Having grown up watching planes fly over my house, all day and night, and having spent the last 27 years (of my 37 years on this Earth) generally found with a camera in my hand, it is only natural that I can at times be found shooting photos of airplanes. Over the years I’ve shot planes for news outlets, airlines, corporate clients, aircraft manufacturers and of course just for my own personal enjoyment.
When I look at photographs I don’t like obvious photos, and tend to dislike the ‘easy’ photos. Yes, obvious and easy photos have their place, and I am guilty of shooting them for various reasons, but more often than not when I go looking for photos, I stay away from what has become the boring “Airliners.net Formula” of shooting airplanes.
What prompted me to discuss this today? Well, let me tell you.
Having posted a some of my airplane photos on my Twitterstream this past Saturday evening, I received a message from a long time aviation photographer that threw me for a loop … this photographer stated that the aircraft weren’t big enough in the frame and weren’t evenly centered in my photos. The photographer went on to say that my exposures were ‘dark’ making it impossible to view a number of the aircraft liveries.
This weekend while shooting planes departing New York’s JFK International Airport, over The Rockaways, my intention was in fact to try and keep the planes fairly small in the frame and not center them in the image. In looking at my images I think it is fairly obvious that my visual choices, including exposures, were deliberate. Some of the images really make you look to fine the plane … and that wasn’t a mistake, it was methodically thought out.
Shooting airplanes dead center, large in the frame, against a blue sky, is easy … and it is lazy. So many images on aviation photo sites, such as Airliners.net, look exactly the same. Even the creative angles are overdone, over and over again, so a formula has been created.
As photographers, whether a shooter is a new hobbyest or a seasoned professional, we need to use our eyes, our minds, our feet and keep our head on a swivel to not only find our images, but also entice viewers to gaze upon our images, not merely glance at them. Taking a long lens, aiming it at the center of the plane, so it is is the center of your frame, and shooting in program mode (No, “P” does not stand for Professional) not only removes the processes of thinking out a photograph, but it also robs the photographer of the opportunity to select their exposure, which can drastically change the look of an image.
When you pull a camera up to your eye, remember that you have a choice; in fact you have an infinite number of choices. As you look through your lens you have the ability to choose where your subject is in the frame you, you can select your focal length, you have the ability to change your angle to add or remove elements around your subject. You can wait for the clear blue sky or wait for your plane to begin to blend into a cloud. You can make your subject take up the whole frame or just a tiny fraction of the frame.
Do you want your viewers to glance at your photo or do you want them to look at your photo?
As photographers we have a responsibility to OURSELVES to know our tools, know what they do and know how to use them. As photographers we also have the ability to know when following a formula is a work requirement or just being lazy and following the herd.
Next time you go out to shoot airplanes … or anything else … take a moment to think about why you’re shooting the photos in front of you and if those images excite you visually.