Tips for Shooting the Bray Airshow

July 23, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Shooting Bray Air Show

With the Bray Air Display on this weekend, I blogged about the best of my shots from Dublin’s Flightfest yesterday. Today, I went back and re-edited my shots from the 2010 Bray Air Display. These are special for me because the last shot was part of my successful IPF Licentiate Panel. After yesterday’s post, someone also asked me if I had any tips. As with any photographic topic these days, a quick Google search give loads of guidance – mostly from American air shows where there is also access to the aircraft and crew on the ground. Bray is different in that the aircraft fly in from a different air field. Four of its strong features are that it’s FREE, the seafront location, the lack of restrictions you might have in a military base, and the presence of Bray Head. The latter gives a great background and alternative high viewpoint - so I plan to shoot from ground level one day and from the Head on the other day.

Anyway here are a few of my tips – as well as a few links to other articles. Digital Photography School (for beginners), Digital Camera Review, Photo Stack Exchange, School of Digital Photography,  Picture Correct,

  1. Preparation – check the event’s website for timing and access as well as the weather forecast – happily it looks good for Bray on both days during show times.
  2. Preparation – the show runs for five hours and there are likely to be gaps so bring food, water, sunscreen etc. During the intervals, relax and review your images for mistakes so you can get it right on the next run. Photograph people or just chat to them! Perhaps move to a different location.
  3. Preparation: Travel light, especially if you are going to move around.  Take only the gear you are likely to use in a small camera bag – this is not the day for a big backpack! Make sure your gear is ready, batteries are charged, cards are empty, and lenses are set to autofocus with image stabilisation on (easy to forget after a tripod shoot – and leave the tripod at home for this shoot!)
  4. Visualization – think in advance about what kind of shots you want and what settings you might need to get them – don’t just spray and pray! Look at airshow shots on the internet for ideas!
  5. Observation and practice – each group of aircraft usually makes a few runs, so get a feel for their routine on the first pass. Equally though, watch out for something special on the last run – but of course you won’t know which run is the last run! If there are announcements, listen to them!
  6. Perseverance – if you have not done this before – stick with it. There will be a high proportion of duds. Take lots of pictures and cull them ruthlessly afterwards.
  7. Camera(s) – a DSLR or high quality bridge or pocket camera with a zoom is best. Phone cameras will only work for the largest aircraft – and even then they will be small in the frame. They’re good for context shots though and instant posting to social media!
  8. Lenses - a long zoom for aircraft (and people!) close-ups. A standard or wide angle for context and background shots. I use my Canon 100-400mm lens as my primary lens for events like these.
  9. Positioning – shooting in the centre of the flypast may bring you closer to the peak display routines for VIPs on viewing stands. Shooting at the ends of the run can be good to capture aircraft turning in and out of display runs.
  10. Direction – the aircraft pass over the sea so you will normally be facing between NE & SE from the seafront. Perhaps go out onto one of the Harbour piers if you want to get directly under aircraft. However, some aircraft may not pass over the Pier.
  11. Lighting – the Bray Air Display runs from noon until 5pm so side lighting from the evening sun will a bit better in the afternoon but the sun will still be quite high in the sky.  
  12. Metering – ideally, you want to correctly expose both the sky and the aircraft. If you are shooting against a light sky, you could overexpose by 1-2 stops in evaluative mode to correctly expose the aircraft, or use spot metering if you have it. However, this may blow out detail and colour in the sky. If you shoot in RAW, you can afford to under expose the aircraft by 1-2 stops and bring out the shadows later in Lightroom.  During intervals, check your exposure using the blinkies - letting the brightest spots in the clouds over expose  a little is about right in RAW.
  13. Shutter speeds - greater than 1/1,000th of a second for jets. About 1/100th of a second to 1/250th of a second is good to show propellers and helicopter rotors. For these experiment in this range to get the aircraft sharp and a good blur of the moving parts.
  14. Shooting Mode & Settings: For jet shots - use Aperture Priority with the aperture wide open for maximum shutter speed – crank up the ISO if necessary – 1600 or even 3200 can work well on modern DSLRs. To blur propellers and rotors use shutter priority. If you want to include backgrounds, use a small aperture to blur it or a high aperture to keep them sharp – in the latter case you may need to crank up the ISO. A high burst rate is good as well – but shoot in short bursts to avoid filling up your cards.
  15. Focusing: Use Servo mode to track moving aircraft. If you can, move your focussing spot to one side of the frame for better composition. It’s hard to focus and recompose on aircraft moving at high speed. Either way, practice the composition during initial runs. If your lens goes way out of focus, use Bray Head to get it approximately right before trying to pick up a small or distant aircraft.
  16. Photograph people as well. If you have a wide angle lens try and get people and aircraft in the same shot – although aircraft will be very small in these shots.

Oh . . .  AND HAVE FUN!!


B52 bomber - terrifying!


Irish Air Corps CASA fisheries patrol aircraft.


Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 003-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney003-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 004-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney004-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 005-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney005-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney



Black Knights parachute display.


Aerobatics. 008-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney008-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 009-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney009-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 010-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney010-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 011-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney011-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 012-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney012-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 013-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney013-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 014-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney014-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 015-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney015-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 016-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney016-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney 017-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney017-2010-Bray-Air-Display-©-2016-John-Coveney


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