N-Photo reader Malcolm Brunt shares his amazing images of model planes soaring through the night sky – and through exploding fireworks
When I first joined a model flying club and started flying, I was in my 50s. There’s a lot to learn and plenty of time waiting between training flights so I started to take my old point and shoot camera to the flying field. This led me to an even greater passion – photography.
Every year I visit the Weston Park Model Aircraft Show, featuring the world’s top model plane pilots. This gives me the opportunity to create images that show the beauty, excitement and skill of flying. In 2014, the organisers of Weston Park put on a unique show, with daredevil pilots willing to risk their model planes, which cost more than a Nikon D5, by flying them in the dark, lit only by LED lights, lasers, pyrotechnics and fireworks from the ground – all accompanied by music.
My first attempt at photographing this unique opportunity was with my Nikon D7000 and a Nikon 18-105mm kit lens. I chose Nikon because the D7000
was a breakthrough camera at the time, providing pro features at a competitive price. Despite upgrading I still have my D7000, and use it as a second camera.
Initially I took long exposure images lasting anything up to 30 seconds on a locked-off tripod. While this created some colourful images, they didn’t show the models clearly. I needed to invest in faster equipment that would perform at a high ISO.
With this in mind, I purchased the full-frame D750 and a Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to go with it. At the following year’s show I shot in RAW with my D7000 set to manual, but I needed to find the optimum settings. Initially I had mixed results, but I soon got into the groove. The key is to capture the planes close to the fireworks, and to strike a balance between freezing the plane, and showing movement in the propeller.
These photos are quite the treat for us, Malcolm, as we haven’t actually seen photos quite like this before. They’re exciting, dynamic and full of technical expertise. To attain results like these you must definitely have practised a lot in the field with your Nikons. Your timing is exceptional.
The explosive red shot  is truly outstanding and by far our favourite. It mixes the techniques of using a high ISO and a wide f/2.8 aperture with a shutter speed of 1/320 sec to freeze the action mid-flight. The fireworks exploding in the background are the same colour as the soft red smoke that pours from the plane’s wings. The extra sparkle around the plane
Daredevil pilots are willing to risk their model planes by flying in the dark, lit only by LED lights, lasers, pyrotechnics and fireworks
adds another welcome texture to the black night sky. You can see the plane’s direction simply from the smoke billowing out behind it, and the wind direction blowing it camera-left. It’s such a vivid photo that we can practically taste the fuel being burnt by these incredible models.
Your next shot  shows us the pilot silhouetted by the model plane, which instantly provides a sense of scale. With the planes in the air it can be hard to tell whether they’re small enough to fit under your arm, or full-size planes. Here we can see just how impressive the display must have been up close. As with the first two. the last shot
 is pin-sharp, and demonstrates your ability to track the movement. You’ve used the classic settings we would have used – pushing your ISO up to 1600 is fine on the D750. Yes, there’s a little noise in the cloud at the bottom-left, but the action at the top-right distracts from this. What a unique selection of photos!
The extra sparkle around the plane adds another welcome texture… It’s such a vivid photo that we can practically taste the fuel being burnt
1 Nikon D750, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO1600 2 Nikon D750, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO1600
Nikon D750, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO1600