Aviation photography - how to?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Overread, Aug 13, 2010.

  1. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Ok I've hit a bit of a wall, having been dragged out to Lowestoft airshow today (thankfully it didn't rain too hard whilst I was there) I encountered a rather difficult problem - that of getting photos of propeller planes whilst keeping the plane itself sharp and the propellers blurred. I found that around 1/200-1/350sec odd was around the speed that at least blurred the propeller - however many of my shots have suffered a lot with softer results overall from these shots. I wan't pushing the ISO that high, even though it was a dull day overall (and I know dull days make most things a lot harder) and my setup (whilst not the sharpest) is capable of far better when I can let the shutter speed jump up.

    So something in my shooting was wrong - I tried to pan the shots and it might be that I need the aid of a monopod/tripod and a lot more practice alone to get the plane sharp(er). However I would welcome any advice people have about this sort of photography.

    I'll also try to process some photos for critique as well when I get the chance to.
     
  2. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Now with added photos!

    setup - Canon 400D, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L M2 + 2*TC (A combo that I've seen get to around as good as the 100-400mm L at the long end so that is the kind of level I am - techincaly - aiming at achiving).
    PS I do think I might have left them a little overly dark after editing, but it was an overall dull day sadly

    [​IMG]
    Larger version: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4117/4892326196_1c8fdc11bd_o.jpg

    100% crop
    [​IMG]

    Settings: f/10.0, 1/200, ISO 200
    Shutter priority mode - +1 exposure compensation
    This was a centre spot focusing shot with AiServo - later on in the day I shifted to having all the AF points active and letting the camera pick (since there wasn't anything else in the sky to distract the AF).

    An example of a softer (more common sadly) shot
    [​IMG]
    Larger: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4095/4892326518_493de49b6d_o.jpg
    Settings:
    Settings: f/10.0, 1/200, ISO 200
    Shutter priority mode - +1 exposure compensation

    And now for two Vulcan shot examples which shot that (at least) in part the problem is my panning since they are sharper overall.

    [​IMG]
    Larger: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4121/4892326790_95391fb70e_o.jpg

    100%crop
    [​IMG]
    Settings:
    f7.1, ISO 400, 1/1250sec

    And now for that sharper shot taken when the sun decided to show its bright face at last
    [​IMG]
    Larger: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4098/4891728187_60e49eba53_b.jpg

    100%crop
    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4115/4892325724_9c5edaa5e2_b.jpg

    Settings:
    Settings:
    f7.1, ISO 200, 1/500sec
     
  3. Heck

    Heck TPF Noob!

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    Could be that the soft shots were because your shooting through haze. That would explain the sharp last shot. The sun burnt up the haze and gave you a better shooting sky. Most times the sky can make or break airshow shots.
     
  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Go to airshow. Pay admission fee. Find suitable shooting location. Unlimber camera,lens,memory card trio. Point camera skyward. Track aircraft, firing as needed to create interesting compositions...shoot,shoot,shoot until all available memory cards are filled. Return home. Transfer images to computer. Process selected images. Beam with pride.

    OR, try and figure out why nothing is ever as simple as it should be!;)
     
  5. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Heck = haze was something that I did consider as a possible problem on the day, however whilst the sky was dull I've little experience of this kind of longer distance shooting (birds that far off tend to be little black dots ;)) so I've not the experience to know when and how badly haze is affecting my shots.

    Derral - yah its all so simple in theory - but the reality is far more tricky!
     
  6. Heck

    Heck TPF Noob!

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    I don't think you did nothing wrong it was just the luck of the draw as far as weather. Can't control that but we wish we could. ;)
     
  7. crimbfighter

    crimbfighter No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I've been seeking that perfect combo and settings for airshows, too. I have had descent success with panning, but found I could only make it work when the plane of movement (no pun intended...or maybe it was...) was perpendicular to me. I also found the hazy sky is problematic at best. Not only that, but heat distortion from the tarmac and smoke left behind by previous performers or maneuvers made it harder as well. My best luck was when the sun peeked out from time to time...

    As for catching blur in the prop, I found it helps to pay attention to what the plane is doing. For example, if it's taking off the engine will be at full power and the prop will be turning much faster. Likewise, on landing it will be much slower, sometimes all the way down to idle. I found take off or portions of the maneuvers where the engine was at full power provided the best chances to prop blur with faster shutter speeds. Anyway, those are just my random thoughts on the topic, hopefully it gives you something to chew on.
     
  8. E Turner

    E Turner TPF Noob!

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    To maintain the prop blur, you want to keep the shutter speed to 1000 or below and pan. 1000 is getting very close to stopping the prop, while 500 or even better 320, will give a nice blur. Looking for a specific power setting on the plane will make no difference as these planes all have constant speed props ... which means the propeller rotates at a constant RPM regarless of the engines actual power setting.

    My guess as to the lack of sharpness is the over all lack of contrast in the shot. The planes in your pictures are light color (white or grey) and they do not stand out well against a cloudy background, therefore they're more difficult to focus on.

    Here are couple with shutter setting of 500 and 1000 respectively ...

    500
    [​IMG]

    1000
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  9. epatsellis

    epatsellis TPF Noob!

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    Not all of them will though, it helps to know more about the plane you're shooting, if you can. A constant speed prop only allows you adjust pitch from within the cockpit, the Piper Arrow II I used to fly was flown differently by myself and the other pilot, with me flying 23/25 (2300 rpm/25 in hg.) and my friend preferring to fly 25 square (2500/25 in hg.).
     
  10. crimbfighter

    crimbfighter No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thankyou epatsellis, while I am the first to concede my original statement was not all encompassing, the majority of propeller driven planes will adjust the engine rpm during performances. Many will experience power settings from idle to full power many times during a performance. Sooo, for me, when I noticed the correlation between their power settings and the portions of the maneuvers done at full power, that's where I got the best results in gaining motion blur on the prop but freezing the plane. But, I digress... By no means is it the only way, it's just A way that worked for me. And I'm sure there are better ways, but I haven't gotten there yet. And as I understood the OP's post, he was looking for other peoples ideas that have worked for them.
     

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