- Under the sun the entire day.
- On your feet much of the time, moving from one location to another.
- Subject to the security regulations of military airfields.
- Exposed to the wind and weather.
- In an extremely noisy environment.
Digital photography at air shows requires plenty of preparation and a few insiders’ secrets about what and how to capture all the excitement of the show, from jets screaming in low to informative displays, and the crowd’s reaction to it all. An air show is another opportunity to continue to develop your photographic skills; and you’ll take better pictures and cherish the experience more if you read this two-part PhotographyTalk.com article first.
Planning a photo shoot of an air show is virtually the same as planning a photo adventure into the backcountry: You must carry just about everything you’ll need and you must be prepared for the challenges of the specific environment.
When you photograph an air show, you’ll be:
Without thorough planning to deal with these challenges, it will be difficult to take the awesome digital photos of the air show that you imagine in your head.
Clothing and Footwear
The right clothing and footwear is, of course, directly related to the day’s weather. If it’s windy and cool, dress in comfortable layers with an outside windbreaker. If it’s hot and sunny, wear loose-fitting clothes, so air can reach your skin.
Wear a hat, preferably wide-brimmed, in any weather.
Comfortable walking-style shoes are a must. Sandals may seem like a wonderful choice at first, but later they won’t, and the top of your feet will probably become sunburned.
Consider cargo pants or shorts. You can carry much of your equipment and supplies in the large pockets. Security won’t allow you to enter with a backpack or a camera bag; plus, you don’t want to carry it all day.
Although a point-and-shoot digital camera will limit your air-show photography, the better compacts will allow you to shoot a great collection of pictures. A DSLR eliminates most of those limitations.
You will probably want more than one lens. Two different zoom lenses are good choices: from wide-angle to normal (18–55mm) and a telephoto (70–300mm).
You must also take enough memory cards and batteries with you. Nothing’s worse than waiting all day for the featured event at the end of the show and then discovering your last memory card is nearly full. Six 1GB cards is a good minimum. If you’re shooting RAW, then take even more. Include at least one set of extra batteries, preferably two.
A photo vest is a good investment. With it and a pair of cargo pants/shorts, you’ll have plenty of room for memory cards, batteries and other accessories and supplies—and security will approve.
Reserve one of those big pockets for a back-up camera. Bring a point-and-shoot with you, so the day is not a waste if your main camera stops working.
Tripods are generally a burden to carry, and restrict your mobility, causing you to miss shots. A monopod is less of a problem. The best solution is a shoulder mount. It will become a handy device for many other digital photo shoots.
Protection and Comfort
Pack your lenses, memory cards, batteries, etc. in zipped plastic bags; gallon size is best. They will keep everything clean and dry. It’s also easier during the entrance security check to show the contents to the officers.
For your personal protection, bring a strong SPF sunscreen and a couple of sets of earplugs. If this is a family outing, then make sure your children are always wearing them.
Typically, air-show visitors are not allowed to bring sun umbrellas that clip to the arm or back of a chair. Occasionally, you’ll find them for sale at a show, however. You’ll be happy to use one on the hottest, sunniest days.
Reserve another one of those big pockets in your cargo pants/shorts for raingear. You can find many types that fold into a small package.
Consider a small folding chair or campstool that is easy to carry.
Bring some cash. Some vendors at some shows will not accept credit cards.
Now that Part 1 of this PhotographyTalk.com article has prepared you to take digital photos of an air show, read Part 2 for shooting tips.