In the air! How to capture great airplane photos

From a young age, I have always been fascinated by military planes. Also, my dad and grandpa were both passionate about photography, and it seems their enthusiasm has become part of me.

At air shows I find it best to use Auto ISO, just so you don’t have to worry about selecting the right sensitivity – especially with all the action going on! I always set my maximum to ISO 32,000, but I rarely get close unless the weather is terrible. Using a variety of software, I will fine-tune my photos while editing and find these programs incredibly helpful in correcting any issues with high ISO images.

Since 2018, I take my interest more seriously. I bought my first kit – a Canon EOS 1300D and a 75-300mm lens – only for taking pictures at the Royal International Air Tattoo. But it didn’t take long for me to catch the photography bug and before I knew it I was taking pictures 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 Sigma 150-600mm lens only for aviation photography.

I don’t take a lot of gear with me, but I always make sure I have my wide-angle lens, especially for taking pictures of static airplanes. In my bag there will also be a 150-600mm lens, ready for any flying display. Sometimes I purposely stand towards the end of the track so I can capture a variety of angles.

Check out more photos of Ritchie on his Instagram: @rkg_photography_uk

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

Four different ways to photograph an airplane

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

01 Fill in the box later

I don’t try to get too close by zooming in as much as possible each time as this can cause issues later. I have lost many potentially great photos due to the plane not fitting into the frame. I much prefer to crop the photos later when editing them. With the massive amount of megapixels packed into just about every camera on the market, the quality when you crop later isn’t as affected as it once was.

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

02 Capture multiple planes

Granted, photographing multiple planes can be tricky, especially propeller planes. In this photo, I opted for an f / 8 aperture, which gives a decent depth of field, and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec. This then captures the blur of the propeller but also keeps a good sharpness on the middle of the plane.

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

03 Shooting subjects faster

Believe it or not, capturing faster modern jets is relatively easy if you have a fast shutter speed (minimum 1/1000 s) and can then follow your subject from a distance. I like to start by using the rear button focus, a camera technique that separates the focus and shutter button into two separate buttons. This is a useful way to prevent the camera’s autofocus system from continuously engaging when the shutter is released.

(Image credit: Ritchie George)

04 Photographing smoke trails

Smoke trails can be very annoying. The day this photo was taken it was overcast and it didn’t help. The image came to life during editing, when the De-haze slider helped bring out all the details.

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Stewart C. Hartline