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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.