Getting Ready to Shoot Airshows: Best Camera Settings for Shooting Airshows

Airshows are great opportunities to shoot pictures of aircraft and this article breakdown the best camera settings for shooting airshows. Whether it’s the aerial acrobatics of a fighter jet, the graceful lines of a glider, or the sheer power of a bomber aircraft, something is fascinating about capturing these events in pictures.

These shots’ settings are no different from any other type of photoshoot, but some general best practices can help ensure that you get the picture you want every time. We’ve compiled a list of the camera settings we use when shooting airshows and a few tips and tricks to help you get the best shots possible.

Now, let’s look at our recommended camera settings for photographing those beautiful fighter jets!

JPEG vs. RAW

A professional photographer uses JPEG where the quantity of pictures is high. It takes a considerably longer time to transfer RAW files. They also are slower to process. You need bigger cards and a bigger buffer size. The advantage of JPEGs also comes with a higher fps because of a lower buffer requirement. For learners and beginners, though, RAW helps take care of the problems with exposure during the shoot.

Shooting Mode

Airshows can range from shooting static aircraft in their hangar, fast jet, to prop jets–with varying shutter speed requirements. Thus, shooting at Shutter Priority mode gives you the freedom to change the Shutter Speed depending upon the shot requirement quickly, while the Aperture will adjust as per the shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

While shooting an aircraft in its hangar, it is alright to shoot at 1/80 or faster, depending on the equipment. Using a tripod, you can go even slower to help reduce the ISO, thus helping get clearer pictures even in dark lighting. While shooting fast jet aircraft, you’ll need to freeze the subject with fast shutter speeds, around 1/1000. The minimum focal length for these shots is 1/focal length x crop factor. Hence, if you are using a 300mm lens on a full-frame sensor, the minimum you can shoot is at 1/300. A similar focal length on a crop sensor camera gives a minimum focal length of 1/450 or 1/480 – depending on the crop factor.

Ideally, for prop aircraft (propellor), the propellor should be slightly blurry, showing movement. A frozen propellor appears unnatural. Hence, you need to focus and pan while keeping the shutter speed around 1/125 or lower.

Metering Mode and Exposure Compensation

Spot Metering works best for airshows as the background environment can be diverse and even be entirely white. It is best to meter the aircraft itself. Since the aircraft are primarily white, the camera meter will underexpose it towards the 18% gray. Hence, you need to use an exposure compensation between +1/3 to +1, depending on your exposure.

White Balance

The lighting isn’t in our control when shooting Airshows. The best way to shoot is by using Auto White-Balance and keeping track of the images through the viewfinder. AWB works perfectly in most conditions, but the light color can affect the final images when the aircraft is static in the hangar. If you’re shooting JPEG, you are limited in recovering lost details to the wrong White-Balance. Hence, you can shoot static shots in RAW mode to eliminate the risk of getting color toning on the pictures.

AutoFocus

The central focus point is the best and ideal for fast-moving subjects. Unless your framing requires a non-centered subject, a central focus point and continuous autofocus are the best settings to use. In Nikon, AF-C is the preferred mode, while AI Servo works wonders for Canon. For static shots, the ideal focus modes are AF-S (Nikon) and One-Shot AF (Canon).

Panning

You will need to do panning while shooting take-off and landing shots to allow for beautiful, blurred background and for propellor aircraft shots to show movements of the propellor. Keep the aircraft in the center of the frame, focus it early, and then pan the camera smoothly while keeping the aircraft in the center and having a continuous AutoFocus setting turned on.

Camera

It is ideal to use a modern rugged DSLR for the airshows. The weather can be harsh, and the time delay in the electronic viewfinder can be a game-changer at high speeds, not to forget the battery life of a DSLR. DSLRs are also faster because of their optical viewfinder and drain the lesser battery.

Lenses

For airshows, you ideally need two lenses. A wide-angle will cover the static aircraft shots. A long lens will help in taking the aircraft shots in the sky. A minimum of 300mm focal length is recommended, although ideally, it should be over 400mm. A 300mm lens on a crop body will give an ideal focal length. However, even if you do not have the requisite long lens, you can look for opportunities and shoot even with a 105mm focal length. In airshows, aircraft are moving around, and you will have to be extra attentive to get the best pictures with a shorter focal length.

Use the Burst Mode

As a photographer, you can get yourself in the best positions while ensuring the best camera settings for the scene. Yet, in high-speed photography, you can’t always expect the perfect shot in one click. In this situation, the camera’s burst mode helps.

Let the Aura Soak In

The best way to photograph Airshows is to let the aura soak into you and have an intuitive photography experience in high-speed photography. Knowledge, reflex, and intuition help significantly. For that, it is ideal for immersing in the exciting environment of Airshows.

Concluding Words

Airstrips and airplane enthusiasts know that you will have the opportunity to take pictures at an airshow at some point. They are thrilled. On the other hand, they may be a little nervous because they do not know everything about photography settings for shooting airshows.

The truth is that photography settings for shooting airshows can be very straightforward. It does not take a lot of effort to figure out what settings you need to use when shooting at an airshow. Hopefully you found this article informative and now are more knowledgeable about the what are the best camera settings for shooting airshows

Related: Best Action Camera: GoPro Hero10 CHDHX-101-RW Black

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