Takes on a Plane

As I waded through all my photos from Saturday’s outing to some planespotting sites at Hobby Airport, I had a few thoughts I’d like to share, and I’ll throw in a few more photos to boot.

delta fence

I’ve realized I have zero interest in smaller, private planes. Yes, they can also fly, but the sheer size of a commercial jet or a military plane is what makes that act so impressive to me, I guess, while those little planes or private jets are so small they fail to wow me. I suppose what I’m saying is, when it comes to planes, size matters – at least to me. Plenty of little planes flew in to visit the museum’s fundraiser, and a few zipped past the observation areas when I had my camera out shooting airliners,so I snapped a lot of them – but I can’t bring myself to care enough about them to get them edited. Sorry.

southwest takeoff_final

I also noticed that when shooting the airplanes taxiing or taking off from inside the airport, all the heat coming off the ground distorted the image of the plane. Some of that can be cool if it’s strategically placed, like in the shot above where the heat can be seen distorting the picture from underneath and behind the plane, but when the whole jet looks squiggly it’s a problem. Not sure what to do about that in the future, but if I just shoot them in the air the problem is solved, so that’s one way to fix it. My photos, for the most part, didn’t come out as crisp as I would have liked them to be, but the truth is I only needed one really good shot to feel like I accomplished something with this sort of thing, and I think I got one this time out – it’s the one I shared at the bottom of yesterday’s post. For now at least, a lot of what I shoot will be sub-par, but if I end up with one real winner I’ll be happy.

I did take some time today, once I figured out how to find EXIF data on the new Flickr layout, to check out camera settings and lenses used on planespotting photos I admire, and it does appear I could have set a much higher shutter speed and reduced the hell out of my ISO and gotten better results – my shutter speed was generally about 1/250 and I had the ISO upped to 640, while most EXIF data showed shutter speeds of around 1/1000 and an ISO of 200. Oops. Makes me feel better to know this, though, because a lot of people in the know commented that I did, in fact, buy a great lens for this sort of thing, and I was wondering why I got so many soft shots. Not that I’m complaining; as I said, I got several really nice ones and more than a few that are still satisfactory even if they’re not stellar, but obviously I want to improve where I can and do better next time.

delta land

Also, aside from looking for clarity, I’m not yet sure artistically what to consider a ‘good shot’. I’ve always had an instinct with my portraits regarding what to keep and what to throw away, and can easily narrow down a set to the ‘best’ shots; but with these I’m rather overwhelmed. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on what I like, I venture out to the internet and find an awesome photo that breaks all the new rules I’ve just set up for myself  – at first I thought I only liked shots of the planes in the air, but then I saw some awesome stuff taken on the ground; then I thought I only liked close-ups, until I saw some cool shots of the planes disappearing into the sky. I know it sounds like I’m being crazy picky and analytical here, but not yet having an instinct for how to cull the best shots from a set is really overwhelming – I either think everything is good or everything stinks, and I have no basic preferences from which to start choosing. I think that’s partly because I really didn’t think I’d be able to take shots like this with any level of success; everything about it is so far out of my comfort zone (taking shots in public, of fast-moving objects, in an environment where I control very little about the shot itself) that I never really  believed I’d be able to do it. But it turns out I can – I have a lot to learn, yes, but even on my first outing I got some decent stuff, and I managed not to make a fool of myself while doing it. I kind of actually appeared to know what I was up to while I was out there shooting, and the fact that I might actually be able to get a grip on this surprises no one as much as it does me. I expected the shooting experience to be different, but wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming the editing would be. I guess you could say I’m a bit “in the clouds” about it right now. Moving on.

I was a bit surprised to discover a hangar going up in flames in the background when I processed this one

One more thing: I took some time this morning to search the internet for the registration numbers of these airplanes, and what I found was pretty awesome. For example, this jetBlue’s recent flight history is here, and you can see the actual flight on April 19th when I took this photo listed. There’s no real reason to find this cool, except for the idea that airplanes – and airports themselves, really – are all about connection, and journeying, and departing, and arriving; all sorts of magical human stuff that fascinates me about aviation in general. It never ceases to amaze me that humanity has figured out how to put these huge metal monstrosities in the sky, and take flight. So, being able to capture a second of that happening, to freeze it mid-flight then go online and find out where that very airplane has been, and where it’s going (as well as finding all the photos of it that have been taken by others over the years) is incredibly uplifting to me – no pun intended. I guess when I look at an airplane I’m still a little kid in awe of it all.

Tomorrow there will be no more plane photos to share, as I think I’ve exhausted all the ones I felt were worth editing. But I will show some of the museum, and talk more about how the day went in general. Stay tuned! Or don’t if you’re totally bored and pissed that I’m not posting about makeup and wigs. I’m sure I’ll get back to all that soon enough.


As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, I went to the Wings Over Houston air show with my father last Saturday. I’d never been before, but my Dad is crazy about airplanes – particularly the B29 bombers his father worked on during WWII. The last B29 still flying, Fifi, was there, along with many other antique planes, but due to the sequester there were no military aircraft this year. This meant attendance was low, but that was fine by me as crowds aren’t my favorite thing in the world. I’m more a fan of the modern, high-speed, showy planes, though, so not getting to see any of that stuff was a bit of a bummer. Still, we had a good time, and of course I took photos. Once again I decided to just take my iPhone and make do, although there were loads of nice cameras around. This was just two days after Ramone disappeared, though, and I was still feeling very sad about that, and I just wasn’t in the mood to lug my big camera around to take pics.

I actually drove out to my parents’ house Friday night and spent the night with them, since my father likes to get to the airshow right when the gates open. He also likes to park his car at a shuttle pick-up and ride the bus over, which means getting to the shuttle station at 7:30 AM (my father is perpetually early; it is not a habit I picked up from him). I figured his idea was better than driving through all the traffic, and since the air show is nowhere near my house but is fairly close to my parents, I stayed Friday night with them and got up early Saturday to head out with Dad.

First ones inside. Yep.

Dad wanted to get there at 8 AM so we’d have enough time (two whole hours) to check out the planes. This sounded excessive to me, but it turns out he was right – in fact, we didn’t even get to Fifi in time to go inside or even get close to it, because at about 9:30 they had her blocked off and ready to taxi over to the runways. I got some video of her later though:

Love the sound of those engines.

Some the planes made you pay before you could go inside them; others offered up their interior for free. I believe this was taken in one of the free ones – no idea who they are, but I’m sure that guy with the iPad knows:


No air show photo-post would be complete without a little airplane art:


I did plenty of color shots too:

A propeller aimed at the moon.

I probably should be able to tell you what plane this is.

But I can’t.

For a little vanity, here’s two shots of me in propeller reflections:

I should have tried jumping.

My legs aren’t really that short.

Time for a video break: Apparently the show performs some sort of re-enactment every year. This year it was Pearl Harbor. While watching it, my first thought was I bet they do the same plane choreography every year and just give it a different name. Kind of like this re-enactment:

OK, so theirs was a little bit better:

Interesting side note about this battle: Right at the end of it (it went on for quite awhile, because my dad and I went to get lemonade and came back, and it was still going on) they set off about eight of those explosions at once, and it scared the crap out of everyone (as you can see, by the way, we were in the front row of the gated seats. My dad buys up two boxes every year then gives the tickets to friends and co-workers). Right after this, the entire field filled up with smoke, and the faint wind blew it all right over the spectators – then stayed there. For about 20 minutes we all felt as if we were being barbecued. People’s eyes were watering, and everyone was shielding their faces and starting straight down – it was a quite a miserable sight. My next thought was that I would have lasted about fifteen seconds at Pearl Harbor, or anywhere one bomb detonated, much less many bombs – because I was completely incapable of functioning due to the smoke alone. Throw shrapnel, enemy fire, and airplane strikes into the midst and clearly I’m a goner.

Believe it or not, my father actually DID sustain an injury during this battle. At some point during this 20-minute smokeout, a cinder flew into his eye. He did not figure this out until much later in the day, when he eventually ended up at a clinic getting it checked out. But for the rest of the time we were at the show his eye was watering and he was in a fair amount of pain. Being my dad, he tried valiantly to enjoy the show in spite of it, but we ended up leaving about an hour early because he couldn’t stand it anymore. That’s a big deal for him, as he’s been going to this air show every year for at least 20 years and I doubt he’s ever left one second early. Anyway, you’ll be glad to know he is fine now, and was actually feeling much better by the next day. But he was hurting pretty badly that afternoon.

Smoke ring from one of the explosions.

Honestly the re-enactment didn’t excite me all that much, but the acrobatics sure did. I tried to take some video, but as you can see, I got disoriented and started filming all sideways. I guess that’s a fair indication of how ineffective I’d be as a stunt-plane pilot.

You can hear my dad and I freaking out at the end, LOL.

I was pretty pleased with the iPhone’s performance once again; I managed to get some nice arty shots of the stunt flyers with it:


Pretty clear for a phone camera!

Backing up a little here – the entire show kicked off the way any good air show should: with skydivers plummeting down to earth attached to huge American flags while the Star Spangled Banner played.

OK, so you can’t see the flag in this shot, but AMERICA YAY!

And a few more arty shots to wrap things up:

Reflecting on the air show. Get it? You’re welcome.

This is an old airplane of some sort. It’s airplane #5. That’s all I’ve got, sorry.

Sounds reasonable. Unless there’s A MAN ON THE WING OF THE PLANE! Sorry, I always have to say that at least once.

Follow the instructions

I realize this whole thing might appear to be the antithesis of the way I’d prefer to spend a Saturday – but the truth is, I had a ball. For next year, I think I will take my real camera, and will definitely be there bright and early with Dad at 8 AM, front row. You bet.