7 Tips For Beginner Photographers on How to Photograph an Air Show

I recently attended the TICO Warbird Airshow (which is affiliated with the local Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum), an event held at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Florida each March. This popular three-day event always attracts a large crowd and a good number of people sporting pro-quality DSLRs with huge (high tech, super expensive) lenses attached and a gear bag stuffed full of amazing (also super expensive) photo accessories.

While a camera rig like that is a wonderful thing, for many folks, it's simply not in the budget—yet. Instead, I was armed with my lightweight, pocket-size (budget friendly, yet still high tech) Canon PowerShot A2200 digital camera, in a sporty shade of red.

As a fellow beginner-level photographer, I’m offering this article as a type of “air show survival guide,” complete with seven easy tips that will get you some great photos and help you have a wonderful/productive time at the air show.

1. Getting Ready, The Basics

Check the weather report and pick a day to attend the event that will have the best weather conditions. Keep in mind that it will (more than likely) be a hot/sunny day so wear light colored clothes, a hat (with a wide brim) and comfortable shoes. Don’t forget the sunscreen: use one with the highest SPF level you can find—and bring it with you to re-apply during the day. Use a lightweight backpack (the kind sold at Walmart or Target) to hold a good supply of water (freeze one or two of the bottles to keep the others icy cold), snacks, a umbrella (to keep the sun off your head) and always bring a folding chair.

Since you’ll be using a pocket-size camera, you won’t have to worry about lugging around a huge rig along with all the other stuff. You’ll just need to bring some extra batteries (or charge the camera’s battery overnight), a lens cloth (to get the greasy sunscreen covered fingerprints off the LCD) and some extra memory cards.

2. Getting Started

There will be a lot to see at the show so you can begin with what interests you the most (or what ever is less crowded). Airshows usually include a car or motorcycle show, carnival rides, vendors and various exhibits.

Since the TICO Airshow is part of the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum they always include a wide selection of the restored aircraft that the museum normally has on display (complete with information and museum guides to answer questions).

3. Taking Photos

Now you’re ready to start taking pictures! Keep in mind that everything you want to photograph will also attract plenty of other interested photographers and you’ll have to find creative ways to work around them. They do tend to cluster in one spot so try shooting from different angles instead of straight on (to avoid getting the crowd in the shot).

4. Experiment With Different Settings

If your camera is new (and you’re not exactly sure which setting will produce the results you’re after) then don’t be afraid to experiment. Pick a setting, take a shot and check the LCD screen to see if you’re happy with the results—be sure to test them all (even the video mode).

5. Capture the Details

Don’t take the same shot everyone else is (usually a full side view of the aircraft); try to focus more on the little details. Aircraft engines are very complex and full of odd shapes, reflections and shadows. Look for the nose art, most sport 1940s pinup girls or cartoon characters.

6. Shooting the Action

Once the show starts things get really exciting and if you’re in a good spot you can capture images of the planes and they taxi down the runway or fly overhead. Your camera’s zoom feature is good for this part of the event and you’ll be surprised at how good your images will turn out.

7. Editing the Photos

Once the show is over and you’re back home its time to download the images to your computer, deleting the shots you’re not happy with and saving the rest to edit and share. Don’t leave the image files in the camera or on the memory card, its better to store them on the Cloud, a CD/DVD or a memory key.

More info on the TICO Warbird Airshow here.