24 Tips on How to Photograph Air Shows

Airplanes and helicopters are very cool, and an air show offers a collection of cool aircraft. And, if you are like me, you want to not only take a ton of photos at air shows, you will want to come away with a bunch of “keepers.”

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Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

A USAF Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle in afterburner

1. Planning

Air shows are fun for everyone, and, if you just want to go to see cool aircraft on the ground and in the air, not too much planning is needed. The basics, for everyone: Bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and stay hydrated!

A United Airlines Boeing 747-400 makes a high-speed pass over the Golden Gate Bridge.

2. Scouting

For the photographer, it pays to do some scouting, if possible. Depending on the air show, the performers will do a practice flight on Thursdays, during which the pilots get familiar with the airspace. Friday will be a dress rehearsal. Saturday and Sunday will be the actual shows. Depending on the venue, you may be able to preview the show by viewing the Thursday and Friday action. This allows you to become familiar with the performers and their routines. Take photos and take mental notes. It’s fun to be surprised by a jet team’s “sneak passes,” but it is even cooler to know it’s coming and have your camera pointed in the right direction!

The US Navy Blue Angels

3. No Trespassing

Be it at a civilian airport or a military base, an air show is not the time you want to be hopping fences, testing security, or going around roped-off areas in the name of getting a great photograph. It is never cool to trespass, and doing it at an air show can endanger yourself, the performers, and get you in a lot of trouble.

Air shows can be all about details.

4. Take it All in

The performances at an air show are incredible to watch, but be sure to enjoy all the aircraft on exhibit on the flight line. And photograph them! A snapshot of a parked “helo” or warbird might just be a snapshot, but try to study the light and the angles and look for creative and engaging photographs. Air shows are crowded. Don’t be afraid to include the crowd in your photos to help give the images a sense of place and activity.

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