Starting off our Photo School is a look at the vital and non optional Tools of the Trade, Cameras/lenses and Film.
I'm not trying to put you off... but if you don't have a camera/Lens and some film then your not gonna be a very successful aviation photographer! But as most people have a camera/Lens (and films quite cheap) hanging around, then all you need is to read on.....
Well you will definitely need a camera, sorry about that! There are various types you can choose from but the main camera used by aviation photographers is the 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) type.
A select few use medium format cameras but these aren’t very portable. Also the majority of the worlds aviation shooters trade/sell 35mm Slides, so if that’s where your interest lies, it must be camera that takes 35mm film.
Nikon, Canon and Minolta or any number of other manufactures make good 35mm bodies. Basically there’s not much difference between them (But try saying that on one of the Usenet camera/photo groups!)
When it comes to choosing a camera, some of the useful features are...
Not an essential requirement but this feature can help the photographer concentrate more on composing and exposing the shot correctly (especially when the subject is moving) Today's modern cameras autofocus systems are extremely fast and accurate and of course you can also still focus manually when needed.
Also not an essential feature (as you will see in our section on Exposure) but can be very useful. Basically it is used to lock the exposure (I assume that's why they called it Exposure Lock!!), for example... You're photographing an aircraft on approach, it's a sunny day, blue sky, white fluffy clouds (Definitely not England). Now if you take the photo your cameras metering will probably correctly expose the sky but the aircraft will be dark or silhouetted. Now if you had metered from an average tone (maybe by pointing the camera at the horizon, say 2/3 ground, 1/3 sky) and then used the exposure lock. You can then recompose the shot and hopefully...Bingo one correctly exposed aircraft.
& Taxiing Shots
A 50mm lens or a short zoom i.e. 28-70mm will do for this. If you use the zoom, try not to go wider than 50mm as anything shorter will distort the shape of the aircraft (which is definitely a no no!)
A standard 50mm f1.8 lens is also a good learning tool. You won’t have the temptation to go wider and it will encourage you to use the other vital piece of photographic equipment…. Your feet!! If the subject doesn’t fit in, move back.
Now I hear you saying "But I’m at an Airshow and if I move back I’ll get all the cones/barriers in my shot” Well you pays your money and you take your choice, if your happy with photos of aircraft looking like bananas then go ahead fit that 15mm Fisheye and click away. Just don’t try to trade your shots with me!
This will become invaluable once you’ve got yourself more than a couple of lens. Also helpful if your first camera goes “tit’s up" (English slang for broken!). Another plus point is you can load different film in each camera, b/w in one, colour in the other.
300/400/500/600mm lenses come in to this category. Also available are long zoom Lenses i.e. Canons new 100-400mm (I’ve got one of these myself, what other recommendation do you need!!!!). These lenses come into their own for flying displays etc.
bag or case
Useful for carrying drinks and sandwiches...oh yeah also useful for cameras, lenses film etc. I personally prefer a bag (Mines a Lowepro Street & Field Reporter 400AW. This is a nice and smallish bag but you can attach extra pouches and lens containers to it when you need to) Billingham and Tamrac are other well known bag suppliers. The aluminium case types are OK but awkward to carry (but if you've not got step ladders, their handy to stand on to give you a little extra height)
No I'm serious! Very handy things to have and not optional if you plan to attend the International Air Tattoo arrival/departure days! These will help to get a higher viewpoint and be able to photograph over the heads of fellow photographers, who got up earlier than you!!
to consider are maybe a pair of Ear defenders, Airband Scanner, A light box to sort slides on (Very useful) and the best item last (but very hard to come by!)...an understanding wife/girlfriend or boyfriend! to help you carry the cameras/lenses/stepladders and fetch the burgers/beers while you get on with the important matter of taking photo's!!!!!
A word about hand holding long lenses such as 400/500/600mm Telephotos, Don’t listen to the Photo magazines that have such good advice as....
You must use a shutter speed equal and/or higher to the focal length i.e. 500mm lens therefore you need a shutter speed of 1/500 or higher.
If you use a shutter speed of 1/500 when shooting a Prop driven a/c or Helicopter you will freeze the movement of the blades.
Use a tripod/Monopod.
Another great idea…I don’t think! You will end up lifting the tripod/Monopod of the ground (and in the process probably end up stabbing your next door neighbour through the head or somewhere more painful!!)
These lenses can be handheld and used with a slower shutter speed…. it will just take quite a bit of practice.
Some photographers use a shoulder rest to help them, I’ve nether used one myself so they might help but please don’t use in Eastern Block/Middle East countries etc. (France also comes in to this category!!) to shoot over airfield fences because there’s a good chance of getting shot yourself!!!
The main reasons for this are standardized processing and long life (Slides shot in the 1940’s on Kodachrome look as good today as they did then). You can only get it processed by Kodak Labs (unlike the majority of other manufacturers film, which use the E6 process) No mater where in the world you are the film will be processed exactly the same. Another plus point is if you ask Kodak very nicely they’ll even put the slides in card mounts, which makes it a lot easier to write aircraft/exposure details on.
Kodachrome is available in three speeds, KM25 (25 ASA), KR64 (64 ASA) and for the weirdo’s who like grainy shots KL200 (200 ASA).
Very slow film with a very fine grain. Very good for static shots in bright sunlight. Not so good for low light (i.e. British Summertime!) or moving subjects unless you have a fast lens i.e. 80-200mm f2.8.
I’ll explain why, using the Sunny 16 rule K25 would give you usable shutter speed/apertures of 1/100*f8; 1/200*f5.6 (see tables for other combinations) which is fine for static shots but slightly to slow for moving subjects, especially ground to air photography. Now if you’ve got a fast f2.8 lens you’ll be able to get a shutter speed of 800/f2.8 or 1/500*f3.5, which is ample for stopping the fastest jet.
Now don’t go rushing of to your local camera shop too fast because theirs an easier and cheaper solution…switch to K64!!
Slow film with fine grain and probably the standard film of most aircraft shooters (Especially British/European shooters, who only see the sun when there driving away from the airfield!!!) On a sunny day it will give you 1/125*f11 for static shots, 1/250*f8 for aircraft taxiing and 1/500*f5.6 for ground to air photography.
Also if you’ve got a fast 2.8 lens you can get up to 1/2000*f2.8 which is great for shooting warbirds or helicopters on (Only kidding!)
So what other choices are there besides Kodachrome (And no I'm were not being sponsored by Kodak! but I'm open to offers...) Well staying with slide film, there's Fujichrome, either Sensia or Velvia. These are very nice films and are probably used just as much as Kodachrome by the Aviation community. If you like vivid colours and saturated pic's then Fujichromes right up your street (Because of this, Fujichrome is probably not as suitable to the Trader or Historic guy).
alternative to slide film is of course print film (and anyone who actually
knows me, will probably be wondering 'what's he gonna write hear - seeing
as he's not shot print film since 1984!') Eh..sorry not much I can say about
print film...it comes in two choices Colour or Black & White, and in various
speeds. One good thing about print film is it's exposure latitude, you can
get the exposure wrong by up to a couple F-stops and you'll probably not even
know - try that with slide film!
So to summarize, Print Film is very useful if you need prints, I think!!! and slide film is good if you need slid........