Photo of North American Navion N4956C displayed by Nigel Wilson at Old Buckenham

How To Caption Your Aircraft Photos

Aircraft Photography

Most aircraft enthusiasts can tell you the difference between a Mk1 Spitfire and a MkIX* so knowing how to accurately caption your aircraft photos is important, especially if you want to sell them.

Civil Aircraft

Photo of Vans RV-8 G-RVMZ of the RV8ors aerobatic duo.
Vans RV-8 G-RVMZ of the RV8ors aerobatic duo.

Every civilian aircraft carries a prominently displayed registration. In the UK this starts with G-. You can find an alphabetical list of other countries’ prefixes here. Type the registration into Google and you will usually find references to that aircraft.

Military Aircraft

Westland Sea King RAF search and rescue helicopter ZH542
Westland WS-61 Sea King ZH542

This also works for most military aircraft which carry a more discreet serial number on the rear fuselage. In the UK this consists of two letters and three numbers (on some vintage aircraft it is one letter and four numbers as this was the system until the clerks ran out of combinations).

In the US it is numbers only and other counties adopt their own systems. You can improve your search results by putting the aircraft type in, if you know it, as well as the serial or registration.

The only exception to this are preserved military aircraft that are in civilian ownership and displayed in a military colour scheme. Often this paint scheme was never worn by that aircraft or occasionally not even by that type of aircraft. However, a search using the displayed serial will usually bring up correct results.

Photo of Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk1b Z7015
Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk 1b Z7015

Checking the results

The problems start with the results of your search. Many photographers haven’t got the slightest idea what they have photographed so their captions often aren’t accurate. Even the major TV channels often just pick a clip of any world war II aircraft to illustrate a piece on the Battle of Britain. There are several sites that usually have accurate caption info and these include Airliners and Air Britain.

By checking between these two you can generally get accurate info and identify the specific Mk (mark) of an aircraft*. You’re probably not going to worry about constructors’ numbers or the minutiae of sub-marks (I don’t) but a little work will save you looking a wally by calling a Hurricane a Spitfire.

*Aircraft such as the Spitfire progressed through a range of marks from the Mk1 right up to the Mk24 with side shoots of Seafires. These all were significantly different aircraft so it is worth identifying the specific Mk.

More aircraft photography articles and histories

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