Perspectives on Commercial Aviation Photography

Perspectives on Commercial Aviation Photography

DALLAS — Commercial aviation photography requires a certain level of skill and knowledge to be able to capture stunning images of airplanes in motion. It is a unique genre of photography that combines technical expertise, creativity, and a passion for aviation.

The four aviation photographers I’m going to talk to are all top-notch professionals who have taken some incredible pictures. They will discuss their insights, advice, and methods for getting the ideal aviation shot.

With their help, we will dive deep into the art of aviation photography, learning about the different styles, techniques, and tools used to capture aircraft. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced photographer, we’re sure you will find the following informative and inspiring.

To clarify, the following opinions are general tips to get started in the world of aviation photography, as there are many creative ways to enjoy photographing commercial aircraft.

Fabrizio with an Air Tractor AT-802A (EC-JTF) in the background. Photo Fabrizio: Spicuglia/Airways

Fabrizio Spicuglia, Airways Magazine Photographer

The first aviation photographer I asked about his creative photos is Fabrizio Spicuglia, a member of the Airways photography team. Fabrizio has been an avid aviation enthusiast since he was born. He started planespotting in 2013, so he’s celebrating his 10th anniversary this year.

Spicuglia was born in Venezuela but lives in Valencia, Spain. He thinks planes have an artistic side to them and has been trying to catch that ever since.

United Boeing 787 Dreamliner at MXP. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

DC: Fabrizio, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. When shooting aircraft, what is your favorite angle?

FS: As a photography enthusiast, choosing the right angle can make or break the photo. The angle you choose can significantly impact the mood, perspective, and overall composition of the image. When it comes to aviation photography, finding the right angle can be a challenge, as planes are large and complex objects that require careful consideration of the surroundings.

One of my favorite angles to shoot planes from is in front of the aircraft or at a 20-degree angle from the nose. This angle allows me to capture the plane’s fuselage, nose, and engines in one shot. It creates a dynamic and powerful image that showcases the plane’s size and shape. This angle also allows me to capture the details of the plane’s nose, such as the cockpit windows, landing gear, and wingtips.

Another angle that I enjoy shooting planes from is the backside or tail. This angle creates a sense of motion and direction, as the plane appears to be moving away from the viewer. It also allows me to capture the plane’s tail section, which often features unique designs, logos, and livery. Shooting from this angle can also create a more dramatic image if the sky behind the plane is filled with interesting clouds or a colorful sunset.

In addition to daytime photography, I also enjoy shooting planes at night. Night photography offers a unique perspective on planes, as the lights of the aircraft can create a beautiful glow against the dark sky. Shooting planes at night also allows me to capture the colors and patterns of the lights, which can create a beautiful and surreal image. The challenge with night photography is finding the right location and lighting conditions, as well as adjusting the camera settings to capture the image without overexposure or underexposure.

Finding the right angle for plane photography requires experimentation, patience, and creativity. Whether shooting from the front, back, or side, each angle can create a unique and captivating image. Night photography also offers a beautiful and creative way to capture planes in a new light. So, the next time you’re out shooting planes, be sure to try different angles and see what works best for you.

Lufthansa Airbus A340-642 D-AIHW departing Munich. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

What are your preferred airports for creative photos and why?

One of the best airports for creative photos is Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD). This airport is the busiest in Spain and one of the largest in Europe, with four terminals and two parallel runways. It offers a wide range of spotting locations, including official viewing decks, parks, bridges, and even a hill where you can get a panoramic view of the airport. The airport is also home to a variety of airlines, from low-cost carriers to long-haul operators, so you can expect to see a diverse mix of planes and liveries.

Another great airport for spotting is Munich Airport (MUC) in Germany. This airport is known for its modern architecture and design, which provides numerous opportunities for creative photography. The airport has several observation decks, including a rooftop terrace with views of the apron and runways. It also has a visitor park with interactive exhibits, a playground, and a mini golf course. Additionally, the airport hosts an annual aviation photography workshop, which attracts photographers from around the world.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) in the Netherlands is another excellent airport for spotting. This airport is one of the busiest in Europe and has six runways, which means you’re never short of planes to photograph. The airport has several official spotting locations, including a panoramic terrace, a parking garage, and a green space called Polderbaan Park.

In summary, Madrid, Munich, and Amsterdam are among the best airports for creative photos due to their diverse spotting locations, accessible facilities, and variety of airlines and aircraft. If you’re an aviation enthusiast or photographer, be sure to add these airports to your spotting bucket list!

Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

What is your advice for beginners?

Try to be different, forget about web standards, and learn a lot from other photographers but don’t try to be them. You don’t always need to have a perfect light to get a great shot. Sometimes the rain will help you a lot.

Always improve your editing skills and take some risks, and most importantly, always shoot RAW, which will give you leeway when it comes to adjusting the exposure, white balance, and other crucial aspects of the photo during the post process.

Also, it’s essential to be patient, as spotting planes can be a waiting game, but the rewards can be great. Start by researching the best airports and spotting locations in your area, and experiment with different angles, lenses, and settings until you find your unique style.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek feedback from other photographers, as this can help you improve your skills and learn new techniques.

Photo: Chris Goulet

Chris Goulet, Airways Magazine Photographer

Chris Goulet introduces himself as a “percussionist, videographer, photographer, and multimedia artist currently earning my doctorate. Members of my family have worked in the aviation industry for my entire life, and I consequently have loved planes since I was a child. I’m based out of Phoenix, AZ, and mostly take photos at PHX.”

His photos are created by stacking multiple exposures to create light trails. This is quite special as few aviation photographers produce these kinds of long-exposure photos.

Stacking multiple long-exposure photos will result in eye-catching light trail photos. Photo: Chris Goulet/Airways

Why did you choose nighttime long-exposure photos as a prominent subject in your creative photography portfolio?

Artistically, my main pursuit is actually music, not photography, and I’m currently pursuing a doctoral degree in percussion performance. My main focus in music has been the exploration of the temporal and non-temporal, which I think is directly paralleled by long-exposure photography.

Photography generally captures a single moment, frozen in time. Long-exposure photography allows you to turn the passage of time into a singular, non-temporal experience for the viewer, which I find to be a fascinating parallel with my artistic work as a musician.

How do you edit these photos? How many shots do you usually use to create the final image?

My long-exposure editing process begins in Adobe Lightroom Classic. I find that this helps with my organization and lets me weed out any non-useable exposures quickly. Generally, I have 40-80 exposures, with the length of each exposure varying between 6-30 seconds depending on the conditions that night.

From Lightroom, I send all usable exposures for one composition to Photoshop as layers. Then I start the alignment process, which is by far the longest and most tedious step. While the terminal, ground, etc. are generally all aligned immediately, aircraft in the frame are a different story.

First of all, a plane may park at a gate that is in the frame after you’ve already started taking your exposure sequence. Second, as any parked planes are loaded and unloaded, they move up and down on their suspension a bit. This leads to smearing in any aircraft which are being tended to by ground crews.

My main way around these issues is compositing. I do this by taking a singular exposure and cutting out elements from it which are then superimposed onto the main composition. This allows for the background to have streaks of light, while the subjects of the photo can remain sharp.

After I have finished editing in Photoshop, I take the composition back into Lightroom Classic for masking and editing like any of my other photos.

Various American Airlines Airbus A320-family airframes are resting at the terminal. Photo: Chris Goulet/Airways

What is your advice for beginners looking to shoot these kinds of images?

Start with single exposures! You can get really compelling long-exposure shots with single 10-30 second exposures, which allows you to skip the entire layering and compositing process that I do in Photoshop and just edit in Lightroom or equivalent software.

American Airlines Boeing 737-800 N905NN. Photo: Chris Goulet/Airways

Additionally, an ND filter can be extremely helpful. Even when stopped down to f/8 and at your camera’s base ISO, you often can’t breach 6-10 seconds of exposure without clipping your highlights. An ND filter (especially a variable ND filter) will allow you to tailor your exposure length to your liking.

Additionally, use either your camera’s internal interval mode or an intervalometer. This will let you trigger a number of exposures with one press, that way you don’t have to touch the camera in between exposures and risk jostling it.

Photo: Gintaras Stauce

Gintaras Stauce

Although Gintaras was born in Lithuania. Traveling since young helped him get the aviation bug from the earliest moments of his life. serious injuries ended his football career after 17 years but opened the door to photography. Seven years later, Gintaras is photographing professional football teams and commercial aircraft.

What inspired you in creative aviation photography?

For me, it was always a question of making the same scene look different. My photography background is street photography, and walking through the same streets every day taught me how to find new perspectives and angles to make them look new and interesting.

At the same time, living in a city where the airport doesn’t get any interesting traffic, I needed to find a way to stand out against the rest, photographing A380s, Boeing 777s, or 747s.

All of this helped me push my boundaries and make images that catch the attention of others.

Qatar Cargo Boeing 747-8F A7-BGA. Photo: Gintaras Stauce

How do you edit your photos? What is your advice to readers to be more creative with their edits?

Inspiration is what drives the majority of my edits. It always depends on whether the editing process will take two days using Lightroom and Photoshop or just a few quick slides moving in Lightroom.

The most important thing to me is that everything in the image is exactly as I had photographed it; there should be no fake moons or extraneous objects. But I always try to create a light that might help to highlight the subject’s stronger qualities. Always consider how to make the same plane you see every day more appealing to the viewer when following the advice.

Kyrgyzstan Government Tupolev Tu-154M EX-00001. Photo: Gintaras Stauce

A great piece of advice would be to look for techniques from other areas of photography rather than limiting oneself to aviation photography. Working with jewelry photography had a big impact on one of the biggest advancements in my case.

Always try new things, make edits that someone else might find insane, and then try to build on that. I always want to encourage people to find their own cool branches to work on and develop rather than copying other people’s work. Anyone can complete this.

Photo: Gintaras Stauce

How do you choose your spots for different photo ideas?

It’s always a lot of planning. The most important question for me is what I want to show, is it a composition with the landscape, or maybe there are some mountains in the background that I want to include in my picture?

As well sometimes I like to take images from many different locations available for the airport I’m photographing in, and then see which results are more appealing to me.

Gyula Horváth. Photo by him.

Meet Gyula Horváth, Airways Magazine Photographer

When did you start aviation photography?

About eight years ago, I started photographing aviation, which I consider a special branch of photography because it requires a lot of patience and the end result is never guaranteed. There is no guarantee that after a long wait, you will be able to take the desired picture. Maybe that’s the reason why very few people in Hungary deal with it, but it’s fun for me.

Many times I spend a whole day outside on the spot and have a good conversation while waiting for the big catch. By the way, I have many new friends to thank for planespotting, from whom I learned a lot, thus forming my own world of colors and tastes.

Do you have any favorite types of aircraft that you particularly like to photograph?

If I had to choose, I would say the Boeing 777, but I am happy to photograph any aircraft. For me, the capture of the Tupolev Tu-154 of the Kyrgyzstan Government is memorable – he visited us in February this year – because it is rare that this type of aircraft is still in operation.

Also, I like it when the livery on an airplane is special and creative. In this regard, Etihad (EY) is at the forefront, but I also like the retro decoration of the Cargolux (CV) freighter LX-NCL. Countless shapes and types of machines can be photographed in many different ways, and each has its charm.

Cargolux (Retro livery) Boeing 747-400F LX-NCL. Photo: Gyula Horváth/Airways

What does it take to be a good planespotter?

I would emphasize creativity, perseverance, and image editing skills. For spotter images, you must pay attention to the lighting conditions and a clean background. In addition, the registration numbers of the aircraft must be visible in the images.

Creative photography of aircraft is also a separate genre within planespotting. Countless details have to be taken care of – dramatic backgrounds, colors, light reflections – so for me, this area is a special challenge because it offers an opportunity to create a unique style and color scheme.

In my opinion, what makes a photographer professional is not his equipment, but his competence, openness, dedication, passion, and unique vision. Of course, equipment is important, but only after a certain level.

Kyrgyzstan Government Tupolev Tu-154M EX-00001. Photo: Gyula Horváth/Airways

What is your favorite angle and why?

My favorite angles are belly shots, Face to Face, and underarm angle shots. My friends call the pictures taken there just underarm angle shots, because I usually get the aircraft from below, so the connection points of the wings to the fuselage of the plane are clearly visible.

According to them, it resembles a human armpit because the wings mirror the arms. And why because In the past two years, I really fell in love with photos with lots of details. I usually compose “disturbing” objects in the frame, because it gives an interesting effect to the whole composition.

My favorite place around Budapest Airport (BUD) is Cargodomb, close to HungaroControl’s headquarters because there I can take photos of flights taking off and landing from a good angle.

Korean Air Cargo Boeing 747-8F HL7623. Photo: Gyula Horváth/Airways

To end this post, I will also share some ideas for creative aviation photography. I’ve been interested in flying since my first hot-air balloon flight in 2016. I love taking pictures, so I reasoned that I should start taking photos of airplanes to demonstrate my enthusiasm and have a fun pastime. It happened in 2018.

Things got serious when my mother gave me my first DSLR in June 2019. Since then, I have made significant progress and discovered my favorite locations near Budapest Liszt Ferenc International (BUD), where I frequently fly. Both the Boeing 737 MAX and the 777-300ER are two of my favorite aircraft to shoot.

Although I’m a big fan of natural “JP-style” edits, I also create creative photos when the weather conditions permit it. In my early years of photography, I used to take loads of car photos, which helped me hone my style. but just like everyone above, I don’t like adding anything that was not there originally, such as fake moons, fake suns, and so on.

I like to play with the lights and compositions that the environment gives me. I try to be creative while keeping the edit natural. I sometimes wait for the sunrise or the sunset for that golden hour if required, but I enjoy taking photos at nighttime.

Qatar Airways (FIFA World Cup 2022 stickers) Boeing 777-300ER A7-BEJ. Photo: Dominik Csordás/Airways

Shooting nighttime allows photographers to be creative with the colors and composition. Although I don’t like the yellowish colors of sunrise and sunset, my favorite photo from Budapest is the Kyrgyzstan Government’s Tu-154 departure.

But since we’ve already included two shots from that aircraft, I wanted to share this beautiful Boeing 757—Pencil Jet—photo.

FedEx Boeing 757-200SF N974FD. Photo: Dominik Csordás/Airways

As for my favorite type of shot, I prefer Gyula’s favorite angle, the “underarm angle shots,” which is what the community calls this perspective shot.

The angle lets us visualize the engine and wings, especially when the sun is setting and lights the underwing section, glimmering in the flaps and slats mechanism, and the engines’ exhaust nozzles and thrust reversers as the plane takes to the skies.

Korean Air Cargo Boeing 747-8F HL7617. Photo: Dominik Csordás/Airways

Have you been bitten by the aviation photography bug? Be sure to share your commercial aircraft photos on our social media channels and happy planespotting!

Featured image: Cargodomb, the most popular spotting point around BUD. Photo: Gyula Horváth/Airways

Published aviation photographer and travel lover from Hungary. Specialized in route network and sustainability. Furthermore, I am a website developer and UI/UX designer.

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