Air to Air Equipment
It’s very exciting to have more and more folks contacting me with questions about aviation photography. There are a lot of you out there and that’s great. While it’s not as many questions as I get about wildlife, but plane sightings are a little more reliable then birds since birds tend to just keep on going. So the exchange of information is two way and enjoyable. With my air to air photography getting more and more attention, more are asking what equipment is required to successfully pull one off. Keep in mind I’m a newbie to this, my first air to air was just two years ago this month, a T6 shoot over the Sierra on the cover of the current issue of Trade-a-Plane. I’ve done 26 photo missions now and I still am learning but I want to answer this common question. What gear is needed? This is my basic shooting gear is D3x w/70-200VR2 and TC-17e and D3s w/24-70 both on Sun Sniper straps.
Here’s the reasons for my selection because it’s not what you have to use. The D3x with the 70-200VR2 & TC-17e are my primary shooting system. The reason is because of the amazing amount of detail the D3x captures. Seeing every rivet is important to me so if I make a sharp capture, then they are all there. A drawback to the D3x I truly appreciate and think of as an asset shooting air to air and that’s the slow FPS. That because it forces me to slow down and make the shot. I get way to excited and it’s real easy for me to just hit the hammer with the thrill of the whole adventure and fill the buffer. Even with my selective “sniper” shooting, I still fill the buffer. It’s at those times or, when doing a move that I know will go fast like dragging a plane down the runway like this F2G-2 Super Corsair, I pull out the D3s with it’s 9FPS. The lens choices are pretty simple. The 70-200 w/TC-17e permit me to have the subject aircraft a little further away from the photo platform. That extra space provides a little more safety and at the same time more flexibility in the subject aircraft to perform other maneuvers. The 24-70 is just a pretty standard air to air lens permitting you to photograph the whole aircraft. Both rigs are strapped which are strapped to me so nothing goes out the door. That includes me who has his ass safety harnessed to the floor.
There are many other options you can use with great success, you don’t have to use these bodies or lenses. That’s one of the cool things about aviation photography, camera gear wise you can have pretty minimal gear and still capture killer results. There is one other piece of gear that’s must and that’s where the budget takes a hit. That’s the shooting platform. The one I use the most is a A36 Bonanza owned and flown by my bud and PIC “Flydaddy.” One thing I do differently is I actually have two PICs in that the second seat is another great pilot Scottie (who just piloted the first test flight of the new Cessna Ten, congrats!) who’s job is to choreograph both aircraft to maneuver according to the shot list Scottie and I went over prior to the flight. The plane and pilots just isn’t something you can order from B&H and take with you in your carry on. I hope this answers your questions and gets you more excited about getting involved is this amazing photography. If you want an idea where to start, you might take a gander at the Kelby Training class is did on aviation photography. Hope to see you on the flight line!