Adventures, Photography, And more

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Adding a Sense of Movement to Avaition photos

Aviation photos can be tricky. If you put your camera onto a sports mode (if you have it) and take a picture of a plane in the sky you can end up with a photo of an airplane hanging in the middle of a blue sky. It almost looks like a model and not a real photo.

Hanging Aircraft

The interstate cadet in this photo just looks like it hanging by strings

One way to get around this is to try and use some techniques to give the plane some movement. In the photo below I have slowed the shutter speed down to make the props be a little blurry. This adds some movement into the picture. In this case the aircraft also takes up more of the frame which helps to make it more interesting when the background is only sky.

Liberator with blurred propeller blades

The blurred propellers adds some movement to this photo.

Another way to add movement is to add a background with more than just sky to give it context. In this picture we can see the blurred props, but also the mountains emphasize the turn, making the movement of the aircraft’s turn stand out. The aircraft is also photographed from the front. In general there is a greater sense of movement when looking towards the front of the plane rather than the side or from the rear.

Liberator head on

The mountains in the background provide a static reference for the airplanes attitude to emphasize the turn

Placement in the frame can also add a sense of movement. People often interpret diagonal lines with a sense of movement. As an illustration below I have a plane at an airshow with smoke on. The smoke starts in the corner of the frame as the plane moves towards the centre. This provides a sense of movement as the viewer of the photo traces the plane and smoke diagonally with their eyes creating the sense of movement.

Diagonal Aviation Example

Gene Soucy's aircraft dives out of the corner of the frame to give a sense of movement

A final technique is to use panning. In this technique the shutter speed must be slow. Pan with the aircraft in your viewfinder/LCD and click the shutter button. When you click the shutter button make sure you keep moving the camera following the aircraft until the pictures has finished being taken. This can create a photo with a sharp aircraft but the background being blurred giving a sense of speed.

Panning Aviation Example

The blurred background caused by the panning technique give a sense of speed to the Cessna Citation

As with all photography, these are guidelines and sometimes the exact opposite can produce a stunning photo. However these are some good tools to use to create more dynamic aviation photos.


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I almost had the shot – backgrounds.

I found a spot for a great picture. All I needed was snowy mountains, a clear day and aircraft landing. I waited for winter for my snowy mountains. Winter came, and as usual there was lots of rain. And More rain. And then when you thought it couldn’t rain any more, it did.

Finally a clear day with snowy mountains arrived so I rode my bike down to the local airport. All I needed now was for the planes to start landing on runway 19 and they would cross perfectly in front of the Golden Ear mountains. Unfortunately the tower was getting the planes to land on runway 01. So being unable to get the picture I wanted I decided to make the best of it and see what I could get.

A Cessna taking off of runway 01

A Cessna taking off of runway 01

This Cessna taking off wasn’t a bad picture, but with only blue sky it is kind of boring, so I decided to change my position to see if I could get something more exciting.

Cessna Takeoff With Dynamic Background

Cessna Takeoff With a more exciting background

This was better, with it being close to winter solstice there was already a hint of yellow in the light and the clouds and trees make the picture more dynamic. But I thought I might be able to do even better if I move to the other side of the airport.

Piper Cheroke FKKF taxing for takeoff

Piper Cheroke FKKF taxing for takeoff

I was excited to see this Piper as it was a plane I had flown when I attempted to get pilot’s license many years ago. A lot of good memories in that 50 year old aircraft.

Piper Cherokee FKKF Taking Off

Piper Cherokee FKKF Taking Off

As FKKF took off I was able to capture the mountains I originally wanted too, although it is not at all close to the photo I had envisioned.

Float Plane Landing

Float Plane Landing

I always find it difficult to make plane shots interesting. Here I tried zooming in on this float plane so you couldn’t see the whole aircraft which I had hoped made the picture more dynamic then the picture below where the whole aircraft is in the frame.

Cessna Landing on 01

Cessna Landing on 01

The location I was at allowed me to get very close to the aircraft that were landing on runway 01. The sun was directly across from runway 01, allowing these almost silhouetted shots.



Landing 2.0

Landing 2.0

So I didn’t get the picture I was hoping (I can’t wait for another sunny day to try) but I got a good bike ride in on a cold crisp day. I also enjoyed practicing taking photos of aircraft with backgrounds other than blue sky, hopefully making the photos more interesting.


Action Photography: Photographing Planes Crossing

One of my favourite subjects to shoot is airshows. One thing I have always found difficult is shooting two planes that come head on and cross in front of the spectators. Over the last few years I have worked on a technique to capture this maneuver.

1. Set the camera to a high shutter speed. I usually use 1/2000 – 1/4000 of a second. I would experiment with 1/8000 of a second if your camera supports it.
2. When the planes set up for a cross acquire one plane in your view finder and pan along with it. Focus so that the plane is in focus.
3. Here is where it gets tricky. Keep your other eye open (the one not looking through the view finder) to track the other plane while still keeping the aircraft in the view finder.
4. Press the trigger just before the two planes cross.

Hopefully the result is something like this photo of the USAF Thunderbirds.

USAF Thunderbird Solo Planes Performing A Cross

USAF Thunderbird Solo planes performing a cross

The technique takes a little time to master. If you have a camera which can shoot 5 or more frames per second I recommend using the highest frames per second setting and rather than try to time the crossing in step 4, just hold down the shutter. At least 1 frame should have both planes in it. My camera shoots 3 frames per second and that is not fast enough to just fire without having to worry about timing.

Finally, with high mega pixel cameras (10 megapixels and up) you can crop if you didn’t get the aircraft where you wanted in the frame. Below is a picture of the snowbirds that I cropped so they would appear in the centre of the shot.

RCAF Snowbird Solo Pilots Performing A Cross

RCAF Snowbird Solo Pilots Performing A Cross

Happy shooting!