Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cockpit Photography

Photographing cockpits and instrument panels can be pretty challenging. All too often, the light coming through the windows is overpowering, and the top half of the image becomes blown-out, like this:

I was sure this shot was going to be rejected by the screeners, but perhaps because they understand the challenges in shooting cockpits, they accepted it into the database. The shot has always bothered me, though, since everything above and to the side of the glareshield is invisible. I would have greatly preferred to frame the panel with a blue sky background.

So, for a subsequent photo shoot, I decided to try a different technique. 

This time, rather than expose the shot for the panel, I exposed it for the sky and scenery beyond. I did this by setting my camera to 'Auto', aiming it through the front windscreen just above the panel, depressing the shutter release halfway, and making a note of the suggested shutter and aperture settings.

Then, switching to 'Manual', I duplicated those suggested settings.

At this point, if I were to snap a shot of the panel, the sky/scenery beyond would look great, but the panel itself would be far too dark. So I activated the flash to illuminate the panel.

Here, we see the Waco RPT cockpit using my old technique:

...and here, we see the same view using the new technique:

A big improvement, to be sure. And I was using only the basic, built-in flash on the D90. A nice ring flash would make an even bigger difference.

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