I was given my first camera way back in 1966 when I was 7 years old! I have had an avid interest in photography ever since and I find that as I get older my interest increases. One of my favourite subjects is aircraft, whether this is at airshows or static displays in museums or just visiting small airfields. People ask what do they need and I reply it depends on how deep their pockets are! However, with a modest set up many people will be able to take images at an airshow. There are usually two types of images, ground exhibits and the actual flying aircraft. I’ll come back to both shortly.
Buy tickets in advance
Firstly, if possible, buy your tickets in advance. This usually can have some savings that you can spend on other goodies at the show. Look at the weather forecast and remember if it is in Scotland there will always be the chance of rain and there aren’t many shelters at the Airshow!
A bit about the kit
Now to the hardware. Any camera can take photographs, fact. Regardless of the model you use, make sure you do know how to use it. Sounds simple but be familiar with your equipment. Taking a newly-bought machine to an airshow is not recommended. I once had a total shutter failure at 08:50 one morning at the Leuchars show some years ago and had only a small compact as a backup camera. That was a sore lesson! Make sure you have enough batteries and memory cards to cover the day and make sure you have charged and checked all your equipment a few days in advance. Flash for ground to air shots is not necessary yet I still see people firing away and I wonder how will their images look.
If you are using a DSLR camera, a lens of around 300mm is usually needed, longer is better. Zooms are fine but many photographers do use longer telephoto lenses and some with very fast apertures, f2.8 (need to win the lottery!). Shutter priority is usually the mode that I use. If you use too fast a shutter speed you will stop propellers and that can look a little unnatural for a prop driven aircraft in flight. ISO speed, white balance and metering also have to be taken into account. You may opt for totally auto or programmed modes. If you have more experience you may wish to go fully manual. The choice is yours. Frame and burst rate may be important if you wish to capture in rapid succession a number of images of the same aircraft. Some cameras are faster than others and that is why we pay more!
A typical setup would include a wide angle lens (prime or zoom) for ground displays and candid shots and a tele zoom lens, say 70-300 or other variants of around 100-400mm or so. I use a Canon 5DMKII but I have also used Canon Powershots G9, 10 and currently G12 at airshows. A small portable chair is useful or a small trolley with which to tote all your gear. A polariser filter may be useful and can give rich blue skies, just make sure you are familiar with using them as results can vary with experience. I also use an air band scanner and this can let you hear when the next aircraft is about to enter the display circuit, but that is another discussion for a later time.
On the day
So arrive in good time and pick your spot. The Airshow at the National Museum of Flight is easily my favourite show in Scotland and I will be going over to Malta later this year to cover their airshow in September. Practice does make perfect but I would be a liar if I said that luck did not play a part!
Just remember at these events there are lots of subjects for taking photographs of. There will be people and character actors that will give photo opportunities. I think that spontaneous unposed images work best. Try using mono or sepia settings on your camera for a change. Look around for the unusual, (no, not a sunny day at East Fortune!) and see what your eye falls on.
Most of all remember it should be a fun day out. Check your gear before leaving home and think, just how much stuff are you prepared to carry with you? It is a temptation to take the lot but it can be a burden and spoil the day. So sit back, look at the programme and wait for your favourite to display and remember, we are here to enjoy it, so chill out! Chocks away!
You can see Robert’s photos of the Airshow at National Museum of Flight, East Fortune on our East Fortune Airshow Flickr Group. Why not add yours to the group for all to see? You can see Robert’s Flickr Photostream here.