Air to Air photography. What equipment?

In the beginning of this week I got following question via Facebook.

Schermafbeelding 2013-03-20 om 15.02.55

The questions came from someone who just did her first air to air photoflight. I thought it might be interesting to write something about the equipment part. I did my very first air to air shoot in 2008 when I was photographing for about a year. Back then I used my Nikon D80 and the 18-135mm kitlens. Although it’s the kitlens it performed quite well. It was actually me messing up the settings and not being experienced at all. The results could have been better, but it was my first photoflight and I certainly enjoyed it.

When joining the Aviation Photocrew I got to use the Canon 1D and 5D with the 15-124 mm. This was going from basic equipment to pro stuff. The results were also showing. Giant files, sharp photo’s, …. Then I bought the Nikon D7000 and a sigma 17-70mm. The D7000 is good but the lens was only sharp till 50mm which narrowed down my possibilities. That’s why I bought the Nikon 24-85 which is a good lens for air to air and more important, it’s sharp!

My very first air to air picture.
My very first air to air picture.

As you can see it’s important to have a lens that ranges from wide angle to about 80 or more mm. It gives you enough possibilities while flying. Of course allot depends on the formation flying and the photo subject. When flying in close formation you might want to use a wide angle lens to get some really good shots. When photographing a big formation you also might want to use that wide angle. That’s why it’s important to have some kind of briefing before a photoflight. You really don’t want to end up photographing a lose formation with your wide angle lens. And briefings are always good for safety reasons as well.

Other useful equipment is a rubber lens hood. I actually wrote a blogpost about reflections and the use of this type of hood: I still don’t have one and I already ruined some, otherwise, perfect shots. So, just like me, you might want to buy one soon…

This one is taken with my Nikon D7000 and the sigma 17-70mm. Much better I'd say.
This one is taken with my Nikon D7000 and the sigma 17-70mm. Much better I’d say.

To end I’d like to say a few words about a last handy piece of equipment. A handstrap might be a very usefull thing when you go photographing planes and you’re using an open cockpit. A handstrap attaches your camera to you hand and prevents it from falling out of the cockpit or the back of a cargoplane. I remember my first photoflight very well. I used a SV-4 biplane as photoship and I really missed a handstrap for obvious safety reasons. It’s not that expensive and it might prevent some uncomfortable situations or even worse…

I’m not saying that a good and expensive camera, a 24-80mm lens, a rubber lens hood and a handstrap are the things that will make your air to air pictures good. These are the things I think are useful, but I know people who have made amazing air to air pictures while using a giant telelens. A handstrap isn’t always necessary and a rubber lens hood is only usefull when shooting through canopies. Allot depends on the situation you’re shooting in (weather, photoship, etc.) and how the pilots fly their plane. I just wanted to  give a short overview of what I use when photographing planes air to air.

If you’d like to share what you use for photographing air to air photo’s or planes in general, you may always comment. Any additions you’d like to make can be posted too.

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