I’m often asked what techniques and settings I use to get the apparently impressive images I post in this gallery and on the various aviation forums. As far as I’m aware, I don’t do anything special but every time I go to Duxford I do practice and experiment with different camera settings and photographic techniques. Some work, a lot don’t and are subsequently deleted. A plus point with digital images.
Having expensive equipment does not make you an instant photographer who gets perfect pictures every time. It takes a lot of practice and knowing what your camera equipment is capable of achieving and working around that. What follows is a basic guide of settings and techniques, which I’ll try and keep simple, that I have used over the years with my Sony Alpha and latterly a Sony NEX cameras during my frequent Bimbles around Duxford.
The Imperial War Museums, Duxford is a unique museum in the fact that it has original World War One hangars and period buildings with static exhibits inside and outside of them but it also has an active airfield with a grass and hard runway. This allows part of the site to be occupied and used by a variety of war bird owners and operators and their aircraft in keeping with the museum’s theme. Having an active hard runway also attracts modern military aircraft ranging from Tutor trainers, where the crews generally stop over for lunch, to Apache helicopters from Wattisham practicing landing and take off techniques around the airfield and even USAF MC-130 Hercules from Mildenhall using the black asphalt to practice short landings and take-off’s.
Because of all these different aviation attractions, a wide variety of camera settings can be used around the site depending on where you are and what you are photographing at the time.
For interior and static shots I use a Sony Alpha A-57/16MP sensor with a Sony 16-105mm f3.5-f5.6 lens. For a slightly longer reach with this set up I switch to the ‘Continuous Priority AE Mode’ which takes an 8MP crop of the sensor.
For flying I use a Sony Alpha A-58/20MP sensor with a Sony 70-300mm f4.5-f5.6 G SSM lens. For a longer reach I use the in-camera ‘CLEAR IMAGE ZOOM’. Basically this takes a crop of the sensor then using Sony's ‘Pixel Super Resolution Technology’ converts the crop back to full size by interpolating neighbouring pixels to replace the missing pixels. Using the Clear Image Zoom at 2x, above that it become a digital crop, 300mm effectively becomes 600mm add in the sensor crop of 1.5x = 900mm.
If I need to then I also use the on-camera pop-up flash which I find more than adequate for use in the hangars, and also outside, at Duxford. A problem with using flash is that it can illuminate the immediate area in front of you with a bright harsh light reflected off the metal or camouflage of an aircraft and turn the background dark or black. The basic rule of thumb I use is that if I’m close up to an airframe then I turn the flash compensation down to a minus number and if it’s a bit further away, turn it up to a plus number for the further reach. I also wrap a piece of white paper napkin held in place with an elastic band around the flash. This also helps to diffuse or soften the light from the flash.
It’s quite amusing at times watching visiting photographers snapping away in the hangars at Duxford using high end equipment with a wide angle lens that cost more than the camera body and with a big and heavy zoom flash attached and just clicking away and using the camera like a cheap point and shoot with it apparently set on AUTO.
For greater control over the quality of the finished photograph, where ever possible I use MANUAL settings when shooting inside. With the Electronic View Finder (EVF) you have on Sony Alpha cameras, when you make an adjustment to a camera setting you can see it immediately in the view finder so you see is what you get which is something you can’t do with an Optical View Finder (OVF).
Even with the in-camera ‘Steady Shot’ turned on, wherever possible I try to keep the shutter speed in double figures, 1/10th or 1/15th second or above, for a sharp image. I do go lower but usually when I’m leaning against or have the camera resting on something solid. I have the aperture or ‘f’ number set between about f7.1 and f9 for a sharp image from front to back to maintain a constant depth of field. The lower the number, the wider the aperture to let in more light to the sensor and consequently if photographing a fuselage standing near the nose and looking towards the tail, sharpness can be lost towards the rear of the fuselage. For a side view that is not a problem. To achieve these two settings means I have to adjust the ISO by turning it up to between ISO200 and ISO800 but trying to keep it at the lowest ISO setting possible.
For flying shots, I tend to use ‘Shutter Priority’ and use the rule of thumb that the shutter speed should equal the length of the lens. i.e.,300mm = 1/300sec. 200mm = 1/200sec. I would rather have a war bird in focus than massive amounts of prop blur. Because of the practice I’ve had I can drop the shutter speed a lot lower than the lens length but that does take practice.
Other settings I use are Auto Focus on [AF-C], Auto Focus area on [ZONE], Metering Mode [CENTER WEIGHTED]. At Duxford as you are basically shooting south, or into the sun, I set the Exposure Compensation [+/-] at +0.3 or +0.7 although you have to be careful with the Exposure Comp. as it’s letting more light reach the sensor and can turn the blue sky/clouds a very light to white colour. ISO I generally leave on ‘AUTO’ and let the camera work that out.