From on high
Keith Abnett’s photography is looking up – he combines his loves of planes and cameras in spectacular style
Since I was a lad I’ve always loved photography, which goes very naturally with a passionate (some might say anorak-ish!) interest in aircraft. In the early 1960s, I converted my love for aviation into reality with the Royal Navy and an aircraft artificer engineering apprenticeship in the Fleet Air Arm. I eventually served for 24 years on five aircraft carriers, working with Sea Vixens, Phantoms and Sea Harriers.
Nowadays, I’m more likely to be photographing aeroplanes than working on them. During the airshow season I look out for aircraft I haven’t photographed
Aviation photography is a demanding discipline because of the range of settings required to obtain good pictures
before, and before heading to a show I use Google maps to research the runway layouts, viewpoints and position of the sun to plan exactly what I want to shoot.
Eyes on the skies
Aviation photography requires a long lens coupled with a good sturdy tripod and articulated head. My first lens to give me decent images was the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, and I now use the impressive Nikon 400mm
f/2.8. It’s a demanding discipline because of the range of settings required to obtain good pictures. You have to deal with everything from slow-moving propeller-driven aircraft, to super-fast jets, plus constantly changing weather conditions. It can be raining at one end of the runway and bright sunshine at the other during a display!
I’d definitely recommend buying the best and fastest piece of glass you can afford, and practising camera panning skills is also essential.
When I’m shooting propeller aircraft, my aim is to get a decent blur on the propeller while keeping the aircraft’s body in focus. I normally select shutter-priority mode and work my way up by increments from 1/60 sec, checking images and making adjustments when needed. For sunny days I set the ISO to 100 and to switch to 400 for dull ones.
I love coming home with great action shots – one of my favourites is this image of a Belgian F-16  firing its flares because it’s a rare thing to capture as flares are not normally allowed at UK air shows.
On a more creative side, I’ve been experimenting with composite images, such as this Sea Vixen image . I took the shot of the plane at the Bournemouth Airshow Festival, and then added a colourful evening sky shot I’d taken from my garden to make things look a little more dramatic!
01 black eagles Nikon D700, Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 lens, 1/3200 sec, f/4, ISO125
02 Red Sky Vixen Nikon D4, Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens,
1/13 sec, f/4, ISO100
03 F-16 Flares Nikon D4, Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens, 1/1250 sec, f/10, ISO100