I have noticed that there are many members of this community aspiring to be better aviation photographers. So, I have decided to give help to those members by creating a series of guides to better your skills.
Firstly, lets talk about some basic photography lessons.
If you want to get the highest quality photo, you MUST use a real camera, preferably a DSLR. I know that the newest phones do have decent cameras, but their zoom is terrible and the quality still is never going to be better than a Camera.
Now once you have a real camera, there should be a dial somewhere on the top of the camera that allows you to change the photography settings. You should twist that to the “Manual setting”.
Since you will now be shooting in “M” (Manual) mode, you will be required to set all the camera’s settings yourself. The camera won’t do anything automatically. The four settings you will absolutely HAVE to make are ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, and WB (White Balance).
So lets start with ISO. ISO is a setting which controls how sensitive the camera is to light. The higher the ISO setting, the “noisier” your photos will be. (** “Noise” is the term that equates to “grainy.”) You don’t want too much noise in your photos. So, you want to set your ISO at “200” for daytime pics on sunny days and at “400” for daytime pics on overcast days.
Next is shutter speed. Shutter speed is how fast the lens is opened and closed, to put it simply. So you need to set a fast shutter speed in order to catch the aircraft in an instant - in order to get a sharp, crisp image of it (unless you are doing pan shots or long exposures-but don’t worry, we can get to those later). The shutter must open and close very rapidly - faster than you can blink your eye.) BUT, the faster a shutter opens and closes, the less light gets in. (Faster shutter = less light).
Now you are facing a problem. You have set the ISO to a low setting so that there is almost no noise in your pics. But the low ISO setting has reduced the amount of light. And you have set the shutter to open and close ultra quickly so that the aircraft is caught in an instant which means it will be crisp and sharp. But the fast shutter speed has also reduced the amount of light. So unless you increase the amount of light getting in, you will have a black picture showing nothing.
So lets move on to the aperture (aka f-stop). Aperture is how wide an opening in your lens is. The lower the f-stop setting, the more light that will get in thru the shutter. (Lower f-stop = more light)
My suggestion is to set your f-stop setting to either f8 or f9 on sunny days, and then a lower aperture (f5 or so) on overcast days.
There is one final setting - White Balance. White balance will control the “temperature” of the photo. It will be labeled / identified by the two letters “WB.” If the day is Sunny, you set it to Sunny. If it is overcast, you set it to Cloudy. (If you are inside and the room has fluorescent lights, you set it to Fluorescent, etc).
OR - you can just set it to AWB . AWB means Auto White Balance. The camera decides what type of White Balance is needed for the situation. Personally, I do not like to use AWB very much, but some people think it is the best setting to use.
OK. Now you have set everything. The camera would do it automatically in AUTO – BUT – the camera doesn’t know you are trying to snap moving airplanes so the camera doesn’t know you need a fast shutter speed. It thinks you are taking a picture of someone or something that is standing still. So the camera says to itself - if the ISO is 800 and the shutter is 1/200th of a second and the f-stop is f14, the light will be enough to get an image on the card. The camera doesn’t know (or care) that the image will be blurry AND noisy. So manual is the way to go.
And there you have it! Next up will be the editing process. Let me know if this helped you!
PART 2 IS OUT: Aviation Photography Basics (Pt. 2, editing)