Aviation photography – my style, my way.

If there is one thing that I have learned about photography, is that it is a very personal thing and no matter what, your photography is and always should be an extension of ones own self and no one should have the right to tell you that your photographs are not good enough to be seen. In saying that no one likes to look at a bad photo… so it is nice to at least make the attempt to edit them.

This page is a personal journey though what constitutes my style of aviation photography, it is not meant as a “road-map” for anyone to follow for enlightenment, I am just setting out the things that I look for in my photographs and in no way am I telling anyone what they should be doing.

Background

I have been interested in photography and aircraft photography for a very long time, more years than I care to remember and like most I have come up through the ranks, doing the same thing that every aviation photographer does and eventually not deriving much pleasure from the experience. That was until two years ago, when I decided to be wholly responsible for my own photography and vowed never again to let someone else be the arbiter my work. I have never looked back since that day when I told the last screener to “go to Hell,” because I realised that I did not want to be judged by their standards I wanted my photos to be judged by my standards.

Influences.

My personal style developed over many years with two major influences, one was a photographer friend of mine, who eventually turned his back on aviation photography and through years of being a member of the local camera club.

My friend taught me to appreciate the simplicity of a photograph and if possible to cut out the clutter, simplifying the photo to the fewer number of elements as possible. He still puts these principles to great use in his nature photography.
Camera Clubs taught me about the composition “elements.” the things in a photograph that add up to the complete picture and will make or break a photograph.

Founding principles – Content in Context.

My fundamental principle is to put Content into Context and that is to place the subject in its location.
Unlike almost everyone else, I do not photograph the aircraft themselves, I try to photograph the aircraft and where that aircraft is. In doing so I will try to include a little bit of the scenery around the airport in my photos and I try to convey what kind of day it was when I took the photograph. I try, whenever possible to avoid skyshots, there is no context there.

Founding principles -The Decisive Moment.

Another fundamental principle is what could be called, the decisive moment.

For decisive moment, just Google Henri Cartier-Bresson and see what I mean. He is not known for photographing aircraft but he coined the phase Decisive Moment. I look out for that special moment when aircraft begins to fly, or that little bit of instability, or a small moment in time where there is something different from the normal, or something in general that makes a picture special.
To achieve this moment it would be easy to set the camera on high speed continuous (12 frames per second in my case) then “spray and pray” to get the moment but I don’t I generally do this, my camera is usually set on low speed continuous (three frames a second) and I usually take no more than two photos at a time, one for practice and one for good measure AND I hate editing down large numbers of photos that are all more or less the same.

The decisive moment, when flight begins

A decisive moment.

Compositional Elements

Photos are constructed with a number of elements, each element builds up to make the final picture. The aircraft itself is usually the single most important element in the picture taking overall precedence but it should not totally dominate the entire frame. The other elements should support the subject but not detract from it, so some elements are less desirable than others.

Taking the above Eurostar picture as an example. You could break the picture into five elements; the grass, the runway, the aircraft, the trees and the sky. There is nothing special about each of the elements except the aircraft, all are more or less uniform and is effectively ignored by the eye leaving it to concentrate on the Eurostar and that is the way I gain simplicity.

Simplicity is the main thing that I want from my pictures, having as few or no distracting elements in the picture as possible. Distractions move the eye from the subject, which defeats the purpose of taking the picture of the aircraft. Have a look at the following examples. Please note – In the following examples, I have put no special effort into the post production of these pictures, except the SCAA photo. Basically – you can’t polish a turd! 🙂

This one has two, the windsock on the old ILS mast and the holding point marker board, another prime candidate for cloning.

This one has two distracting elements, the windsock and the runway marker board, which dominates the scene. We are conditioned to read text and so your eye is drawn away from the aircraft to the big marker board in the foreground. It is made worse by the fact that it is blurred and therefore visually disturbing. The light coloured wind sock draws the eye to it and is grows out of the aircraft, which is another distraction.

 

The yellow teleporter in the background is a big enough distraction to kill this one

The yellow teleporter in the background is a big enough element to kill this one, although it could be cloned out.

 

The windsock, is almost always cloned out of my pictures. The orange sock is a huge distraction

The windsock, is almost always cloned out of my pictures. The orange sock is a huge distraction. In this case it looks like the RV is going to run into the mast. Also the eye catching orange colour draws the eye away from the aircraft.

 

The PTH Beacon in the background is a big enough distraction to kill this one.

The PTH Beacon in the background is a big enough element to kill this picture. The eye is drawn to the complexity of the beacon structure and away from the aircraft.

There is one distracting element than make or break a photo and that’s the dust spot. Mistakes are made. Even the best of photographers can miss them but it is a sloppy photographer that does not even try to remove them.

Dust spots are another distracting element that is easily removed.

Dust spots are another distracting element that is easily removed.

Moving on to other examples

A sky-shot, just an uninteresting sky to look at

A sky-shot, it may reduce the photo down to the fewest number of elements but an uninteresting sky is boring to look at. I try to avoid them whenever possible. However a good sky with an impressive cloudscape can greatly increase the interest in the picture.

 

The tower sticking out from the aircraft

Intersecting elements. The tower sticking out from the aircraft is one such element. I love the decisive moment when the reverse thrust doors open out from the engines but the tower looming over the Airbus is a killer for me.

 

The burnt out sun.

Highlights, an orphaned element and distraction. The eye is drawn to the brightest part of the picture, which is the burnt out sun. You just can not help it. It’s like a great big boil on someones nose, you just can not stop staring at it. The net effect is it draws your eye away from the subject, which was the reason why I was making photo in the first place.  The aerial in the foreground is another killer.

 

Intersecting elements, a tail at the front and back

Intersecting elements. I got the decisive moment, the nose wheel is up but I also an intersecting element with a tail at the front and back. The small black object on the right frame would have been removed.

 

Intersecting elements

Intersecting elements. This one is borderline but having the aircraft straddle the trees and the sky is usually a no-no for me, although it does work when capturing the heat from the exhaust. I sometimes break my own rules…

 

The balancing act. Balancing the aircraft on a tower is a no-no for me.

Intersecting elements.  Balancing the aircraft on a tower is a no-no for me. Sorry but Dreamliners are just too heavy to balance on top of little towers like that. Two intersecting elements are a no-no for me. The razor-wire at the bottom of the picture does not help either, although this could be improved by a tighter crop.

You can see examples of all my personal no-nos. You will see examples of these photos almost every day from other photographers and there is nothing wrong with that kind of photo. It is just not for me. Almost every single of the above examples goes against the simplicity that I want from of a picture, which leads me onto another facet of my style…having no fixed aspect ratio.

Free aspect ratio

I really pity those photographers who lack the imagination to change the aspect ratio of their pictures, especially those who shoot with camera that have a 4:3 aspect ratio. Just because your cameras sensor is a particular size/aspect ratio does not mean that every one of the photos that come out of that camera must be in that ratio.
To my eye, photographers who are not free to place the subject lower in the frame, inevitably they end up with a great big chunk of ground at the bottom and an equally big chunk of sky at the top and the aircraft sandwiched in between, like a thin layer of jam in between two thick slices of bread. The crop is an important compositional element item in photography and can be used to get rid of distracting elements from a picture.

The free crop

The free crop. To be brutally direct, grass is boring, every blade is the same as the next so the less of it in my pictures the happier I am. In this case it is made worse by being in deep shadow. The sky varies, it tells you what kind of day it was and is more visually pleasing to look at. The other thing is, I crop wide I like to leave some space for the aircraft to “move into” and generally I crop a bit tighter at the back end of the aircraft enhancing the direction of movement, this one is an exception.

The 16:9 crop much less boring foreground, concentrating more on the subject.

The 16:9 database style crop much less boring foreground, concentrating more on the subject. This seems to be the best of the bunch when it comes to the databases that support this format. The grass and the sky are minimised. The deep shadow is more noticeable here, in this case it helps to mask off the bottom of the frame. The close crop at the back and the front is not for me and leaves nowhere for the aircraft to “move into.” The composition is visually unbalanced, equally tight at the front and back, it just looks like it is wide at the back by the thin horizontal stabiliser.

The 3:2 aspect ratio, still large areas of uninteresting grass and sky.

The 3:2 aspect ratio database style crop, still large areas of uninteresting grass and sky. Notice the fence posts at the bottom of the picture, they are distracting elements. The shadow helps to mask off the bottom of the frame but it still does not get away from the fact that it is a waste of space.

The 4:3 aspect Ratio. Great swathes of boring grass and sky.

The 4:3 aspect Ratio database style crop. Great swathes of boring grass and sky. Now you really see what’s at the bottom of the picture and lots of grass that is of no visual interest to the picture and the top of the fence, which is a distraction. Adds up to a lot of wasted space at the bottom of the frame.

The beauty if you can call it that, of using a free aspect ratio is I don’t need to use ladders to get the fence out of the picture, nor do I fear cloning out fences either. On reflection, I should have cloned out the aerial sticking out from behind the cockpit though.

Off center.

You will have noticed by now that I do not place place the aircraft in the middle of the frame, I usually place it somewhere near the bottom third. There is this thing among photographers called “the rule of thirds” while it is hard to apply to aviation photography in its strictest form but the aircraft has to be somewhere and near the bottom third is good enough for me. It does minimalise the amount of foreground, which is my prime objective.
I do not advocate strict adherence to the “rule of thirds”, however sometimes it does works and sometimes it does not. If it works then it makes for a more interesting photo and you have to put the aircraft somewhere in the frame anyway, whether it is between the thirds and centralised or on the bottom third but it has to be somewhere.
On occasion, I will even place the aircraft on the top third but there will be a good reason for doing so, such as an interesting foreground or cloudscape.

Bottom corner

Never feel that you MUST place the aircraft in the dead center of the frame. In this picture, the aircraft has “somewhere to go” and this in the direction of the top right hand corner, after all it is climbing after take-off. The streaked clouds reinforce that direction of travel and the dark edge along the top frame forces the eye down towards the aircraft, which has been reduced to a simple silhouette.

 

Colour

Colour is the single most important element here. The bridge piers in the bottom left hand corner are distracting elements but I can live with that. There is nothing over exposed here and the aircraft sits in a light and colour laden part of the sky. The clouds do not touch the aircraft as elements should not cross into each other.

There are times when the overall picture is more important than the aircraft

G-CLOV ASK21, Bishop Hill-20160302-080

Small plane big sky. You get the impression of flight, without filling the frame with the aircraft. The colour has been replaced with monochrome tones simplifying the picture even further.

 

Rules are meant to be broken.

In saying all that, like all rules, they are made to be broken. Sometimes there is no alternative to having some distracting elements in the photo. Skyshots for example are unavoidable at some places. Other examples are…

The free crop

This would be an example of a typical free crop. I have minimised the foreground but I have lost a composition element in the process.

A deliberate wide crop

A deliberate wide crop has allowed me to use the road as a lead-in line to draw the viewers eye up from the bottom of the frame towards the Hercules. I recognised this when I was composing the picture.

The narrow view

The narrow view. This is the standard way of seeing things. It does not say very much except to show the aircraft is in a bank. It could be anywhere at any height.

The wide view

The wide view. A wider crop and deliberately putting the aircraft at the top of the picture to include the background trees enforces the view of how close this aircraft was to the ground

 

This has been a personal view of my aircraft photography but remember there really is no right or wrong way to make photographs, this is just my way that’s all. People all too often forget that photography is an art form, a form of self expression, all this is just explains how I make photographs and if you want to make your photos look the same as the next person then that is your choice but it is not for me.
Have fun and above all enjoy your hobby.

But there’s one thing for sure….Mair tae come

 

 

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