Plane Storm!

Saturday morning I got up early to spend way too much money on new carpet. It’s ridiculous how much such things cost, but it is what it is. After that was done, I came home and found myself feeling a little down. I’ve been doing so much running around the past two weeks for the house that I haven’t really settled into the usual blissful lethargy of summer; I’ve been feeling antsy whenever I have a few free minutes, as if there’s some other errand I should be running. So as soon as I started feeling blue I decided picture-taking was in order, but I didn’t feel like gussying up for any portraits or jumping; in fact, I didn’t feel like doing any setup at all (I briefly considered more macro shots but couldn’t be bothered to set up the studio for them). I just wanted to grab a camera and go – so I pulled up my Flightradar24 app on my iPad and checked out the traffic at Hobby Airport. Lo and behold, there were a few planes scheduled to land that afternoon that were not Southwest Airlines planes (some JetBlues, Deltas, Americans, and a TransAir) and they were all coming in between 4 and 5 PM, so around 2:45 I grabbed my 7D and my 70-200mm and headed on out.


Hobby is about 50 minutes from my house, as long as traffic cooperates, which it did this day. I managed to snap the American airliner and the JetBlue, but missed the Delta and the TransAir – perhaps they landed on a different runway (Hobby is pretty small so the planes are hard to miss, but the observation areas only cover one runway, so it’s possible). I made sure to set my shutter speed higher this time, and my ISO lower, so I think I got better-quality shots this time out, not that I was unhappy with my last shots, they were just a little grainy and soft.


The sky came out nice in some of these too; there were sporadic showers all over the city as there always are this time of year, but none of them sprung up over HOU while I was there. It was hot as hell, but I just sat in the car with the engine and AC running and waited for the planes to arrive. For the most part I was not alone, and there was at least one other car hanging around waiting to take photos or video of the planes coming in. Usually I see people with little kids watching the planes take off and land, which is nice. And speaking of video, since I already have so many shots of Southwest planes, I experimented with taking video as they were landing. Some of the video was terrible, but I spliced two together here that aren’t bad; you can at least get a feel for how close the observation area is to the runway. It’s really exhilarating to witness:

Here’s one more of the American Eagle I snapped. Googling the registration number brings up lots of other photos of this plane; it’s cool to see where else a plane you photographed has been. Also, I have a friend who is a pilot for JetBlue, and she says she occasionally looks up the registration number of planes she flies to see if she can find any pictures of herself flying it (she can look it up by the date the photo is taken and know if she was the pilot). If you want to see some photographic history of this particular plane, try going here.


My one stupid mistake of the day (because apparently I have to make at least one) was not changing my custom white balance setting back to Auto; I totally forgot that the last time I used my 7D I had a custom setting, which was set using my studio lighting. So I had to mess with the color a bit to get it right when processing the shots. But other than that, I’m pleased with how these turned out. Lots of private places landing at HOU today too:


One thing about the shot above: I didn’t realize it was a propeller plane until it was too late to change my shutter speed. What you want to do when photographing a prop plane is slow the shutter down as much as you can so that you don’t “stop” the motion of the propellers, like I did here. When the shutter speed is slower, the propellers are just two circular blurs, which gives a much  better impression of a plane in motion. Oh well. Also, these private planes fly in much lower than the big jets, so it’s harder for me to get decent shots of them over the barbed wire fence. By the time they’re right next to me, they’re already below the fence line. In the next shot, the fence was just below the frame:


All in all, I took about 500 shots and was back home by 6 PM. It was a perfect little jaunt for the day, and gave me plenty to work with for the evening. At some point I will have to venture out to IAH in the same manner; I hesitate because it’s a longer trip, but now that I know what I’m doing photographically (more or less) I’m pretty confident I could make the trip and have something to show for it at the end no matter what. Checking Flightradar was definitely a good idea as it ensured I was there at a time when traffic was high, and I was able to slip in, get my shots, and leave without too much hassle. The only disappointment was when I tried out the second observation area (at the other end of this same runway) and didn’t get any shots of planes taking off. One was taking off right as I pulled into the parking lot, which made me think more would be coming, but I got into place and waited for about 20 minutes to no avail. I’ve never been able to get shots from that lot, where the planes take off right over the heads of observers. It’s nice to have the other area see a lot of traffic, but it means I only get the same angles over and over and I’d like to get some shots going right over my head. More reason to try out IAH sometime soon too.

For now, I’ll finish up with a few Southwest Airlines shots, and share the JetBlues and a few more private planes tomorrow. You can check out some flight history of this last plane here. but there’s not much, because it’s a newbie – only two months old!




14 thoughts on “Plane Storm!

  1. Great job. Love the shots of the smaller private planes. Even though the white balance was off you corrected them perfectly and the colors are beautiful.
    Ran across a canon t5I bundle today for $568. 2 lenses, 2 batteries, and more. Put it on hold for a day to think about it. Considering going back tomorrow and buying it. Trying to find someone to talk me out of it. Would that be you? 🙂

    • Girl no! I love my Canons. That SL1 that I decided I had to have after talking to you about cameras is a dream come true. And you can see that even know I don’t know how to shoot video using the LCD screen and I had on a massively heavy lens my Canon did a pretty nice job. That’s a hell of a great price for a t51!

  2. When you take 500 shots, don’t you feel overwhelmed going through them?
    My daughter bought herself a real camera so she can take headshots and do audition videos with it. It’s a Canon, but I’m not sure which one. She doesn’t know it, but I snuck and used it when she was at work. That’s because I was in my office, which is next to her room, and there was a rabbit eating a big twig, and I didn’t have a camera or phone with me, so grabbed her camera and took pix :). Hahaha, wait till she sees pix on there she didn’t take!

    • I used to get overwhelmed, but I can do it pretty quickly now. However I also keep in mind when shooting that I”m gonna have to go through all that stuff and try to keep it down; when shooting planes though I must use high-speed continuous shooting though so it’s unavoidable! Can’t wait till your daughter sees the bunny LOL! My students used to do something similar when I taught junior high – I had this scrolling powerpoint announcement-thing I’d run on the TV all the time, and the kids would occasionally sneak onto it between classes and type silly stuff into it that would then pop up while I was teaching. Fortunately they never did anything inappropriate that way!

  3. I’m getting ready to read during the storm coming in the next room — they are all tube-locked, and beer-loaded, so I may put in ear plugs, but wanted to admire the planes. No matter my apprehension about air travel, I love them (probably because they are bird-like) and enjoy being at the airport (when I am not the one flying) because it does remind me of traveling, which I do like (so confusing). Particularly like the last two — all great shots.

    • Well, they’re just so impressive. It’s hard not to be awed by them, especially when they are taking off or landing. They’re just cool pieces of machinery and ingenuity any way you look at them. I’m assuming the storm is related to the World Cup? Lordy I know nothing about it at all.

      • Well, the machinery wizardry and the graciousness always associated with air travel. Despite budget cuts, stewardesses are really very nice. In fact there was a study done to see who were more helpful overall, nurses or stewardii and the latter won, hands down. Yes, there was FIFA fever here yesterday, boom and bust. We survived (G and I) but just barely. As for flying into those tiny airports, trust me: no! I have done it to St. Thomas — scariest landing I have ever been in. Go to Jamaica, Bermuda or Nassau — trust me. Gorgeous, safe (at least the airports), luxurious. Never been to St. Maartens.

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