane will move into the empty space.

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Old 10-16-2012, 01:03 PM   #10
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Re: Aviation Photography 101

Quote:
Originally Posted by fixer View Post
Hey grosbeak; can you tell us what camera you are using? If it gets pictures like that on auto, I can see why you left it in "program" mode.
I'm using a Canon EOS 550D, also known as the EOS Rebel T2i. I do get some good shots in program mode, but I'd still like to experiment so that more of my shots turn out the way I like them.

Quote:
While I'm here I'll just mention something else that I have found to make a better pic. If you keep the subject (plane) to one side of the pic so that there is open frame (sky) in front of it, it is a more pleasing photo. It looks like it has some place to go in the pic and draws the imagination of the viewer to think the plane will move into the empty space.
I agree!
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