Setting up your camera: When you arrive at the airfield to shoot, your camera must be ready. Check the settings, select a lens, set ISO and aperture and fire away. Simple? Yes, it is! Leo Theron takes you further on this plane shooting journey.

At the conclusion of Shoot an Airshow: Part One I said that setting up your camera is CRITICAL for success. Focus, exposure, shooting mode and ISO variables and settings must be set – otherwise, you will get home and will be highly disappointed. Let us prepare and go through them:

Exposure? Shooting and exposing aircraft in the air present some unique challenges. So many shooters so many techniques. It might be beneficial to measure a grey(ish) subject and manually set exposure accordingly. I dial in exposure compensation depending on the lighting conditions – for example, positive compensation is called for if white clouds are present in the background.

Evaluative? Centre-Weighted? Spot? Spot or Centre-Weighted metering only when you measure the light and manually set your exposure. Evaluative when you use auto exposure mode. Compensation – consider what you need.

Exposure Mode? Aperture, Shutter, Manual Mode? This argument will continue till the cows come home. My camera is set on Aperture mode. The camera will now calculate a shutter speed for correct exposure with the given and set ISO. So – I change the aperture to get the desired shutter speed.

ISO? As the sun goes down and the light slowly changes, you need to adjust your ISO to assure your shutter speed and f-stop combination are still where you want them. Remember: With noise, you can deal, but a blurred image is totally useless and will have to be binned immediately. Some shooters are set on Auto ISO, but on my camera, I manually set the ISO as I require it.

Shutter Speed? Shooting a fast moving jet, I want as fast a shutter speed as possible. To render a prop as a disk on a Harvard flying past, your shutter speed will have to come down to 1/125 of a second. At this speed, your panning technique must be top notch, or the plane will be soft or even blurred.

Focus oh Focus! Since we will mostly deal with moving aircraft, it would be necessary to set your camera to continuous focusing. And you better understand how YOUR camera manages high frame rates and what focus and/or release priority means. Then – do you focus using the shutter or via the back button? Action shooters who know when they want to use the back button to focus, but many successful photographers focus via the first detent on their shutter release.

Non-Photographic Kit? Long sleeved shirt, sunblock, big hat, comfortable shoes, a big bottle of water and a folding chair. Take your partner along so that you can continue shooting and not waste time standing in line at the food stalls. Better still, take your own lunch or buy food before the masses descend on the food stalls. Note: I do not take any responsibility if you follow the advice in this paragraph!

And do not chimp, you will miss the real action! What not to miss: The late afternoon departures.

SAFETY FIRST: If you are lucky enough to be in an airshow shooter group and wearing a bib – stay in your group and do not wander off. Aircraft are very difficult to manoeuvre on the ground and visibility from the cockpit is usually limited. Then – That invisible chopping blade in front of an aeroplane makes mincemeat of camera bearers – and the camera as well.

NEXT: Shoot an Airshow: Part 3 (processing your crop)

© Leo Theron 2013