With winter approaching, it is airshow season again. Being prepared and armed with the right knowledge, you should be able to dramatically increase your keeper rate. Leo Theron will take you down the (flight) line and tell you what to watch out for:

Airshows are held all over the country – mainly in the winter months. Why Winter? Temperatures are more reasonable and participants can safely return home in the late afternoon without worrying about the adverse weather.

Watch the press and the aviation-related websites like AVCOM and FLYAFRICA and even our own ODP. The event section will tell you all there is to know. Also look out for the baby brother of the airshow, the fly-in, at a field near you. Aircraft buffs congregate, talks planes, eat breakfast and go home. The locals might drink a beer and you can shoot a plane.

Where is the sun? The direction of the display line, normally off the main runway, dictates where the sun will be during the show day. An east/west display line will have the sun on your back the whole day. A North/south display line? Are you east or west?

For example at Air Force Base Swartkop you shoot against the light in the morning – in the late afternoon the low light shots in the Golden Hour will be very rewarding. Rand Airport rewards shooters with an east/west runway – but normally further away from the action.

Camera? The most desirable camera is a DSLR – by no means essential – as the right technique is more important than the right camera.

My camera of choice is a Nikon D3, but I have made it into a magazine with my point and shoot camera – so do not despair. On the lens front: If I can get close enough – 70-200, not close enough 300 – or the 70-200 with a 2x converter as a last resort.

What’s flying? There are individual aircraft that you may want to shoot as the pilots show off their lines – from fast jets to big, slow transport/recce aircraft and helicopters. The helicopter might be displayed hovering head-on to the crowd. Then there are formation displays with smoke, where you might even use a standard lens to include the aircraft and the smoke trails.

Get a program – failing that – listen to the commentator and keep a keen eye out to see what is taxing out – that will be your next display.

Not flying? There is a myriad of non-flying subjects that present themselves at an airshow. Aircraft starting up and belching smoke and barking flames. Historical planes taxing past and out and pilots preparing to fly. Spectators are wonderful to shoot – as they are normally so engrossed in the displays, that they hardly notice a camera being pointed at them.

I missed the Mustang! Mustang Sally is the gorgeous P-51 Mustang with the signature sound of her V12 Rolls-Royce engine. The crowds love the sound and sight of this aircraft and everybody wants a shot. So, you better prepare yourself:

– PRACTICE. Practice. Practice. A friend said I was lucky with the shots I had. The surprise in his eyes when I told him that I practice panning by shooting cars at the local mall before I go to an airfield was something to behold! Yes – prepare yourself by practising before the airshow.

– Setup. It is critical to set up your camera – regardless if you use a Canon D1X – to focus, expose and process your images correctly.

SAFETY FIRST: Never move onto the runways and taxiways with your camera unless you are duly authorized and wearing a bib. If in doubt – DO NOT DO IT.

NEXT: Shoot an Airshow: Part Two; Setting up your camera

© Leo Theron 2013