Photographing Airplanes … Don’t Be So Boring

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 “ 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, 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.


Below are 16 photos I shot this past weekend, shot at various focal lengths, using different frame choices, and even some photos shot in Instagram with an iPhone 4.


Happy Flying!




Delta Air Lines Airbus A330

a plane flying in the sky

JetBlue Embraer E190

a plane flying a kite

Egyptair Boeing 777-36N/ER

an airplane flying in the sky

A halo appears over a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-832

a bright sun in a blue sky

Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-48EF/SCD

a plane flying in the sky

A JetBlue Airbus A320 passes over a child’s American Flag (Instagram)

a flag with a plane in the background

Delta Air Lines MD-80

a plane flying in the sky

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-451 disappears into the clouds

a plane flying in the sky

Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-232

an airplane flying in the sky

Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-232

a flag flying in the wind

Lufthansa Airbus A380-841 (Instagram)

an airplane flying in the sky

British Airways Boeing 747-436

a plane flying in the sky

ElAl Boeing 747-458

a plane flying in the sky

Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-332/ER

an airplane flying in the sky

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-4Q8 (Instagram)

a plane flying in the sky


Boeing 777-200 on short final over Brookville Blvd, in Rosedale, Queens, NY (Instagram)

a plane flying over a street


  1. While I’m less creative with my shots, I enjoy your style. You are right, it was incredibly clear what you were doing: Going for a unique, instagramish look. And while that’s not my style, I can certainly appreciate it. Props (or jets!) to you on the kite one. My fave out of the bunch.

  2. Jesse,

    My style of shooting was developed long before Instram came into existence.

    Also … Instragram is square (which I am forcing myself to embrace, having vowed to never shoot square again in June 1993) and my preference is to shoot and display images in 8×12, the full frame view of a 35mm frame of film (or now uncropped full frame sensor).

    Happy Flying!


  3. I think most of them are pretty good, and I do like the not-the-whole-frame-plane-not-centered style, but in some of them I think it goes to far. Having the plane take up like 3% of the frame is a bit overkill for that style.
    BA/DL 744 look great, but VS 744 and LH 380 don’t look so great.
    Just my unprofessional opinion.

  4. Serves you right Fish – trying to be creative and all.

    Let be the catalog of aircraft, and post your photos somewhere they will be appreciated!

    As Rodney Dangerfield used to say “No respect!”

  5. I love your style and am rather shocked about the criticism. You had me at the first pic.

  6. Kris,

    Describe how the images are unprofessional? I am very curious.

    I ask this as someone who has not only been an editorial photographer and corporate photographer … but as someone who has served as a chief photographer and photo editor at newspapers and director of photography overseeing five international business magazines.

    When you throw out a critique … and there is always room for opinions, as there are some well known notable photographers whose work makes me scratch my head … you need to be able to state why.

    On a side note, these images were shot for my own personal enjoyment, not as part of a project. Often what I shoot for myself isn’t what I shoot for clients, and vice-versa. I can tell you what I like about the VS 744, I waited for the plane to be lined up with a specific spot in the clouds. I watched three planes go by waiting for one to line up.

    Happy Flying!


  7. I wasn’t saying the photos are unprofessional, I am just saying in my unprofessional opinion because while I take thousands of aviation photos a year, I don’t sell them or do it for pay.

  8. Kris,

    Everyone has an opinion, which is great. Now look at the images and envision where you’d place text, a graphic, how it would fit in the format of a specific page. How the image (more then VS than the LH) can be used for a story, ad, content about just getting away.

    Look at it and envision the whimsy of how that plays out visually.

    Happy Flying!


  9. Hey there!

    Being both plane crazy and bitten by the shutter bug, I’m taking a fair amount of plane pictures, and whenever I’m traveling, I try to include an airport in my schedule (much to my wife’s desperation).
    I submitted a few of my shots to and they were rejected for the stated reasons. So what? I keep shooting for myself and sometimes publishing some on other sites where they are appreciated for their artistic value, not for the n-numbers 🙂

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