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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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!

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Terminal History

At last, I have edited more pictures from my trip with my dad to the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. It’s the site of what was the original terminal for Hobby Airport, which opened in, not surprisingly, 1940.

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This photo looks a lot like the photo on the website, the difference being I took this one. Also my dad is in the window. Other than those two things, it’s the museum sign, yep.

I was so excited to get out the back door and onto the tarmac that I didn’t take pictures of much else, but here’s a longer shot of the entrance:

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I have to tell you that as I look at these photos of the front entrance, all I can think about is that I locked my keys in the car when we were there, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time standing around in that parking lot during the heat of the day waiting for AAA to show up and break into my car. Except, once that happened, we discovered that my keys were not in my car at all, and had fallen out of my purse somehow and gotten lost somewhere in the museum or behind it where all the planes were. So my dad and I, along with all the museum volunteers, spent an hour or two scouring the place looking for my keys, only to have me discover while talking to a volunteer and glancing down into my purse that they were actually stuck in a side pocket the whole time. Mind you – this is after AAA showed up and broke into my car. I was too mortified to tell anyone, and kept it a secret until I got my dad alone so we could share a good laugh over the absurdity of it (the whole time I thought they were lost I kept repeating “this doesn’t make sense, I never lose my keys!” over and over, turned out I was right). Then we both decided not to tell the volunteers a thing about it, walked out to my car and pretended to dig around in the trunk some more, and came back in claiming the keys had been buried under the trunk lining. Good times.

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The museum’s foyer, restored to its original appearance. The museum hasn’t been open long, and does not yet have the funds to restore the second floor, so it is off-limits. Also, I think all of those people are looking for my keys.

One funny thing about the lost-keys fiasco was how one-track-minded the volunteers were about the whole airplane thing. Most of the volunteers and visitors were male, slightly older than middle-aged, and plane enthusiasts of one stripe or another. Many were photographers. There were a few married couples with small children wandering about, but overall it was an older male crowd. And me. It was also one of the friendliest groups I’ve been around in some time – full of information and ready to share. I had people suggesting good camera settings and spots to take pictures as well as offering background of different planes that were on the runway, like these planes, which are apparently planes from other countries that flew into the airport and were confiscated for one  reason or another:

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But back to the lost keys: so there we were, my dad and I, on my cell phone trying to call AAA and figure out the address to the museum. At this point I’m a little panicked because I don’t yet realize, of course, that I do have a way to start my car and get us out of there, and I’m wondering just how long we’re going to be stuck at the airport. Then in the middle of all that a man with a camera slung around his shoulder came over, exclaiming excitedly that a Frontier Airlines jet was about to queue up on the runway, and it was really rare to get a glimpse of one there, and I really should grab my camera and get ready to take pictures. I kept explaining to him, no really sir, I am on the phone with triple A, you see I HAVE LOST MY KEYS and am trying to find them, so no I really do not want to go take pictures of a Frontier Airlines jet right now, thank you. He totally did not get it. It was something else my dad and I laughed about later, how when a good jet came up the runway, no one cared about anything else in the slightest. Of course, when I looked up their airplanes on Google, they do look pretty cool, and I’m rather sorry now I didn’t just go outside for the ten minutes it would have taken to snap the photos and continued with my car key search afterwards, especially now that I know my keys weren’t lost after all.

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One of the planes you can view from the tarmac behind the museum

We also missed out on the opportunity to walk with a volunteer down to “the hangar” as they kept calling it, to view some planes up close and personal that I gathered were kind of a big deal, but again, car keys.

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It was such an enjoyable day, and I’d really like to get back there again. Of course, there’s the whole car-key humiliation to deal with, but it’s been awhile now so perhaps they’ve forgotten. I think the fundraiser this month is titled “Learn How To Fly Day” so I probably should sit this one out as I’d most likely lose the keys to the plane and ruin everyone’s day. But I gotta go back sometime to get a photo of a Frontier Airlines jet, if nothing else.

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One of the many planes I will not be flying

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.