Tips and tricks for photographing airplanes

may come handy at air shows, aerobatics races and all helicopter photos

Hungarion version

This post is a translation based on the original one I published on my Hungarian blog.

Pilot Lajos Imreh fires IR rocket conutermeasures with his Mi-2 helicopter during an air show in Budapest, Hungary on 2018. August 20.       
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

I don’t like to go into sophistry in photo techniques. Firstly because so many other photographers do it, I don’t want to join the queue. Secondly, there are so many different views and approaches one cannot expect everyone to follow the same rules all the time and think everyone is mistaken for doing things in a different way.

However, I stumble into so many things everywhere there is something I felt the need to share with you all in hope if giving you one or two ideas to think about.

This writing is mainly about two simple concepts. I already wrote about both of them in the past so don’t expect too much new here. I hope it still will deliver some insights even to those who have read the previous posts as well and of course I also hope there will be people who will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening too.

Advices for photographing helicopters
Click image for more details!

Get those rotors blurred!
Aircraft with a propeller (let them be either helicopters or airplanes) usually look much better on the photos if their propellers aren’t totally sharp and stiff, but a bit – or even a lot – blurred from motion. Aircraft with a still propeller seems to be stopped mid-air, which means falling from the sky. A slight blur of the propellers (or when executed properly even the plane background) gives the images a sense of movement and action. Of course, it is harder to take good and sharp images this way, but when it is successful than the result is much better. (By the way the same is true for photos about bicycles, motorbikes, and cars too, where usually the wheels of the vehicle can reveal movement or standstill of the vehicle.)
The wanted blur can be achieved with a longer shutter speed, but I don’t want to go into details here as I already wrote about it before in my post about photographing helicopters when the  Die Hard 5 movie was shot in Budapest with US actor Bruce Willis (unfortunately not all of these posts are available in English yet).

http://attilavolgyi.photoshelter.com/gallery/Red-Bull-Air-Race-2008/G0000ay_TOhlkVAE/C0000ElgmO1zejLU

Red Bull Air Race held over river Danube on the section in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in Budapest, Hungary on August 20, 2008.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Lajos Imreh performs with his Mi-2 helicopter during the Kecskemet International Air Show in Kecskemet, Hungary on August 3, 2013. 
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Hungarian Army special forces perform a helicopter descent during the Kecskemet International Air Show in Kecskemet, Hungary on august 16, 2008.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

http://attilavolgyi.photoshelter.com/gallery/Red-Bull-Air-Race-2008/G0000ay_TOhlkVAE/C0000ElgmO1zejLU

Red Bull Air Race over river Danube in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in downtown Budapest, Hungary on august 20, 2008.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Hungarian Army Mi-17 helicopter performs over river Danube in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in downtown Budapest, Hungary on august 20, 2018.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Hungarian aerobatics pilot Zoltan Veres and his triplet formation flies under chain bridge while one of the planes draws waves on the river as it’s wheel touches the water surface in downtown Budapest, Hungary on may 1, 2016.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

How (and how not) to photograph the (full) Moon? (article only available in Hungarian at the moment)
Click image for more details
Photo by Antonio Cidadao/APOD

Watch out for the background!
Many people photograph planes using their largest available lens in the longest zoom position possible to enlarge the plane to maximum and they often concentrate only on having the plane on the sky. Who am I to judge others and call this to be a bad practice? Those who want such photos may take these ones!
However, I much more prefer images that have not only the plane alone but have a context with their surroundings. Maybe some clouds or glare of sunlight can add a special ambiance to the otherwise less interesting photos. Not to mention composing some of the backgrounds into the picture to show where the event takes place.
I wrote about the very same concept in my blog post about photographing full moon too. Whether you photograph the Moon or a plane alone surrounded by the homogenous sky, that results in a merely empty image lacking context. However, showing the surrounding can add a lot to the story of the images.

Pilot Lajos Imreh draws a trace of smoke with his Mi-2 helicopter during an air show in front off the Castle of Buda in Budapest, Hungary on 2018. August 20.       
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

http://attilavolgyi.photoshelter.com/gallery/Red-Bull-Air-Race-2008/G0000ay_TOhlkVAE/C0000ElgmO1zejLU

Airplane squadron performs during an air show in the break of Red Bull Air Race held over river Danube in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in downtown Budapest, Hungary on August 20, 2008.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Red Bull Air Race over river Danube in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in downtown Budapest, Hungary on August 19, 2007.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

http://attilavolgyi.photoshelter.com/gallery/Aug-20-Air-Show-in-Budapest-2018/G0000roZs86qDDKM/C0000ElgmO1zejLU

Old-timer planes fly during an air show in front of Mathias Church in the castle district on the national holiday celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state in downtown Budapest on August 20, 2018.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

People having a bath in lake Balaton enjoy the view of the Red Bull Air Race in Zamardi, Hungary on July 14, 2019.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Watch out for your own surroundings as well!
It is also important to be aware of your own surroundings not only of your subject’s one. What will be in your frame is greatly affected by not only how the subject itself moves around in the world, but also where you are, how you position yourself and what else is in between the two of you.
It is worth to prepare in mind and think it through what, where and how will happen and how it would look photographed from various places, how switching positions can affect the appearance of the images and what field of view results in what kind of relation between subjects and their backgrounds.
Of course, it is worth to keep an eye out for your own surroundings as well because things or persons around you can add to the photos, can make them more interesting – or in worst case ruin your pictures completely when unfavorably block your view.

Viewer takes photos of a DC-6 airplane over the city from the Castle of Buda during the May Day air show in Budapest, Hungary on May 1, 2013.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

Photographers take photos of the May Day air show from the Castle of Buda in Budapest, Hungary on May 1, 2018.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

If you position yourself in a low ground it is almost sure to have everything to happen above you. If you manage to get on a higher level it can help you to photograph action from an eye-level or even from above what can be a special angle with airplanes usually flying higher than people.

An aerobatic plane flies under Chain Bridge
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

At the air shows held in downtown Budapest mostly on May 1st and August 20th or the previous Red Bull Air Races (which has been banned from the capital city just recentlyagain after some years of disregard) there is a great view from the bridges and the banks of river Danube however planes usually fly above us only rarely come down to eye-level. If one finds a higher building on the banks or goes up on the Castle Hill, to nearby Gellert Hill or maybe even with a longer telephoto lens to the farther away Harmashatar Hill it can give an opportunity to photograph the planes from above.

Red Bull Air Race on river Danube seen frofem the Citadel on top of Gellert hill in Budapest, Hungary on August 18. 2007.
Photo by Attila Volgyi / blog.volgyiattila.com

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