Basics  |  Cameras  |  Film

Anybody can point a camera and press a button, the trick is knowing when not to press the trigger. We have all seen aircraft photos with people walking in front of the subject, the nose or tail cut off, or a really dark photo because of shooting into the sun. These can detract from the subject and can all be avoided with practise and serious thinking about why you are taking the photograph.

Interests are as different as people, some people are not interested in naval aircraft if the wings are folded. Others want to crop rotor blades from helicopters otherwise the fuselages will appear too small. Many people want to know when and where photos are taken. Some people shoot prints (black and white or colour) and some are the "slide shooters". There are two sides to the amateur aircraft photographer hobby: civil (consecutively spaced window stuff) and military. Of course, there are those who photograph everything that flys, but those are a rare breed.

Some people only collect a single type of aircraft. Within each group there are people only interested in shooting (collecting, trading or selling) the same type, thus they are of limited interest to others. There are hundreds of people that trade slides of aircraft. Some are registration or serial hunters, they seek at least one slide of each aircraft of interest. Others want only one from each user. Some follow only certain users whether Pan Am, the Bulgarian Air Force or every aircraft operated by their favourite Tiger squadron.

The aircraft portrait shooter works (or should in my opinion) with several variables by design or repetitive nature. It is always neat to watch five or six "shooters" all walk independently up to the same point to shoot a subject. Points to look for are:

1. Is the entire aircraft in the picture? A truly good portrait shot should have some extra space all around the subject.

2. Is there anything blocking the view of the subject? People, ropes, fire bottles, starter trollies and ground crew are all subjects of debate. The ground crew may add to a photo or distract. Items like fire bottles can also add to a photo, (depending on your opinion) but items like large work stands hide the subject. This question can be extended to what is behind the subject. Evidence of airshow paraphernalia, tents, ropes, people in civilian clothes, handbags, prams, kids, litter and just about any other FOD material that goes with an airshow will detract from the subject.

3. Which angle is the shot taken from? For most of us ground stricken bi-pods (or tri-pods with age or motor ailments), side views or three quarter front shots are the best angles to cover most markings. If the opportunity to take pictures from an elevated perspective arises, go for it. Some aircraft like the Hornet hide portions of markings when taken from three quarter front. Some airlines have registrations in hard to see places. Each aircraft type has a varied appeal from different perspectives. The A-26 Invader and S-2 (CP-121) appear lost when taken at eye height from a direct side view, as the engine pods hide a good portion of the rest of the subject.

4. Is there enough light? If there is enough to cast a dark shadow with a definite line, then shoot. The sun should be generally behind you, casting your shadow generally toward the subject. My rule on late in the day sun is, if your shadow is longer than you are tall, then think twice if the subject is worth the film expenditure. Avoid the high noon sun shots. Cameras can give a false reading and light conditions can be deceiving. Classic examples are a white airplane on a black ramp, black or dark green aircraft on a light coloured ramp, or either with snow banks in the background. You want your subject to be well lit by the sun. For example, from the angle of the Hornet tails, it is "shootable" only when the sun angle allows light coverage of the outside tail. The arch of the sun is lower in winter, thus different from the higher and longer lasting summer exposure (except our friends south of the equator). All the above points are for straight non-moving portrait shots of aircraft. Other types of situations are: taxing (really close and vibrating, shoot at a higher speed) take off and landing (more distance, get your bigger mm zooms out), ground to air action shots (higher speeds, avoid the dots in the sky syndrome) and air-to-air (we should all be so lucky).

Cameras are like stereos. You get what you pay for. By far the most important item is the lens, just like the speakers that come with your stereo. Having a camera that uses interchangeable lenses gives the shooter the best flexibility possible. Several lenses may be useful. In my opinion, a fixed 55mm is great but a zoom that covers 35-100mm will probably serve you best around aircraft. The next would be a lens that ranges between 85-200mm. If funding permits, the lower range zooms are handy for tight spots. Other than the usual "no-brain" required back-up batteries and lens paper, always carry a spare camera, you never know when a failure will happen. It has happened to me several times. If possible when you purchase your equipment, try to ensure the back up camera accepts the same lens as the primary. Why carry two cameras with two complete sets of lenses (and all mm ranges). I have seen fellow amateur photographers shoot with up to five cameras hanging from straps, up to eight extra lenses, plus so much other gear that it reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger's rescue team going after the predator. The human eye sees a scope close to what a 55mm lens does, thus the optimum shot. The wide angle lens may be desirable when shooting at close quarters, such as onboard an aircraft carrier deck (if you're ever fortunate enough). Don't expect to get many of your subjects to fit with a 55mm lens. There are wide angle correcting lenses that give good results without the "coke bottle" appearance. It all comes down to funding. Know your equipment. So what if you have the latest camera with eight lenses that cost three months wages. When it comes down to it, a different difficult situation and there are dozens of options and not much time to choose. Automatic cameras only make preprogrammed decisions. If you have to shoot into the light and other variables come into play, then be really sure you know your equipment and RTFM (read the f i n e manual). It is too late to be fumbling around when an aircraft is hurling down a runway. Experience tells me, the more complex the equipment, the more that can go wrong.

Film The vast majority of shooters I know of, will only use Kodachrome 25/64. It is because it has a world wide processing standard and tolerance. It is the standard for trading and selling of slides. In trading aircraft slides, it is the currency. With fewer and fewer processing labs, the return time grows longer. A negative trend is finger prints on the bottom slide of each pile. This I see a couple times a year from packing. Another problem seems to be the "Kodaklines" which carry a very light scratch across the film. These according to one answer I got was if you use a power winder, a static charge builds up within the camera attracting dust etc. and gets caught causing a scratch. Having used several cameras, with and without winders, on a single shoot, I think the cause is at the processing lab probably for the same reason. My experience is they do not show up when prints are made from the "lined" slide. Don't leave film in the trunk of your car on a hot day. In the last month I have shot a roll locally that had travelled in India for two years in a camera bag and now had a definite purple tinge to it. Keep future film in the fridge wrapped in plastic with no openings facing upward. This is the anti "spill" device. When travelling, a cool secure place is best. The film, in my opinion, has by far, the best qualities of colour and sharpness when taken within these parameters. In other words, don't expect great slides with 25/64 film inside a dark hangar at 1/15 of a second. By nature of the ASA setting of 25/64 film, it works best in direct sun light conditions.

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