Most beginning plane spotters and aviation photographers struggle to get their first photo accepted on to online aviation photography databases such as Airliners.net or JetPhotos.net. This is no surprise at all as these websites are very strict when it comes to image quality and reject the majority of images that pass through the screening and selection process. Therefore you shouldn’t feel discouraged when your first couple of uploads are rejected. It took me nearly a dozen attempts before I was able to get my first photo accepted on the Airliners.net. With some persistence and practice, eventually the right photo will come along. Here are my five tips to help you improve your aviation photography and increase your Airliners.net photo acceptance rate.
Get as close to the aircraft as possible
A general rule for photography is the closer you are to your subject, the cleaner your images will turn out. A subject that is far away will require a longer focal length (greater zoom) to fill the frame and therefore increase the amount of camera shake and potential of blurry pictures. Not only will a longer focal length cause blurriness due to camera shake, most lenses are softest and weakest at the long end of their focal lengths. For example, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm STM has great image quality up to around 150-200mm. After that, the sharpness of the image deteriorates dramatically. The exact explanation for why this happens is beyond me, but it’s definitely something you should keep in mind. And unless you’re shooting on a day with perfect visibility, pollution in the air will obscure your view of the subject and affect the contrast and sharpness of the raw image. At large airports with plenty of jet aircraft going in and out there’s going to be a
Use the right camera settings
When I go plane spotting, I always have my camera on Aperture Priority mode (A or Av). This lets me choose the aperture and ISO while shutter speed is set automatically. I typically use ISO between 100 and 200 and aperture between f/6.3 and f/8. Bear in mind that lenses are softest wide open (at their maximum aperture) and sharpest at around f/8. Beyond f/8, images will soften due to light diffraction. Another important rule to know is that your shutter speed should ALWAYS be more than your effective focal length. For example, a 200mm lens on a full frame requires a shutter speed of at least 1/200 of a second for clean images, while the same 200mm lens on a APS-C camera (1.6x crop) requires at least 1/320 of a second. A lens with image stabilization will let you use a slower shutter speed, but it is always good to use the fastest shutter speed you can, even if that means raising your ISO to 200 or higher. Camera shake is more likely to cause dirty images than high ISO.
In case you haven’t noticed, the best and most impressive photographs in general are the ones that perfectly capture beautiful light. It’s the subject that makes the photograph, but rather the lighting conditions present. Shooting on an overcast day with little sun and unimpressive lighting will not yield good results no matter how good your are at photogrpahy or how interesting your subject is. Try to avoid plane spotting on hazy or overcast days and aim for early morning or late afternoon on a day with good weather. These are the times when you’ll find the best natural light for aviation photography. You can also try shooting at night, but this requires more skill and a decent tripod.
Choose your subject matter wisely
In order to gain Airliners.net acceptance, you’ll need to incorporate some strategy. Photographs of commonly seen widebodies operated by major carriers (such as a Singapore Airlines A380 or British Airways B777) will be judged according to stricter standards as there are already a lot of pictures of those aircraft in the database. On the other hand, screners will likely be more lenient towards photos of less commonly seen narrowbodies belonging to small regional carriers that have less photos in the database. The same goes for newly delivered aircraft and aircraft that have recently changed its livery.
I said earlier, it took me nearly a dozen tries before I was able to get my first photo accepted onto Airliners.net. Looking back I could see a major difference in quality between my first upload and my most latest. Keep trying and your skills will be able to improve over time. Eventually, the right photo will come along.