Thursday the 12th July saw me trying my hand at aircraft photography. I have photographed the odd aircraft in the past but I have never been out purposefully to photograph them. My first opportunity to try this type of photography came when David Newby a good friend of mine invited me to join him for a day out at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. Coningsby is home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which includes the Spitfire and Lancaster. There are also Tornado GR4 and Typhoon Eurofighter planes based at Coningsby.
Dave picked me up at 07:30 and we made our way to Coningsby arriving around 08:30. I had taken the Canon 500mm F4 USM IS lens and the Canon 400mm F5.6L USM. I have two 7D camera bodies so I wouldn't have to swap lenses being able to have a lens on each body. The idea was to use the 500mm lens when the aircraft were approaching and then quickly swap to the 400mm lens when they were too close for the 500mm. Easier said than done as I soon found out.
The first couple of hours were very quiet and we did begin to wonder if there were going to be any departures or arrivals that day. This was made even more doubtful when a fellow enthusiast told us he believed they were doing night shifts and nothing much would move before 15:00 hours. Thankfully this did not prove to be right and at 10:30 the first Typhoon began to taxi down the runway in preparation for take off. This Typhoon did what is called a performance take off which uses more power than a normal take off and is more spectacular to watch. I was prepared for the speed of the take off but not for the noise and the glow from the engine exhausts. I can only describe this as awesome.
Typhoon Eurofighter making a performance take off
Although the weather was good I did find the lighting conditions challenging. Sometimes the sun was out, sometimes it was cloudy which meant I was very often altering the exposure compensation settings. Also when the aircraft were against sky as a background I needed completely different exposure settings to what I needed if they were against the grass or the runway. Heat haze from the aircraft themselves was also problematic at times giving the impression that the photograph was blurred when it was actually the heat haze that had caused it rather than focussing inaccuracy on my part.
Throughout the morning there was a good number of take off's and landings and I managed to get photographs that I was happy with. Some with the 500mm lens and some with the 400mm lens, although I did stop using the 500mm eventually, finding the 400m the better option. At Coningsby, to see over the perimeter fence you have to stand on a step ladder to get enough height and it was rather precarious to say the least hand holding the 500mm on top of a step ladder and having the 400mm close at hand to take over with.
A Hawk aircraft was also one that made several take off's and I managed to capture this one nicely. The Red Arrows use the Hawk but I'm not sure if this is the same Hawk model as the one I photographed.
A couple of helicopters came over and although I tried to get photographs I failed to get any I was happy with. I switched to shutter priority on the camera settings for these as I wanted to blur the rotor on the helicopter whilst keeping the helicopter itself sharp. A shutter speed of 1/125 proved to be too fast as the rotor was still sharp. I tried a shutter speed of 1/60 for the next pass of the helicopters. This resulted in a nicely blurred rotor but also a slightly blurred helicopter body as well, so I obviously need to practice my panning at slow shutter speeds.
A Tornado GR4 was the next one to take off. If I thought the Typhoon was noisy the Tornado was even more so. It literally shook the ground as the engines reached take of speed and the glow from the exhausts were even more impressive in a way than the Typhoon being a much more blueish colour than the Typhoon. The steps that I were stood on were vibrating and I was surprised I got a sharp photograph at all.
There were a few quiet periods when nothing moved but this gave me the opportunity to delete the obviously blurred shots and I can assure you there were many. Also gave me chance to delete all the shots where I had failed to get the full aircraft in the frame and believe me there were even more of these. Lol
The Typhoons were impressive as they came into land and I took many shots of them, mostly with the 400mm lens and I could have actually done with a smaller lens as they were too close at times for the 400mm.
The time flew by with lots of comings and goings and it seemed to be no time at all before we had to pack up to make the journey home. I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in great company and the weather had been pretty kind to us as well. Obviously aircraft photography will never replace my love of insect and bird photography but it is something I will most definitely be doing again at some point. It is much more challenging than I imagined and I love a challenge.
I finish this post with my favourite photograph of the day. A Typhoon on a performance take off.
Typhoon on a performance take off