Tips Photographing Moving Subjects — Landing Planes

Okinawa Photography: Landing Planes
Tips on shooting landing planes at Naha Airpot


Okinawa.Org Staff
Dec 26, 2018
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Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The last Tuesday Treat (a weekly series of one photo released on Tuesday) of a landing Tokyo 2020 painted JAL Boeing 767 landing at Naha International Airport at the peak of Senaga Island was quite the learning experience for me. This is because I am in the midst of shifting to use manual mode, no longer relying on any automatic settings until I get the foundations of manual down pat.

I couldn't tell you how many planes came in and shutter slaps I heard to get it right. But, here's a quick breakdown on how I figured out how to get the correct exposure for airplanes landing, and I hope this can help you shoot moving objects as well as everyday photography, too. (I am by all means no expert...)
ISO-100 is key, right? A lot less noise, if any at all, on a Canon 5D Mark IV. I try to shoot at that when I can, by adjusting shutter speeds and using a tripod or steadily handholding it to where I can get below 1/160, even with a hunk of a lens like a 70-200mm.

So, I started snapping away with the settings of ISO 100 at 1/400 and ƒ/8. The exposure was great, but I couldn't quite grasp the blur. Shouldn't the plane freeze at this shutter speed and give me a readable tail number? Apparently not as they come in landing far faster than I had thought.

1/400; ƒ/8; ISO-100

I still wanted to keep ISO-100, so I adjusted to 1/1250 with the same settings. This resulted in a photo underexposed, but the plane was frozen. Exactly how I wanted it!

Knowing that this would be okay as I could bring most of the detail back, and since it was just a plane, I didn't need to care for overexposing some of the whites on the paint—until I thought about portraiture works with people wearing white, when I questioned whether that was the lazy/wrong way out or not. Additionally, you can't really tell in camera how much you can bring back so the entire shoot could be a loss.

In this instance, I could leave it as is with it coming out underexposed (left) and do post-production for the correct exposure (middle) to bringing it out in its finest details, except a bit overexposed in some parts (right).

UnderexposedCorrect ExposureLittle Blown Out
Straight from camera
Post-production, correct exposure
Post-production, over-exposed
However, I needed more light to make sure the photos turned out how I wanted. I knew I couldn't get a stop or light from the aperture without losing the depth I was going for and through trial and error and I couldn't get a stop from the shutter speed without causing, once again, blur. But I knew my camera could hold up to a stop from ISO-200 over ISO-100 without basically any added noise.

Making that one small adjustment, after many errors in between, corrected my issue and I came out with the desired photo of a plane representing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, seen above!

Helicopters are a bit different, though. Sometimes you want to slow down that shutter speed to get the blades rotating... That'll be for another day!
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