Practice won’t make it easy.
Practice only makes it easier.
The duck hunter shoots clays in the off season. The footballer trains all week for the game on Saturday. Tracking moving objects with a long lens is physical activity depending on hand eye coordination.
And if you hand hold, it is a matter of strength and stamina. Particularly with a long lens. Hand holding is about the only way to track close fast moving objects when you don’t have a good intuition about their timing and movement.
It is easier to practice if the lens is on the camera. Cars, birds, bicycles, and passenger jets provide ample opportunity. Even if you are just sitting in your chair, you can practice bringing the camera directly to your eye and framing up a static subject…
The same thing, practice, also applies if you use a tripod or monopod. But if you can’t track by hand, a tripod or monopod won’t fix it. While they help with fatigue, they don’t help with hand eye coordination.
A little practice can go a long way. Just setting the gear up a few days before the event and get used to handling it will likely improve your results.
Some things that help
The hot shoe is useful for sighting as the camera gets close to the eye. At least on SLR’s, that is.
Panning is the basic technique for tracking moving objects. It is a whole body movement using the torso.
Pulling elbows against sides creates more stability than when they are pointing out. It also lowers the moment of inertia to allow faster rotation.
Pan through the shutter fire. Don’t stop when you click.
Have an idea about the pictures you want to make before you go.
It’s fun to track aircraft just for the technical challenge. But that’s not the same as making good pictures…I mean how much does anyone actually care about the underside of a P51 against a blue sky? It’s a cool machine and all, but the important story was written over Europe in the 1940’s as gun camera footage with exploding Nazi locomotives.
It is easy to come back with technically competent pictures that only say “I was there.” Pictures equivalent to ticket stubs. Pictures that feel kind of hollow because someone else could have made them.
Without a plan, it is easy to come back with “equivalents” (as Stieglitz might say). Without a plan, it is hard to make pictures that matter.
And one picture that matters is better than a pile that are merely competent.