I went to an air show yesterday, I took a few nice pictures of the Red arrows which is great, but they look so far away, even smaller than by eye.

I've got a Nikon D3000 with the kit lens. What type of lens should I get for this kind of photography? Also, would I benefit from a lens hood or similar?

enter image description here

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ See also: photo.stackexchange.com/q/12694/21 \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2011 at 11:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ My bad, I did a search for air show and didn't see anything relevant.. \$\endgroup\$
    – clocKwize
    Jun 20, 2011 at 11:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ one way to make it look better is to preset the exposure, this makes the aircraft appear brighter, rather than as dark blobs. Expose on the grass and set the camera to manual with that value. And yes, a hood to keep out glare helps a lot, most telephoto lenses (and many others) come with one as standard. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Jun 21, 2011 at 5:32

3 Answers 3


1) A supertelephoto lens is best suited to this type of photography. In common usage this means a lens with long focal length e.g. 300mm or more. It can be either zoom or prime, a zoom would probably be more suitable if you're not exactly sure what focal length you need.

Some telephotos are extremely expensive, but if you're shooting in good light a cheaper lens with smaller max aperture will do, e.g. something like a 70-300 f/4-f/5.6

2) In general shooting with a lens hood will give you protection from flare and better contrast whilst shooting in sunny conditions so I would recommend using one all the time if possible but certainly for airshows.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would argue that a "telephoto" lens does not have to be 300mm or longer. That is a super telephoto by most standards especially on this D300 with the 1.5x factored in. By Nikon standards I believe they consider everything above 85mm to be telephoto. It may not be a "long" telephoto by airshow standards, but that doesn't change what it is. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jun 20, 2011 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt: that's why I like quoting numbers instead of names when it comes to focal lengths; it removes the ambiguity in what different people call things. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2011 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the recommendations here, and would just add another reason to prefer a zoom lens to a prime. The subject moves around quite a bit, so it can both be close to you or far away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Jun 22, 2011 at 12:12

As another device to help with shooting an airshow, once you have your super-long lens that gives you just 2-5 degrees of apparent view, hunting down a small airplane high in the sky can be a challenge, not to mention tracking them.

I looked for an found (then bought) a hot-shoe mount for a red-dot finder (also known as a reflex sight) to put on my own camera. I dabble in astronomy, so I already had two red-dot finders so it was easy to put one on the camera.

The advantage is that you can use the RDF as a heads-up display, allowing you to track the sky and your target quickly, letting you pan with ease.

I use it so that I can quickly see where my camera is pointed when it's craned up in the sky without having to crawl around and look through the eyepiece, possibly upsetting the balance of my tripod, etc.

Oh, yeah, you can get the device here: http://www.photosolve.com/main/product/xtendasight/index.html

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried a right angle eyepiece adapter? I have been pretty happy with the results I get with mine. It even has a 2x magnifer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2011 at 13:06

Longest lens you can get for the air (I love my 120-400mm Sigma zoom) and Widest you can for the ground. If you have a hood make sure it's on.

Wide lens for the ground will allow you to get close as possible while getting as much of the planes (especially the larger ones) with the fewest number of people that you can.

If you want different photos than other people you can also try a macro and get up-close and personal with some of the hardware.

  • \$\begingroup\$ For Canon users only its widely agreed that the Canon EF 100-400mm L IS USM is also a great airshow lens as here dpnotes.com/canon-lens-airshow \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2011 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Guess I should have pointed out I shoot Nikon, but most of my lenses are Sigma which are avalible for most dSLRs. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2011 at 14:15

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