Aviation Photography is a special kind of photography; it’s all about speed, action, safety, the great feeling given by flight and, most important, by great people. But there are a few things to keep in mind when setting off on this path: types of aviation photography; the necessary photo equipment; post-processing the images; how to make your photos visible to other people; access to different photography locations.
Aviation Photography Types
There are four categories of aviation photography: ground-to-ground, ground-to-air, air-to-air and air-to-ground: ground to ground photography, ground to air photography, Air-to-air photography andair to ground photography.
Ground to Ground Photography – is the most accessible of all three types, and can be practiced by anyone visiting an aviation museum, an airfield, an airport, an airport spotting area, an aircraft exhibited in various locations, exhibitions, aviation events or airshows. The phone, the mirrorless camera or any other type of camera can be used as photo equipment. The advantage of this type of photography is given by the fact that no expensive photo equipment or any special lens is needed. It is also the reason why it is the most common type of photography that you can find online. It is the type of aviation photography that has been the starting point for most photographers in this field, me included.
Ground to Air Photography – this type of photography is about capturing images of flying aircraft by a photographer on the ground. Here things get a little complicated in the sense that more advanced photo equipment is needed rather than a phone or a bridge camera. Obviously, this type of equipment can also be used, but the results will not be very successful. In this case we are talking about aircraft flying at high speed, with sudden changes of direction and altitude (for example, at an airshow the minimum height accepted as safe for the evolution of aircraft is 300 meters). Taking all these aspects into consideration it would be more appropriate to use a DSLR (digital single reflex camera) or mirror-less camera that allow manual or semi-manual settings. Also a zoom lens is recommended. This is the most popular type of aviation photography. It also includes what is known as contrail spotting which means photographing aircraft flying at very high cruise altitudes and which requires using a tele-photo zoom lens.
Air to Air Photography – is the art of photographing aircraft in the air, by using another aircraft as a photo platform. It requires high-performance photo equipment, experience and a minimum knowledge of aviation safety. Also, this type of photography is quite expensive because it involves at least 2 flying aircraft. It is accessible to a fairly small number of aviation photographers and these are most likely professionals.
Air to Ground Photography – it is can be practiced using a drone that has a camera or flying with an aircraft while taking photos of subjects on the ground.
What photo equipment do you need?
As far as the photo equipment is concerned you can use anything, starting with a smartphone and ending with professional cameras. Obviously, depending on the equipment used, the results will be according: good, less good or not good at all. However, you must also keep in mind that a successful photo is not only the result of expensive photo equipment, but also of the photographer’s experience, as well as the context in which the photos are taken. It is advisable to use a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses, especially for ground-to-air or air-to-air photography. This type of camera allows you to control the shutter speed, ISO and other settings. For example, in the case of propeller planes, a longer exposure is required in order not to “freeze” the propeller. This avoids the situation in which the photo seem non-dynamic and motionless because the plane looks as if suspended in the air. It is advisable to use zoom lenses that is more useful in most of the situations occurring during any type of aviation photography. For example, when photographing aircraft exhibited on the ground a wide lens of 15-30 mm or 24-70 mm is more useful. For the aerial display a telephoto lens of 55-200 mm, 70-300 mm or even bigger is more recommended.
It is not a necessary process; it is up to each photographer to decide whether or not to post-process the photos. If you do want to edit your photos, you can do so with the help of professional editing software such as Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Photoshop. Their use requires additional costs, as they are accessible on a monthly subscription basis. There are also free open source software such as GIMP. Editing photos implies a few essential steps: crop, adjusting brightness, saturation and sharpness.
Making Your Photos Visible
The easiest way to make your photos visible to other people is through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). You can also register in various forums, aviation websites or you can publish them on your own website. It all depends on your budget, time and interest in making them public.
Photography Location Access
For starters, until you gain a little experience and create a portfolio, you can “take advantage” of the many airshows that take place both in the country and abroad. If there is an airfield in the area where you live, you can go and take photos of those who fly there, obviously with their consent. Visiting a museum or an airport that has a spotting area can be a good source for photo subjects. Perhaps the simplest way is to take photos of an aircraft flying over the area where you live (contrail spotting); you can do this by following flight paths, altitude, speed and plane type using sites like flightradar.com or radarbox.com.
This a vast domain and there is much more that can be said about each topic, but we will do this in articles dedicated to each point discussed above.