Aviation Photography Contrail Photo

Aviation Photography: Everything You Need To Get Started

If you even have a slight interest in aviation, you’ve probably already seen many of the stunning examples of aviation photography out there as there are literally thousands, if not millions. Aviation photography and plane-spotting is one of my favorite side hobbies because it perfectly mixes my two passions; aviation and photography. If you’ve ever wanted to try to snap your very own photos of aircraft and don’t know where to start, this post is here to help you get started in just a few easy steps!


1. Camera

The first step if you want to get into any type of photography is obviously to get your hands on a camera. If you’ve already got one, you can move on to the next section. If you’re a beginner, stick around! As a beginner in the photography world, choosing the right camera for you can be rather overwhelming.  Not only are there thousands of different cameras to choose from, there are different types of cameras, brands, and different specifications between each model. My advice to any beginner looking to buy themselves a new camera is the not overthink it, and do NOT buy a camera that is too complex for you. Not only will you probably spend more on a complex camera, but you might have trouble figuring out how to use it, which unfortunately leads to many beginners giving up, and wasting there money. But what camera should you get? First you need to decide on the type of camera you need. For aviation photography a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) is undoubtedly the way to go. It is definitely possible to shoot aviation photos with film, but for a beginner I would not recommend it. Shooting film nowadays can get very expensive very quickly. you are essentially paying every time you  click the shutter. For a beginner this makes making mistakes quite difficult and I believe that making mistakes is essential to learning. With that being said, any DSLR by Canon or Nikon will work just fine. Don’t get so caught up in all of the different specifications of each model as photography is much much more about what you can do with the camera and not what camera can do. Personally I use the Canon Rebel T3. It’s rather old but it works perfect for me. These can be found for quite cheap which is perfect if you don’t want to invest too much in your first camera. it can be found here if you’d like to pick one up!


2. Lenses

If you thought the amount of cameras out there made choosing a camera difficult, just wait until you venture into the world of camera lenses. But fear not! The search for good (and affordable) lenses doesn’t have to be a hassle. Although there are many many cameras out there, there is probably 1000 lenses for each camera. Lenses are everywhere and can range from just a few bucks, to tens of thousands of dollars. I believe you have to maintain a good middle ground when it comes to camera lenses. You want to get something that will last, but at the same time you don’t want to get something that will break the bank. But with all that in mind, what kind of lenses should you get for aviation photography? Considering that airplanes are usually far away and the fact that most of you probably don’t have the clearances to just go walk around an airport ramp, you’re going to need to make far away things, look close. This can be accomplished with long focal length lenses. The longer the focal length, the closer the object appears. For aviation photography, I’d recommend lenses in the 300-900mm range. There is a lot more that goes into how focal length affects photos, but that is the basic idea. If you Google ‘long focal length lenses’ you may find that the prices on some of these name brand lenses are ridiculously high. Many times thousands of dollars and price goes up as the focal length goes up! If you’re anything like me you don’t always have that cash laying around. Personally I use a $100 420-800mm lens from Amazon. For $100, these lenses perform surprisingly well! They don’t pump out the absolute crystal clear images that a $10k lens would, but for a beginner I think it’s an excellent choice. If you wanna check out this lens you can find it here! But if you’re willing to dish out some dough, one of the most popular long focal length lenses is the Sigma 150-600mm lens. You can find that here for about $900. I would also highly recommend looking for used camera gear if you’re looking to save some money; http://www.keh.com is a wonderful place to look. DISCLAIMER: when purchasing a new lens PLEASE make sure that the lens you’re buying fits on you’re camera. One of the worst feelings is discovering the lens that you just spent a good amount of money on, doesn’t work with your gear.


3. Tripod

Although oftentimes overlooked, a tripod is an extremely important piece of gear to have with you, especially when photographing aircraft. When using very long focal length lenses, it can be very difficult to hold the camera still enough to avoid motion blur. The longer the focal length, the more difficult it becomes to hold the camera still enough for a clear photo. this is where a tripod comes in. A tripod takes care of holding the camera for you so that all you have to worry about is taking your photos! When it comes to a tripod, you want something very sturdy that will be able to keep your camera steady and be able to handle some minor abuse. A popular tripod option can be found here. The price might sound steep for some, but in the long run, you’ll be paying that much to replace all of your broken cheap tripods as they break. Putting a fair amount of money up front for a decent tripod is more than recommended.


4. Location

If you want to shoot some cool photos of aircraft, you’ve got to find some aircraft first! A couple of obvious locations to find some good photo subjects are airports, airshows, and hangars. But these aren’t the only places you can find good photo opportunities!  The photo featured in this post is one of my personal photos that was taken from my backyard! If you live near an airport, locate your general aviation FBO and introduce yourself to some of the folks there. From my experience FBOs can lead to many connections in many regards. This of course, includes photography. From my experience, pilots are more than willing to talk about their aircraft and let you take some photos. If you don’t happen to live near an airport, just look up! with a long enough lens, you can still take some amazing photos of aircraft as they fly over. Above all, where you find your subjects, and what you choose to be your subjects, is ultimately up to you. Do what you want! That’s the beauty of photography. It’s all up to you.



In conclusion, the choices you make regarding your camera gear and photos is all up to you. I don’t intend for this post to tell you exactly what you need to do to be successful with aviation photography. I simply want this post to be a guide to help get others into the art! Let your creative juices flow and do what you think is right. If you found this post helpful, get in touch and share your photos! I’d love to see your work!


DISCLAIMER: Please follow all local laws and regulations in regards to your photography. Please be considerate and ask permission before taking your photos. It’s the right thing to do!

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