Sunday, July 28, 2013

As The Propeller Turns

 Set Free Over The Porcupine Hills
I had just pulled off my driveway, and a flash of lightning had me looking to the eastern horizon. Off in the distance I could see a thunderstorm silhouetted against the horizon. The time was not yet 6:00 and as I worked my way south on Deerfoot Trail, keeping a eye on the thunderstorm. It was a good sized cell with towering cumulus reaching high in the early morning sky. Once I had satisfied myself that it was of no threat to me, I relaxed as I drove along enjoying my cup of Chai tea.
I kept a eye out for interesting foregrounds that I could possibly frame with the thunderstorm off in the distance, but there was nothing of interest to me. I actually had a destination in mind, that being a fly-in breakfast being held at the AJ Flying Ranch located near Nanton. This annual event is co-hosted by the Bomber Command Museum located in Nanton, and the AJ Flying Ranch. They would be serving breakfast starting at 8 am, but before that happened I planned on a meandering drive along the backroads south of Calgary, and while doing that, working my way down to the AJ Flying Ranch. I was pleased as I drove along to see the skies clearing out, with the promise of a reasonable day, considering that the forecast had been for thunder showers. I was glad that I had brought a jacket along, as the temperature was on the cool side. The summer we had experienced so far, certainly has had below average temperatures, with a continuation of the same for today. While I drove along, my thoughts were lost in the clouds that floated overhead, and some of those thoughts were on the flying machines that I hoped to shoot photos of on this day 
With the recent airshows that were held in southern Alberta in the past several weeks, first at the Airdrie airport, and the following week down at Lethbridge, my mind was on some of the aviation photos that I had seen on line, that had been shot at both of these airshows.
If you want to ruin a perfectly good photo of an airplane or helicopter in flight, whether it may be at a airshow, or while observing aircraft coming and going at the Calgary airport, or just anywhere you see aircraft in the sky, capture the photograph with the propeller or rotor stopped. In my mind there is no better way to ruin a perfectly exposed photo of a propeller driven airplane, than to shoot the photo of the airplane, and have the propeller stopped. The first thing that comes to mind when I see a photo of this sort, is that the airplane is falling out of the sky Good aircraft photography requires a degree of technical know-how as well as basic knowledge of the principles of flight.
The most common error made by photographers new to photographing propeller airplanes or helicopters is to stop their propeller and rotor blades by choosing a shutter speed that is too fast.
While the urge to freeze a fast-moving object by using a fast shutter speed is understandable, if you want to be a sucessful aviation photographer you will have to unlearn this basic photographic lesson. Using a fast shutter speed will ensure that a moving aircraft is crisp and sharp, but unfortunately, as it is powered by propeller or rotor blades these will be frozen too, robbing your image of any sense of movement.

Show a pilot a photo of a aircraft in flight with the propeller stopped, and to him this indicates a aircraft with a stalled engine, and the aircraft about to fall out of the sky!
Shooting with a slower shutter speed allows for motion of the propeller on a airplane, or the rotor blades of a helicopter yielding a more natural results.
As a simple rule of thumb, propeller-driven airplanes should never be shot at a shutter speed faster than 1/250 second. For helicopters, the shutter speed must be even slower if the image is to look natural. Helicopters with three or more rotor blades should be shot at a shutter speed no faster than 1/125 second, while two-bladed helicopters look best at speeds no higher than 1/60 second. Shooting at slower shutter speeds will result in more motion blur and potentially a heightened sense of speed and power.

When shooting aircraft on the ground, in many instances even a point and shoot camera will suffice.  You can walk around the tarmac for close-up views and there is usually a good amount of daylight, so telephotos lenses are unnecessary and you can shoot at a low ISO sensitivity setting. If image quality is of concern, avoid using your camera's Auto ISO setting. I have found that point and shoot cameras tend to err on the side of caution, choosing unnecessarily high ISO settings to boost shutter speed and prevent blur. Unfortunately, high ISO settings result in noisier images and, as you now know that high shutter speeds are undesirable when photographing aircraft with moving propellers or rotors.

So let's go out and shoot some photos of propeller powered airplanes, and remember to keep your shutter speed in check by shooting in shutter priority. Once you shoot your first photograph, check the LCD, and make any adjustment's required to keep that propeller in motion. Depending on the speed the propeller is turning on a particular aircraft, adjustments to the shutter speed could be required for a nice blur of the propeller.

On The Flight Line
All photos expand

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