Dream Spotters (DSLR + MANUAL SET UP) Guide! (Highly Requested)

The spotter’s guide to photographing aviation

Doesn’t everyone want to get the best photographs they can? I know I do. I am going to tell you about all the modes on your camera and how to get the best photos you possibly can. Please do note that all of this information I am about to share can change depending on your camera and lens. For all of the following tips, you should shoot RAW. RAW makes your image look better after being edited. I recommend a 64GB card because RAW takes up more space as well.

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 sports mode to take your pictures, I highly recommend to use some tips I give you.

First off, your manual mode is located as the “M” on your camera. You are going to want to switch to that. During the day hours, you are going to want your ISO around 100-200. Evening should be around 200-500 and the night needs to be 1600-6400. One tip I give you is to not overexpose the photo. Having a low ISO is good. The next thing I want to go over is your aperture. In order to get the perfect shot, your F-Stop needs to be around 8-10. Any lower will make your photos look blurry and any higher will make your photos look noisy. Your shutter will depend on the zoom of your lens. I have learned that your shutter speed should be your zoom times 2. So if you are at zoom 100, try to have your shutter speed 200 or more. This setting will also depend on the time of day. Try to get a lower shutter speed when you have dark conditions. I also recommend to adjust your AEB setting down 1 to the left. This will help you avoid over exposed pictures.

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. The mode stands for aperture priority. This mode is mainly used for long exposures. 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. There are many options for tripods but you can select a perfect one depending on your budget. They can range from $20-$500 U.S dollars. Your shutter speed needs to be at least 5-10 seconds long for decent lighting. You can go as high as you want as well. 1 important thing to know is to NOT move your camera during the photo.

Your next mode I want to go over is “Tv” mode or “S”. They are also both the same thing just called different things on different camera brands. They stand for shutter priority. This mode is mainly used for “panning” or when your subject is in focus and the background is blurred. This takes a ton of skill and a lot of practice. 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 will automatically adjust. Just put it to “AUTO” mode. Your aperture will also adjust by itself.

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.

Some other tips you might need!

I need a new camera! What cameras do you recommend for beginners?

I personally use a Canon EOS Rebel T5 (1200D). This is a great camera to start out with. I have seen the T5 body go for $200 USD refurbished. For Nikon lovers I would recommend the Nikon D3300. It goes for $250 USD refurbished as well. A great lens would be the 75-300mm! I recommend purchasing that lens for your DSLR too. I have seen some go for $75 USD refurbished.

My photos need some editing! What do I use?

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.

(Social media users) Well how do I get my photos to my phone so I can post them?

Easy! I recommend “Google Drive.” It’s completely free. You have the option to purchase extra storage but it gives 15GB for free. If you don’t have a google account or don’t want to make one, there is another cloud storage called ‘DropBox”. It also gives 15GB free and an option to purchase more storage.

I really hope this article was useful. Please comment or PMl me your feedback!

All images used are by ©Jacob Romero


How does aperture have anything to do with noise in the image? I mean sure if your shooting at say F32 you could use a higher ISO to compensate for less light?

But as far as i’m aware its the higher ISO you use the more noise in the image…

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Yes, but it all depends on your camera and envirnment. Yes, the higher the ISO the more noisy the image will be. If you use F-32, your photo will be noisy because of lack of light. To reduce this, simply tune up your ISO to 200-400

Correct. Aperature has nothing to do with noise, it’s all in the ISO. Higher the ISO, higher the noise.

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Darker the photo, nosier the photo :) Use ISO to balance this out.

@cleipelt @D_Gee

As you can see in this image;


I used a very high Aperture. You can sorta see the noise but the ISO did balance it out.

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More ISO → More noise. Noise = bad.

Adjust shutter speed or don’t use such a high aperature setting. Using f/32 for aviation photography is absolutely insane. Never use that high aperature for long exposures, at least from what I know.

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If your using a F stop that high why not just increase the shutter speed rather than increase the ISO :)

I cant think of any time ive spotted using more than idk F8

If you want the lights to be bigger for the natural effect, use a high F-Stop. I tend to use a higher ISO because if you make the shutter longer, you risk the image being blurry if any sudden movements of the airplane occur.

High ISO and long exposures do always blend well together 😬

ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light. Higher ISO increases noise and graininess and you want to minimize those two things when taking long exposures.

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All im really trying to say is that this statement isnt really correct :)


It’s my guide, these are my suggestions that work the best for me :)
Feel free to make your own guide :)

thats how you create image noise
increase aperture or shutter speed instead

no its the other way around
lower f stop (the numbers, not the size of the lens) = more light that is taken into the lens
f/1.8 will take in more light than f/20

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Is it okay if I do landscape with manual focus at infinite?

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This is fantastic. My Canon T3i and bag o’ lenses thank you!!!

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whether or not it’s your guide, facts are facts

just because i write that shutter speed doesnt contribute to how bright your photo is and say that it’s my guide doesnt make my statement viable or anymore correct than a real fact


Even if the fact is real, I use what I think what works best.

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