Airshow Tips

In Aviation by Patrick

With summer arriving in most of the country, one can never tell with Mother Nature sometimes, that means airshow season is in full swing. I wanted to give some tips on going to airshows. Hopefully you will find these helpful and get a chance to see many more airshows. Here we go:


Although your equipment does play a vital role in having success at an airshow, it is really your preparation and skill level that will determine your overall success. For that reason, I can only offer my humble opinions on what I have found works well. You can take this information and modify to your style of photography.

Your best bet would be to obtain or rent an SLR system. This allows you to utilize detachable lenses that will allow you to see exactly what the camera is seeing. In addition you can check composition and focus. With regards to focus length, I have found that wide, somewhere in the range of 16mm is good for capturing the wide expensive views and larger aircraft when shooting statics. On the other end of the spectrum would be something along the lines of a 70-300mm. You can get more expensive by going to like the 400mm, but the longer the glass, the more expensive to buy or rent.


Another benefit to showing up early is the fact that aircraft may still be arriving. This will offer you beautiful morning light for those aerial images as well as intimate images of the aircraft as they taxi to position. Also, with the proper consideration, you may have a chance to speak with the pilots and aircrew in more detail as they prepare their aircraft for the public. You may not have this opportunity again once the crowds begin to arrive.



This is one of those things that can make a big difference and if you do some homework, it can payoff. Airports are different and flight lines are different so finding the layout of the airfield can pay big dividends. Some things to consider:

  • Where are the planes going to be flying in from
  • Which way is the sun going to be traveling
  • How close is the crowd line to the beginning or end of the runway
  • Where is show center
  • Are there audio speakers in your field of view

All of these things factor into your enjoyment and how your photos will turn out. Take some time to do the research. Use the iPhone or IPad with apps like Sun Seeker or the The Photographer’s Ephemeris to figure out the trajectory of the sun and this can make a world of difference in the overall look of the pictures.


everyone’s back and there would always be a soft breeze cleansing the hazy sky. Unfortunately airports aren’t built for the once a year air show convenience, so improvisation becomes vital to great and unique images. Sometimes, weather can even become your greatest ally!

If aircraft are flying during cloudy days, chances are it will be a low show, (if a show at all!). Low shows enable you to get even closer to the action than normally possible. Some performers, or teams such as the Blue Angels, alter their performances according to the ceiling provided thus allowing for different formation shots. When shooting under a completely overcast sky, overexpose the image by 1 to 1.5 stops. The bright sky tends to trick the camera into thinking it is too light for the current shutter speed and you will wind up with a silhouette on every shot. Other great advantages of cloudy skies would be the statics. Clouds act as a big diffuser softening the light and eliminating harsh shadows. Most digital cameras will correct this bluish tone if the Auto-White Balance mode is selected.

Partly Cloudy
Even better! Partly cloudy skies add depth to your images. Instead of having a plain blue background, now you can add dimension and distance, and with proper timing, frame the aircraft amongst the clouds. Framing could involve using a wider-angle lens to give the aircraft “placement”. Cumulus clouds work great for depth during the midday. When evening starts to approach, look for “God rays” or beams of light shining down through patches in the sky. A wide angle works best for these shots.

It seems as though airports are specifically constructed so the sun is in your face…the whole day! Definitely a situation that requires a lens hood. Lens hoods keep stray light off the front optic of your lens. When light hits the front optic, it bounces off of the various other optics inside the lens causing haziness. By avoiding this, contrast and clarity is gained. If the sun is directly in front of you, try timing your photos so that the aircraft flies directly in front of the sun. Most of the time, this will cause your camera to increase the shutter speed instantly resulting in a silhouette of the aircraft.


Jet Aircraft
Use aperture priority on your DSLR and select the widest aperture allowed. This will allow more light in and it will aloow for the fastest possible shutter speed. What are we talkin here? I usually shoot between 1/250 and 1/500 to freeze the motion. Keep in mind that they often travel close to the speed of sound. Panning is an essential skill you should practice will before you get to the airshow to allow for a clear subject.

Prop planes and helicopters
Remember that old rule where you should not let your shutter speed go lower than the focal length of the lens. Here is where you definitely want to break that idea. To get the prop to blur implying motion, try between 1/60 and no higher than 1/250 of a second. Any more and the props are frozen and the insinuation of motion is gone.

There you have it. Some quick tips on going to an airshow. Most of all have fun and enjoy the atmosphere.

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