Seven Tips for Getting Started with Aviation Photography

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Even though aviation photography is not the most widespread genre of photography, it is largely practiced by aviation enthusiasts. It can be very enjoyable even if you have never been close to an airport before.

The opportunities for taking photos of aircraft will vary greatly depending on where you are located. However, chances are that there is an airport or an aviation museum close to where you live. Should you decide to give photographing aircraft a try, you might find the seven tips below useful.

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Tip #1: Airshows and museums are an easy place to start

While photographing around an active airport can be challenging from time to time, photographing at airshows and museums is almost always a breeze. As such, if you are just starting out with aviation photography, try to see whether there are any airshows or aviation museums around your house or at your travel destination.

At both of them, you will be able to get close to the aircraft and experiment with a variety of different angles to the maximum possible extent. Furthermore, at airshows, you will not only be able to capture the aircraft on the ground, but also in action in the air.

The only drawback of airshows is that they are generally held once a year or less frequently. As such, if you want to start photographing now, you might have to stick with a museum.

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Tip #2: Do your research and understand the etiquette

Before going to photograph around an airport for the first time, do your research and understand the “etiquette” around this type of photography. If you are serious about aviation photography, or aircraft spotting as it is sometimes referred to, you should consider visiting an active airport. Before doing so, however, familiarize yourself with the three basic rules below.

First, always carry your photo ID with you. Airports are some of the most sensitive locations out there and you might be checked by the authorities from time to time.

Second, comply with their rules. While it is generally not a problem to photograph at recognized locations, sometimes you may be asked to leave. In those cases, oblige without making a fuss.

Third, make sure not to trespass or photograph from off-limits locations in order to avoid trouble and to prevent damage to the reputation of aviation photographers in general.

In addition to the rules above, also keep in mind that to photograph around the airport perimeter you will need to know the right places to go to. To find out what they are, look for spotting guides of the airport you are planning to visit (e.g. search for “Los Angeles airport spotting”). That will provide you with the information you will need to get the most out of your day at the airport.

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Tip #3: When you can get close, focus on the details

In many cases, the angles you can photograph an aircraft from will be limited by the location. Other times, however, especially at airshows and in museums, you will be able to move around the aircraft freely. Take advantage of those situations to get photos of the aircraft’s details that you otherwise could not get.

Things such as the aircraft’s tail, landing gear, or engine make for great photography subjects. In situations when you are able to enter the aircraft, also focus on details such as the cockpit instruments.

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Tip #4: Experiment with angles

Among seasoned aviation photographers, you will find those who only take “side shots” – photos of the aircraft profiles ideal for documentation. Then there are those who also experiment with different angles and try to get more creative photos.

If you stick with the hobby of aviation photography, you will eventually find your own preferred style. But in the beginning, try everything. Try the usual angles – from the side, from the front, and so on. But also try looking for more unique angles – whether that means getting down on your knees or looking for an elevated platform to photograph from.

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Tip #5: Also show airport life and operations

Aircraft are magnificent machines worth being a photography subject by themselves. However, they could not exist without the people that fly and operate them, and without the infrastructure of an airport.

As such, besides just taking photos that emphasize the aircraft, also try shoot ones that put the aircraft in the context of an airport. This might include showing how passengers boarding the aircraft or an aircraft refueling.

You might find this type of photography the easiest to do either when you are taking a flight, or at airports that offer observation terraces or organized tours.

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Tip #6: Show the environment of the airport

Unlike the above two points which are about focusing on certain part of the aircraft or on certain aspect of airport life and operations, this one is about “zooming out.”

Sometimes, it might seem like your only option is to take photos of aircraft in front of a blue sky or a photo of an aircraft taxiing by. In that case, try zooming out and showing the airport’s surroundings. In many cases, you will be able to get elements into the photo that will turn it from a generic aircraft photo into one that is unique to a certain location.

Mountains, sea, cityscapes, and even cloud formations make for a great background that will tell the viewer more about the location.

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Tip #7: Don’t stray away from darkness, rain, or their combination

The last tip is about weather and light. Generally, you should avoid overcast days, as they will likely result in unappealing photos. That does not mean, however, that you should stray away from other types of bad weather. Rain, fog, or even snow can turn what would otherwise be a fairly uninteresting photo into a great one.

The same applies for darkness. When you’re just beginning, you may find it easier to photograph aircraft on a sunny day. Once you are comfortable with daylight photography, try photographing at night to capture photos with a completely different mood.

Finally, try a combination of rain and darkness. The reflections of the runway lights and the aircraft on the wet ground will result in what will become some of your favorite aviation photos.

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Conclusion

Photographing aircraft is something that you may not have considered before, regardless of whether or not you live near an airport. It is, however, a very enjoyable genre of photography that I would suggest you try.

If you live near an airport or an aviation museum and you decide to give it a shot, the above tips should help you in your beginnings. Please share your comments, questions and aviation photography in the section below.

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Keishi Nukina is an aviation enthusiast, photographer, and writer. He regularly contributes to aviation publications, and shares his work on his blog, KN Aviation, and Facebook page. Besides photographing aircraft, he enjoys traveling, flying on new airlines and aircraft types, visiting airport lounges, and writing about and photographing all of those experiences.

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