Top Tips for Shooting Car Shows and Air Shows

Peggy Farren 2016-10-15
by Joe Fitzpatrick

Fall and winter in Florida means air shows and car shows. These events are fun to watch and draw hundreds, sometimes thousands, of attendees. This is great for the promoters of the events but presents challenges to photographers. The aircraft or automobiles are typically close together and surrounded by throngs of people. While images of attendees interacting with the displays are interesting, most of us primarily want clean shots of the planes or cars on display.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to isolate the subject. It can be done in post processing by laboriously selecting and removing the subject from the background. This is certainly effective, but is time consuming and requires more than a little skill. Fortunately, there are techniques that can be used to isolate the subject at the time of exposure.

The simplest technique is to choose a perspective that eliminates the background clutter. Getting down low and shooting at an upward angle can often allow you to replace a busy background with open sky. The image of the AA Flagship Detroit DC-3 was taken on crowded runway with a line of people waiting to see the inside of the aircraft. The spinning propellers were added during post processing.

Forgoing trying to capture the entire subject, but, instead, opting to shoot close ups of various interesting features can result in great images. Car radiator grilles, head and tail lights, aircraft engines and landing gear, and interior details all make interesting subjects. Details can be captured in even the most crowded of events.

Portrait photographers often isolate their subjects by having a shallow depth of field which results in an out of focus background. The same technique can be used with large objects, although not quite as easily. The depth of field is controlled by lens focal length, lens aperture, and distance. Wide apertures and long focal lengths produce shallower depths of field than small apertures and short focal lengths. The closer the subject is to the camera and the greater the difference is between the camera to subject distance and the camera to background distance, the easier it becomes to blur the background.

All three techniques have their place. Be aware of the background, try them all, and you will make some memorable images.

~Joe Fitzpatrick is Understand Photography’s lead photography instructor. Joe heads up most of Understand Photography’s trips and day trips.
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