Putting the ‘aviation’ in ‘aviation photography’

Last Saturday I had a great afternoon at the Canon Experience Lab. Eric, from the Aviation Photocrew, was asked to give a presentation about aviation photography. He asked Tom and me to join him and give a part of the presentation. Eric talked about our air to air projects and Tom about the basics of aviation photography (as in: how to shoot helicopters, props, etc.). I decided to talk about putting the ‘aviation’ in aviation photography and a little about post processing.

It was great to have people come and talk afterwards about what they thought about my ideas and hear theirs. I also got positive feedback from people who were thinking the same as me. That’s why I would like to turn my presentation into a little blogpost.

So the main idea is that aviation photography is more than photographing airplanes. If it was limited to this it would be called airplane photography. I’m a firm believer that aviation photography is about more than the airplanes. It’s about the people you meet, the pilots and crew who keep the planes flying. It’s about the places that it brings you to: the countries, the airfields, the museums, etc. It’s also about the experience. Flying is fun and will make for some amazing memories. Aviation photography is about capturing all of those things. Airplanes could be completely secondary in aviation photography.

I tried to prove what I was saying by showing a couple of photos. From all of those moments I have photos from the airplanes involved. But I believe that every single shot shown below is better and tells more of a story than the photos that focussed on the airplanes.

Some of them focus on the people, others on the surroundings (the crashed DC3). But I would like to say a few words more about the air to air photos. Air to air is probably the most difficult part of aviation photography if you try to tell a story about aviation. It’s very limiting. The only thing you can basically do is take a ‘wide’ shot. Try to make it a making of or tell more about the back story of the flight.

The second part of my presentation was about post processing. I’m not a photoshop wizard, therefore this is not a photoshop tutorial. I tried to convince the audience that aviation photography is probably the only niche in photography were there is basically no creativity. Take a look at an aviation magazine and you’ll see what I mean. Certainly when compared to other magazines like extreme sports or automotive.

Because I often get the question what I use to edit my photos I started with answering that. I used to use Bridge and Photoshop, but it wat quite the hassle. I had to open Bridge so watch my photos and make a selection. Then I had to open them in Camera Raw to edit them. Since a year and half I use Lightroom which combines both into one program. It has made my editing far easier and quicker.

A second question I often get is how I edit my photos. This is also easy to answer. I’m a big fan of presets. It’s often looked at as a cheap and easy way of editing but I don’t think it is. Presets (that you can buy online) are great because they show the potential of your photos. Buy trying out different presets you’ll see that your photo can be edit in very different ways. Second of all, using a preset is only half the work. It’s not something magical that makes your photo good. You often have to edit a lot to make it work on your photos.

I’m a big fan of the presets made by VSCO. They are for sale on their website and they are great to use. There are a whole bunch of packs you can buy and I can’t really pick a favorite. I use different filters from different packs.

Below a couple of photos I edit with different kinds of presets (also presets I made from the VSCO presets). It shows the potential of using these and the different styles you can edit your photos in.

The last part was a couple of words about using HDR. I’ve used this in the past, but mostly for over the top edits. What I want to do is to show that you use it in a subtle way and actually make your photo better. I tried to show this with the pictures below. From over the top to subtle.


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