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I'm completely new to photography (beyond using my phone). I have been wondering (and googling) if it's possible to take pictures of people jumping out of airplanes from the ground. A typical skydiving plane is 38', flying at 80mph at 13,000ft.

I did a little bit of math based on the info above and I think a 1800 mm is the right choice, but then finding the actual airplane will probably be a very big plain. Is there some kind of computerized system available that can track an object (like telescopes do?). Should I go with a larger field and then crop down? Or is this simply not possible?

I'm doing this purely for fun and am open to all solutions at this point.

I know I'm probably missing some obvious stuff. Thanks for your patience.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Because I have used a 500mm lens with a 2x teleconverter on an APSC camera (1500mm equivalent on full frame) I suspect your math is off by a bit because 13000 ft is more than two miles. Maybe you dropped a decimal…anyway, when I first built that rig I practiced taking pictures of Cessnas making touch and goes at about 1000 ft, so 1800mm would be just a matter of practice. Acquiring the subject by first sighting along the hot shoe before framing through the viewfinder was what I came up with. My success rate was reasonable that way \$\endgroup\$ Oct 25, 2022 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shooting high up in the air is difficult. And you are shooting at the underside of things so unless this is done very early/late in the day you are shooting at shadows against a rather bright background. So IMHO forget about shooting the skydivers that leave the plane. Find a spot where you can shoot at them closer to the ground. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Oct 25, 2022 at 7:59

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If you want the plane to fill 1/10 of the short distance of the frame you need your frame to be 380' or 4560" across. That corresponds to 4560 focal lengths away because a 35mm frame is 1" across. That comes out to about a 3'or 900mm equivalent focal length. This is achievable with a 150-600mm zoom on an APS-C camera. It takes practice to find an object at that focal length but you can do it. I have taken many bird photos with a rig like that.

I have the Nikon superzooms that go out to 2000mm and 3000mm equivalent 35mm focal length. They have a nice snapback button that shortens the zoom so you can find the target, then returns to the desired zoom. If you set the camera to 900mm and use the snapback it is easy. I have used this for birds in flight.

The skydivers themselves will be rather small at this focal length as they are 1/6 the size of the airplane. If you want them larger your 1800mm is a better choice. Although you can add a teleconverter to the 600mm lens I think the superzoom is a better choice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 1/10 frame height for the longest dimension of the plane? For a 24MP 3:2 sensor that equates to 400 pixels, which means each human would be 67 pixels or less in the long dimension and barely 20 pixels wide. I doubt that would be deemed acceptable. And that's before one even considers the problem of shooting through over two miles of air, including the turbulence created by the plane itself at the far end of those two miles. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Oct 25, 2022 at 23:12

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