A spotter's guide to photographing aviation.

A spotter’s guide to photographing aviation, updated and revised.

Aviation, it’s a thing that most people don’t really get. When someone hears that word, they think of airplanes. Airplanes are such an amazing piece of machinery, so why not take pictures of them?

In this aviation spotting guide, I am going to go over many things. Some of which might include:

Tips

Welp, I am glad you are interested in reading my spotting guide. I am going to share 5 of my tips with you.

  1. It’s always good to have a 64GB (or greater) SD card.
  2. It’s always a good idea to take pictures with RAW. After editing, your photos will come out more crisp. Don’t know
    how to make your pictures RAW? Click HERE
  3. It’s always a good idea to explore new things with your camera.
  4. Remember to underexpose, and don’t overexpose. You can make a photo brighter, but it’s hard to make it darker.
  5. Don’t give up. Even when you think your pictures are horrible, just keep trying.
Camera Settings

In this guide, I will be using a lot of photography terms. Be sure to get to know your settings.
Well, what are these weird camera numbers? I can answer that question! Let’s get to know what they are called. Here are the different settings as followed:

  • ISO (International Standards Organization)
  • Aperture (Also called F-Stop)
  • Shutter Speed

ISO

ISO is a setting which allows you to control the brightness depending on your photos environment. The lower your ISO (e.g. 100) the less light your camera will taken in. The higher your ISO (e.g. 6400) the more light your camera will take in. There is a disadvantage to having a higher ISO, and that is having noise, which is pretty much grain. Grain will ruin your photos when you try to make them brighter. It also makes your photos look bad. Having a lower ISO is great, but always try and avoid higher ISOs.

APERTURE

Aperture is the depth of field of your camera. The lower your aperture, lower your depth of field. The higher your aperture, the higher your depth of field. It’s always a good idea to keep your shots with F8-10.

SHUTTER SPEED

Your shutter will say a lot in your photos. Here is pretty much what shutter is: The lower your shutter, the more light it will take in. The higher your shutter, the less light it will take in. Logically, it would be wise not to put a high shutter on a sunny day. Remember, it’s always good to have underexposed pictures rather having them overexposed.

The different modes on your camera

Yes, your camera has different modes for each kind of shot. Every mode is special, so take good care of them. Modes used for photography are as follows:

-Manual Mode
-Aperture Priority Mode
-Shutter Priority Mode
-Program Mode
-And the famous Auto Mode

I will go over each of the modes with you! Just keep reading! <3

MANUAL MODE

One of the most popular modes to shoot with is manual mode. Manual mode offers a great way to customize your photos’ ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and much more! If you are still using AUTO mode to take your pictures, I highly recommend to read this. Manual mode should be the last mode you experiment with. Get familiar with all the settings before using this mode

First off, your manual mode is located as the “M” on your camera. You are going to want to switch to that.

On a nice, sunny day, you are going to want your settings as seen below:
ISO: 100-200
F-Stop: F8-10
Shutter Speed: 320-500 (Depending on light. Be sure to take a few practice shots before you start)
image
On a cloudy day, you are going to want these settings instead:
ISO: 200-400
F-Stop: 7.1-9
Shutter Speed: 200-400 (Be sure to take a few practice shots)
image
During the night, it will take some very steady hands to get a good picture with the settings I am about to give you. During the night, It is best to take pictures of still aircraft. Go down to “TV, or S” mode to find out more.

ISO: 800-1600 (Avoid any higher than 1600. Your shots will come out VERY grainy)
F-Stop: 5.6 (Or the lowest your lens can go)
Shutter Speed: 5-40 (This is pretty much manual panning, go to AV, or A mode to find out more about panning, or taking pictures of aircraft at night)
image
Photo by GFB

I also recommend to adjust your AEB setting down 1 to the left. This will help you avoid over exposed pictures.
Feel free to explore your different settings!

APERTURE PRIORITY MODE

One of my favorite modes is “Av” mode or “A” mode. They are both the same thing just called different things on different camera brands. I am going to go over 2 uses for this mode. The first one being an alternative beginners mode. And the second being for long exposures (Excluding BULB - an option letting you control the shutter speed). This mode will choose your shutter for you based on the environment, and the settings you have provided it with.

The “Alternative Beginners” Mode

AV, or A, is a great way to ensure all your photos are properly exposed. Sometimes, you might have a cloudy day with a few breaks of sun light. This situation is the perfect time to use this mode. I personally always use this mode, because it makes me stress free ;).

You should leave your aperature at around 8-10 and you ISO at 200 if it’s one of those “Cloudy-Sunny” days.

Long Exposures
image
When you do a long exposure, it should be at night. One of the essentials for long exposures is a tri-pod. It is impossible to get a decent long exposure without a tripod. As long as your tripod can remain still, you can use it. I recommend getting this tripod to start with- view it by clicking HERE.

image
Long exposures can really give you some cool lighting. One trick I have up my sleeve is the bigger your F-stop, the bigger the lights. You can see some pretty nice aircraft lighting on these pictures.

Technical stuff for “Long Exposures of Aircraft”

ISO: 200
F-Stop: 8 (Small lights) 16 (Big lights)
Shutter: Decided for you with “AV” mode
image
SHUTTER PRIORITY MODE

TV, or S, mode will get you something called a “Pan”
image
Panning is really a way to get your subject in focus and your background blurred. Panning really does take practice, and steady hands. The best time of day to pan is in the evening, when you can’t see any shadows underneath the aircraft. The shutter speed I recommend for panning is 1/60 of a second. If you want higher success rates but lower panning effect, try 1/100-125 of a second. Your ISO should be at 100. Your aperture will also adjust by itself.
image
PROGRAM AE

The last mode is “P” mode. It stands for program AE. This mode is exactly like “AUTO” mode but you get to select your ISO. I don’t recommend using this mode. Please stay away from sports mode as well. Cameras tend to make your ISO to big so your shot is ruined because it gets too bright.

Trying new things

Don’t be afraid to try some artsy images! Here are some of my artsy images:

Use your base knowledge and experiment! <3

image
image

Gearing up

Welp, if are wanting to start aviation photography, I will recommend some awesome cameras in your price range!

Point and Shoot Cameras!: Get started!

Low end powershot: PowerShot SX410 IS

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

High end powershot: PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

Low end coolpix: CoolPix B500

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

High end coolpix: CoolPix P900

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

DSLRs: Now I want to do this for real

For Canon, it’s rebel series are it’s low end series. It’s other DSLRs are pretty high end.

Low cost rebel, but takes amazing pictures: Canon EOS Rebel T5 - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D3400 - IMAGES

High cost DSLR: EOS 6D Mark II - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D500 - IMAGES

Extremely high cost DSLR: EOS-1D X Mark II - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D5 - IMAGES

You will also want some extra batteries. Here are my favorites: Wasabi Power Batteries

You might want a BULB remote. Here is what I have: Amazon Bulb Remote

You will also need a tripod. Here is what I recommend: 60 inch tripod

How to get your pictures looking great

You should use Adobe Lightroom for editing. You can get the free trial to test it out! There are many tutorials on youtube on how to edit so I recommend to check those out if you are interested in purchasing it. You can get the full version for $10 USD plus Adobe Photoshop! If don’t want to spend money there are always other free programs for that. One free one that is online is PicMonkey. If you don’t have a PC, you can use a phone to edit photos. I hear that “Snapseed” is a great editor for devices. You can also get the mobile version of Lightroom.

image
A screenshot of me editing one of my photos.

A little bit about me

Hello, this is about me. My name is Jacob Romero, I am 13 years old, and I love aviation. I got into aviation at a very young age. Ever since my first flight, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. My dad took me to the airport one day, and gave me his powershot. I used it for about a year until I got a brand new camera, which I still use today. I am a self taught photographer, but with the advice from a few of my fellow Houston Spotters. I hope you enjoyed this guide.
image

I have included specific sections under each topic. If you are wondering about 1 thing, and you don’t want to read everything else, please feel free to use that. If you are a newbie wanting to learn some tips, go on ahead and start scrolling! (Here is a link to some “calming” jet engine music, just because)

TIPS

Welp, I am glad you are interested in reading my spotting guide. I am going to share 5 of my tips with you.

  1. It’s always good to have a 64GB (or greater) SD card.
  2. It’s always a good idea to take pictures with RAW. After editing, your photos will come out more crisp. Don’t know
    how to make your pictures RAW? Click HERE
  3. It’s always a good idea to explore new things with your camera.
  4. Remember to underexpose, and don’t overexpose. You can make a photo brighter, but it’s hard to make it darker.
  5. Don’t give up. Even when you think your pictures are horrible, just keep trying.

THE SETTINGS ON YOUR CAMERA

In this guide, I will be using a lot of photography terms. Be sure to get to know your settings.
Well, what are these weird camera numbers? I can answer that question! Let’s get to know what they are called. Here are the different settings as followed:

  • ISO (International Standards Organization)
  • Aperture (Also called F-Stop)
  • Shutter Speed

ISO

ISO is a setting which allows you to control the brightness depending on your photos environment. The lower your ISO (e.g. 100) the less light your camera will taken in. The higher your ISO (e.g. 6400) the more light your camera will take in. There is a disadvantage to having a higher ISO, and that is having noise, which is pretty much grain. Grain will ruin your photos when you try to make them brighter. It also makes your photos look bad. Having a lower ISO is great, but always try and avoid higher ISOs.

APERTURE

Aperture is the depth of field of your camera. The lower your aperture, lower your depth of field. The higher your aperture, the higher your depth of field. It’s always a good idea to keep your shots with F8-10.

SHUTTER SPEED

Your shutter will say a lot in your photos. Here is pretty much what shutter is: The lower your shutter, the more light it will take in. The higher your shutter, the less light it will take in. Logically, it would be wise not to put a high shutter on a sunny day. Remember, it’s always good to have underexposed pictures rather having them overexposed.

YOUR CAMERA HAS DIFFERENT MODES!

Yes, your camera has different modes for each kind of shot. Every mode is special, so take good care of them. Modes used for photography are as follows:

-Manual Mode
-Aperture Priority Mode
-Shutter Priority Mode
-Program Mode
-And the famous Auto Mode

I will go over each of the modes with you! Just keep reading! <3

MANUAL MODE

One of the most popular modes to shoot with is manual mode. Manual mode offers a great way to customize your photos’ ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and much more! If you are still using AUTO mode to take your pictures, I highly recommend to read this. Manual mode should be the last mode you experiment with. Get familiar with all the settings before using this mode

First off, your manual mode is located as the “M” on your camera. You are going to want to switch to that.

On a nice, sunny day, you are going to want your settings as seen below:
ISO: 100-200
F-Stop: F8-10
Shutter Speed: 320-500 (Depending on light. Be sure to take a few practice shots before you start)
image
On a cloudy day, you are going to want these settings instead:
ISO: 200-400
F-Stop: 7.1-9
Shutter Speed: 200-400 (Be sure to take a few practice shots)
image
During the night, it will take some very steady hands to get a good picture with the settings I am about to give you. During the night, It is best to take pictures of still aircraft. Go down to “TV, or S” mode to find out more.

ISO: 800-1600 (Avoid any higher than 1600. Your shots will come out VERY grainy)
F-Stop: 5.6 (Or the lowest your lens can go)
Shutter Speed: 5-40 (This is pretty much manual panning, go to AV, or A mode to find out more about panning, or taking pictures of aircraft at night)
image
Photo by GFB

I also recommend to adjust your AEB setting down 1 to the left. This will help you avoid over exposed pictures.
Feel free to explore your different settings!

APERTURE PRIORITY MODE

One of my favorite modes is “Av” mode or “A” mode. They are both the same thing just called different things on different camera brands. I am going to go over 2 uses for this mode. The first one being an alternative beginners mode. And the second being for long exposures (Excluding BULB - an option letting you control the shutter speed). This mode will choose your shutter for you based on the environment, and the settings you have provided it with.

The “Alternative Beginners” Mode

AV, or A, is a great way to ensure all your photos are properly exposed. Sometimes, you might have a cloudy day with a few breaks of sun light. This situation is the perfect time to use this mode. I personally always use this mode, because it makes me stress free ;).

You should leave your aperature at around 8-10 and you ISO at 200 if it’s one of those “Cloudy-Sunny” days.

Long Exposures
image
When you do a long exposure, it should be at night. One of the essentials for long exposures is a tri-pod. It is impossible to get a decent long exposure without a tripod. As long as your tripod can remain still, you can use it. I recommend getting this tripod to start with- view it by clicking HERE.

image
Long exposures can really give you some cool lighting. One trick I have up my sleeve is the bigger your F-stop, the bigger the lights. You can see some pretty nice aircraft lighting on these pictures.

Technical stuff for “Long Exposures of Aircraft”

ISO: 200
F-Stop: 8 (Small lights) 16 (Big lights)
Shutter: Decided for you with “AV” mode
image
SHUTTER PRIORITY MODE

TV, or S, mode will get you something called a “Pan”
image
Panning is really a way to get your subject in focus and your background blurred. Panning really does take practice, and steady hands. The best time of day to pan is in the evening, when you can’t see any shadows underneath the aircraft. The shutter speed I recommend for panning is 1/60 of a second. If you want higher success rates but lower panning effect, try 1/100-125 of a second. Your ISO should be at 100. Your aperture will also adjust by itself.
image
PROGRAM AE

The last mode is “P” mode. It stands for program AE. This mode is exactly like “AUTO” mode but you get to select your ISO. I don’t recommend using this mode. Please stay away from sports mode as well. Cameras tend to make your ISO to big so your shot is ruined because it gets too bright.

Trying different things!

Don’t be afraid to try some artsy images! Here are some of my artsy images:

Use your base knowledge and experiment! <3

image
image

Gear Up!

Welp, if are wanting to start aviation photography, I will recommend some awesome cameras in your price range!

Point and Shoot Cameras!: Get started!

Low end powershot: PowerShot SX410 IS

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

High end powershot: PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

Low end coolpix: CoolPix B500

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

High end coolpix: CoolPix P900

Please click HERE for a google search of images taken with this camera.

DSLRs: Now I want to do this for real

For Canon, it’s rebel series are it’s low end series. It’s other DSLRs are pretty high end.

Low cost rebel, but takes amazing pictures: Canon EOS Rebel T5 - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D3400 - IMAGES

High cost DSLR: EOS 6D Mark II - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D500 - IMAGES

Extremely high cost DSLR: EOS-1D X Mark II - IMAGES
Nikon: Nikon D5 - IMAGES

You will also want some extra batteries. Here are my favorites: Wasabi Power Batteries

You might want a BULB remote. Here is what I have: Amazon Bulb Remote

You will also need a tripod. Here is what I recommend: 60 inch tripod

How to get your photos looking great!

You should use Adobe Lightroom for editing. You can get the free trial to test it out! There are many tutorials on youtube on how to edit so I recommend to check those out if you are interested in purchasing it. You can get the full version for $10 USD plus Adobe Photoshop! If don’t want to spend money there are always other free programs for that. One free one that is online is PicMonkey. If you don’t have a PC, you can use a phone to edit photos. I hear that “Snapseed” is a great editor for devices. You can also get the mobile version of Lightroom.

image
A screenshot of me editing one of my photos.

About Me

Hello, this is about me. My name is Jacob Romero, I am 13 years old, and I love aviation. I got into aviation at a very young age. Ever since my first flight, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. My dad took me to the airport one day, and gave me his powershot. I used it for about a year until I got a brand new camera, which I still use today. I am a self taught photographer, but with the advice from a few of my fellow Houston Spotters. I hope you enjoyed this guide.
image
Well, here is that time where you must be like, “Oh lord, why am I trusting information from a 13 year old.” I don’t blame you. I am never always right. If you have any corrections, or suggestions for this guide, please let me know. Thanks!

I hope you enjoyed my updated guide. I think this is a mass improved guide. Here is a link to my old one, which I don’t recommend using…

My Social Media:
JRRaviation (Instagram)
JRRaviati0n (Instagram)
JetPhotos
J_acob13 (Twitter)
J_acob13 (Youtube)

All images used, unless stated differently below the image, are by ©Jacob Romero

109 Likes

Awesome stuff as always. Whacked this in RWA for you though. Best placed there.

14 Likes

Beautiful thread and well put together! 👏🏼 I bookmarked this one as I have a feeling I’ll need to reference this sometime soon. 😁

10 Likes

Thanks so much! It took me quite some time to re-write and put everything together.

1 Like

Moved to #real-world-aviation:spotting but moved back to #real-world-aviation because didn’t want to contradict @MishaCamp .


Absolutely brilliant guide, I will bookmark this to use when I go on holiday

2 Likes

Great guide, Jacob!

Should be extremely helpful to those who are beginners to aviation spotting. Heck, even avid spotters might appreciate this guide as well! :)

1 Like

Wow. This is a truly amazing guide!

I have to ask;
How long did it take you to do this? I mean, it’s the most detailed and properly formatted post I’ve ever seen in here. Really impressive!

16 Likes

Thanks for the time and effort. Well-constructed and sets the standard for topics like it! 👏🏻

14 Likes

Well, I started last night around 5PM, paused at 10, then again start at 11 and worked until 2. I proofread it for about an hour when I woke up, and then I added all the links and photos which took another hour. So all together, about 12 ish hours.

This includes writing the basic text.

10 Likes

Great job, this should be pinned in the RWA section! I will use your tips the next time I go spotting.

1 Like

This is very helpful! Although I’m very basic, I just take my phone out and if I see a 747 or an A380 or a big plane in general I’ll take my phone out and I’ll take the picture as soon as I can!

1 Like

I just realized that you are 13 years old. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you write very well for your age. I know from personal experience when I was 13, I unfortunately didn’t have the writing skills that you appear to have. With that being said, I commend you for that. A little off topic side piece but I felt that it was worth noting. Keep up the great work! 👍🏼

23 Likes

Another great guide by one of our community members, and another topic that shows that age is not a measure of skills or maturity.

I partially agree on the last part here but if you are uploading your photo to an aviation photography site, you want to minimize the amount of noise and if you underexpose you will get some degree of noise showing up when you correct for it in post.

I can only agree! There are so many of the almost exactly same photos out there so being creative in your photos is a plus. This applies to normal photography as well. How many people have taken the photo you are about to shoot of the Eiffell Tower? Get low, get high, go wide, go very telephoto. Experiment!

$10 USD per month.

At last, I would include some more info about post-processing and include some tips for lenses, but otherwise this is a great guide!

3 Likes

I will work on another section for lens! I will include more information about Lightroom as well.

Amazing staff there my friend… excellent work and you are way mature for a 13 year old… keep up the good job

1 Like

If anyone has this attitude, then they should not be a part of this community, let alone be interested in something as community driven as aviation.

Your guide is incredible, and the shots you take are absolutely insane. Your pics are hands down some of the best I have ever seen. Not only this but the fact that you are willingly ready to share your vast amount of knowledge with the rest of us, is truly a great thing to do. Keep up the great work. I look forward to seeing more great pictures from you!

5 Likes

Thanks to you, I’m literally wanting to buy a camera and do some spotting. I thought a camera would be like a phone but just better quality, but you made me realize that a camera can do so many things !

3 Likes

That’s what I aim to do. Photography is an amazing hobby to get into.

2 Likes

Cool Topic!
Now, What About Spotting using Mobile Cameras, Like m7 S7E and iPhone 7? What Advices would you give

Also, My Mob takes Photos At a high res that Planespotters and Other Webpages Wont Accept it, which is 4032x3024, and The min is 2560×1440, Planespotters Accept lower, and when i lower it using an app on android, Quality Drops, Can you help me in that?
image

Again, An Amazing Topic, Thanks!

This is a tad bit off topic, I’ll privately PM you my answer.

1 Like