Photographing aircraft movements - Phase of flight | Aviation photography JG

January 31, 2021

Helicopter ground taxiHeliAviation ground movement

Aircraft in flight

Photographing aircraft movements | Critical and non-critical phases of flight

Creative Aviation Photography

A compelling and challenging subject that fascinates many photographers both pro and amateur.

Flight Planning:

Preparation is key, gathering required information such as passenger details, load sheets, fuel figures and taking on-board environmental factors, airport factors, weather conditions. The list goes on… Is there anything here worthy to the aviation photographer? Well, support images offer a fuller picture to an aviation loving audience, although not directly involving the aircraft itself, photographing some activity related to an aircraft's journey is bound to offer a bit of added content to interested parties. During flight planning and preparation the aircraft will be static with aircraft ground services doing their thing, perfect for some ground-to-ground aviation photography, the ideal opportunity to show the environment of the airport. 

Aircraft Push Back:

All loaded up and ready to go. All systems are go, cameras at the ready, I love these moments, flight crew have pre-flight checks ticked off and Air Traffic Control have given the clearance for push. With ground support crew on hand to get the aircraft moving, the journey is underway. A long lens with good reach may be required if you are photographing from off-airfield, if you are on an onward journey yourself photography from the departure lounge may be the best option at hand.


Manoeuvring from the terminal to the runway or vice versa, air-planes use taxiways to ground taxi between locations at an airport. Do pick your spot relative to the time of day and taxi route in use. If you can, consider your choice of background to enhance you aviation photography experience.


Airborne, moments captured when an aircraft takes off, it leaves the ground and begins to fly, transitioning from moving along the ground to flying in the air, critical phases of flight in the case of aeroplanes means the takeoff run, the takeoff flight path. When it's raining and I'm photographing heavy jet aircraft on a horizontal takeoff I like to be behind the aircraft as it reaches V1, VR and V2. The larger jet engines on commercial aircraft blast a wet runway surface and offer a decent water-spray when the aircraft leaves the ground.



Bon voyage, it’s wheels up and climb to cruise, the onward journey phase, whether that be on a domestic or oceanic cruise level, after the ascent, aircraft departures take their heading (direction of flight) and head for their destination. Fo me, this is the hardest button-to-button, assuming we're referencing ground-to-air photography, those who are able to photograph aircraft at high altitude and return quality shots will need some quality glass capable of the reach.


It’s time to come back down to earth. Vantage points off-airfield at height are ideal, a clear crisp day will enhance the air quality and hopefully offer the clarity as the aircraft descends to a reasonable height.

Final approach:

No more turns, it's straight in from here, aircraft on a descent, their final approach to land, a critical phase of flight usually at a 3-degree constant angle of descent. IMHO, some of the finest ground-to-air photographs are captured during this phase, nothing beats a swirling vortex behind an aircraft, watching the displacement as it trails of into the distance is just awesome. 


Aircraft returning to the ground, that physical point of contact, the landing is a critical phase of flight in the case of aeroplanes, the touchdown, including the landing roll are essential phases to capture. Depending on the desired result, you're position is relevant, head-on shooting directly down the runway will be a challenge without a long lens, favourable light always helps if you are positioned midpoint, ideal for capturing the the entire side profile and full length of the aircraft, popular for photographers who love to capture aircraft livery.


Ref: aircraft in flight photography





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