Assert control over the shoot by determining the timing and type of orbit. Inside turns will give you lots of ground and are good for “looking down” on something specific below. Outside turns are great for sky and landscape shots. Pay attention to the horizon; I prefer to frame it level and increase the bank angle of the airplane to provide drama. Note the relationship between the airplane fuselage and the horizon; you may not want them to overlap. However you compose your shot, use all available resources. A good lead pilot can help suggest backgrounds inflight, so be sure to explain your objectives beforehand.
As you orbit, look for uncluttered backgrounds. Roads, buildings and power lines all can be unwanted distractions. If you’re shooting a prop airplane, watch the way the sun plays off the rotating blades, and when it starts to glisten (typically a few degrees off-sun), ask your pilot to roll out and fly straight-and-level for a bit. Often, I’ll ask my pilot to remember the exact heading for future orbits. Some will plot the flight path on a GPS unit so that they can precisely fly the same track again.
There’s a portion of each orbit when the subject is backlit—a good opportunity to capture a silhouette image. I’ll ask the subject pilot to play what I like to call the “Shadow Game”—they maneuver at will with the goal of placing their shadow on my plane.
When the airplane is the main focus, orbits, sun angle and clean backgrounds are again key factors. To get a diverse set of images, I’ll move the subject plane to a variety of positions, including on the 45, profile/abeam, top-down and in-trail. One technique for adding drama is to twist your camera—this works best when there aren’t any “giveaways,” such as the horizon or clouds.
Your subject pilot’s face will be much more visible in a tight shot, so pay attention to his or her expression. Formation flying requires a high level of concentration and can be uncomfortable when flying into the sun for a prolonged period. When my pilots begin to grimace and sweat (and they will!), I simply remind them to smile. I also check in to gauge their fatigue level and call it a day if I’ve tired them out.
Selling Your Aviation Images
The market for this kind of niche imagery is more broad than you may think. The aviation market isn’t just about airplanes. There are parts, service providers, design elements, pilot gear and much more. You may be surprised by the opportunities you can find at your local airport. Here are ideas for potential clients to get you started.
Aircraft Manufacturers. With each new model, there’s a need for ad and marketing materials.
Aircraft Owners. What pilot wouldn’t want to hang a photo of his or her pride and joy in his or her hangar or office? Many owners have the disposable income to meet your fee.
Service Providers. Flight schools want to present a good-looking fleet to prospective customers; FBOs (fixed-base operators) adorn their walls with aviation imagery.
Pilot Gear Manufacturers. Pilots, like photographers, love gear! They wear headsets, use flight bags and obsess over the latest cockpit technologies.
Designers. Think exterior paint schemes and cabin interiors.
Component Manufacturers.Engine and propeller companies have ongoing needs for ad and marketing materials.
Trade Show Exhibitors. Exhibitors have a need for display images/graphics in their booths.