Plane Plan

This past Monday, I woke up thinking about airplanes, so I checked my Flightradar app and saw that – yay! – IAH was using the runway over their observation lot for arrivals. There were a few interesting planes coming in that day, so I quickly packed up my gear and headed out.

#EI-DRE – AeroMexico Boeing 737-700, landing at IAH on June 8, 2015

Since I’ve done this a few times now, I did a better job of being sure I had what I needed and knew what I was doing before I got out there (in other words, no wig hairs on the camera lens this time). But I did make one awful error – in between spurts of plane landings, I would get back in my car, turn the air conditioner on (since it was about 95 degrees outside with what felt like 100% humidity), and switch my camera off to save the battery. Just as I was about to leave, I saw the largest plane of the day heading right for me – a British Airways Boeing 777. I grabbed my camera, flipped it back on, and got out just in time to take some great shots as it passed over. Unfortunately, as I got back into my car I noticed in my LCD screen that all the shots I’d just taken were nothing but bright white light; apparently when flipping my camera’s on switch my finger had accidentally also switched my camera mode from Aperture over to Manual, and the camera let in way too much light and blew out all the shots. Blurgh! (as Liz Lemon would say). The only thing that kept me from pulling my hair out in agony was that I did manage to snap some nice pictures of a different BA Boeing 777 on my last outing to IAH back in January. But still – bummer.

Welp, there it is.

There was another 777 that landed that day, but it was using a different runway that’s too far away for my little telephoto to reach. I tried to get some decent shots of it, but this was the best I could do; in looking at it here, I guess it’s not too bad, just not nearly as close or clear as I would like. I’ve read a little about shooting using a telephoto lens, and everything says you lose a lot of clarity if you zoom all the way in when taking a shot, so I tried not to do that this time when taking these far-away shots even though it meant I couldn’t get quite as close as I would have liked:

#F-GSQA – Air France Boeing 777-200

I was also getting blurry shots at first, so I got on my phone and did some quick research; ultimately deciding to try using Aperture Priority mode instead of the Shutter Speed mode I always use. This actually helped to get clearer shots on a regular basis, so I’ll need to be sure to remember that next time.

#N509NK – Spirit Airlines Airbus 319-100

As I mentioned before, it was pretty damn hot out there, and I didn’t even get to the lot until around 11:15, but the sky was nice and blue and there were plenty of clouds to create more interesting pictures,so I’m glad I went ahead and tried it out in spite of the heat. Especially since it looks like we have another week of rain coming and who knows when I’ll be able to get back out there again. It’s also good to know that, unlike Hobby Airport, anytime I choose to go out there I’m guaranteed to get at least a few planes other than the regulars (United Airlines at IAH, Southwest Airlines at HOU) – as long as they’re using the right runway, that is.

#N618NK – Spirit Airlines Airbus A320

Supposedly there’s another good planespotting location around IAH that isn’t an official one; I can’t tell if it’s still available to park at or if it’s been cordoned off – I get conflicting information on different sites where I’ve looked for information. Since it’s not an official observation area I am still a little chicken to check it out, but sooner or later I’m sure taking photos of the planes in always basically the same position in the sky is going to get boring. For now it’s OK though, because I get a little better each time at getting the whole plane in the frame once it gets closer. Well, except for when I accidentally mess up the camera settings and over-expose the hell out of my shots.

#N703ABV – Avianca Airbus A319

I also caught a few small private planes as they flew over; if you click this  next one and magnify it you can see the dude in the passenger seat staring right at me, LOL:

#N500HY – Beechcraft Beechjet. This one must have just gotten a new paint job because in all the other pictures I see of it online, the tail is plain white with brown stripes.

#N281SE – Piper Malibu Meridian

That’s all the planes I’ve edited for now, but I will have a few more to come. I haven’t processed any of the United Airlines ones yet, and there’s a few more I took that were using that other runway that I think I may be able to process and get decent results. We’ll see.

Other than plane photos and wig videos, I’ve been watching tons of documentaries on Netflix – documentaries are a serious weakness of mine, and I’ll watch just about anything if it’s in that category (proof? I watched an entire documentary about a font. Yep). The most bizarre one so far is called Room 237, and it’s dedicated to some of the more obsessive and outrageous analyses people have come up with to explain Stanley Kubrick’s hidden messages in his movie The Shining. Yep. While I didn’t actually believe any of the theories, it truly is fun to take a Kubrick movie and pick it apart for visual symbols and motifs, but I’m still convinced he just did it because he was obsessive about visuals and then he just let everyone interpret things however they wanted. My favorite theories were that Kubrick made The Shining to confess to the world that there was no actual footage of the US landing on the moon, but Kubrick was contracted to create such footage so the world would actually believe we did go there. Want proof? Well, there’s Danny’s sweater for starters:


Oh, and also the inclusion of the Tang powdered drink on the shelves (used on space missions) and something about that key containing the letters not just for “room” but also for “moon” and, the number 237 represents the 237 kajillion miles (technical term) Earth is from the moon. And one woman also pointed out that in the super-creepy scene there where the dead twins roll that ball to Danny, the pattern on the carpet reverses, which had something to do with the reversal of time and how the movie was meant to be watched backwards, or something.


Oh, and for the theory that The Shining was meant to be viewed backwards, the documentary actually plays a bit of the movie moving forward as it should while superimposing it playing backwards on top of it, and I have to say that was pretty cool although the idea that this was what Kubrick actually wanted rather than the theory of someone who’s gotten way too into decoding this film isn’t likely. Still, a fun documentary overall, especially if you are a fan of the movie as I am.

An example of what you see when playing the movie backwards and forwards at the same time. Coincidence? Yeah probably, but still cool. 

Some other great ones I’ve seen this week are Dear, Zachary (do NOT watch without an entire box of Kleenex, because you’ll need it – trailer below):

The Queen of Versailles (voyeuristic view of an uber-rich family attempting to build the biggest house in America that turns on a dime after the crash of 2008 and ends up really being about clueless rich people trying to function without their private jets and 15 servants. SPOILER: apparently rich people do not know how to potty train, or clean up after, their dogs):

All This Mayhem (two young skaters from Australia and the tragic yet spectacular fall from grace they experience when the money and the fame dries up):

The Source Family (a hippie cult in the 70’s made unique by the inclusion of quite detailed video footage taken by the cult’s “historian”):

Bridgend (haunting and bizarre story of a small town in South Wales where almost 80 teenagers have committed suicide by hanging over the past 8 years):

And perhaps the best one of all so far, The Imposter (story about a guy who actually convinces a family that he’s their missing son, even though he’s not):

All of these are currently streaming on Netflix, and I can’t recommend them enough!

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!



Plane and Simple

2014 isn’t halfway over and I’ve already fulfilled my photography bucket list – I held a real photoshoot in an honest-to-god studio, and now I’ve taken pics of airplanes. I wonder what I need to do next? I have no idea, but I am happy as hell with the airplane shots I got today. All in all, I completely filled up one 32G CF card and put a serious dent in the second, much smaller one I brought along just in case. About 1400 photos in all, and some of them were exactly what I was hoping for!

Photo Apr 19, 11 37 59 AM
My dad and I behind the aviation history museum

The aviation museum was great, and I got some photos of the space, but I haven’t processed those yet because I was most excited about the commercial jet photos. Once a month the museum opens up the back tarmac to incoming planes and serves food as a little fundraiser; it provides photographers a pretty close-up view of a nearby airport runway. That was cool, and my telephoto lens served me well, but honestly, the best shots were to be had at the ‘family viewing areas’ located around the airport.

One of the two airport viewing areas opened to the public around the runways

It’s late and my arm is killing me, so I’m going to share some shots and keep things brief for now, but I’ve got loads to say about the day with my dad. It was tons of fun and we are raring to hit up the much larger Intercontinental Airport soon, which also has viewing areas where one can take photos, so I can get shots of a bigger variety of planes. Since Hobby Airport is home base to one particular airline, almost all the planes I shot today were this company’s jets. I’ll see if you can guess which one it is after you see some of the shots.

southwest nose_final
One of the shots taken at the end of the runway right behind the museum

The runway behind the museum was pretty busy with planes taking off, and each time one taxied out to the end of it, it would turn around and face directly into my camera for a few seconds before turning off to the left and throttling up the engines. So I got loads of nose shots like that. Then one time this happened:

Have you figured out what airline it is yet?

I like the heat waves radiating out from the underbelly of the plane, and the placement of them, obviously. As the planes took off, the runway angled farther away from me, so I didn’t get any decent shots of them lifting off – I took a ton, but the plane is too small for them to be exciting. However, I did snap a few good ones as the planes sped by:southwest takeoff_final

Even though most of them were blurry, I thought this one looked nice, and the blurring of the grass shows the speed at which it was already moving. The sky wasn’t all that pretty here, but as the day wore on it got better. Also it got hotter, and unfortunately I am now sunburned as I didn’t think to put on sunscreen.


This plane is called the “Kangeroo Crew,” and it partners with Texas Children’s Hospital to fly children in need to and from its’ medical facilities. It just happened to be taking off while we were still at the museum, and the volunteers there were all very nice men and women who were sure to alert me when an interesting airplane was about to take off – even if they had to chase me down to be sure I knew about it. Great people.


Believe it or not, there actually are other airlines at Hobby Airport besides Southwest, but to be honest, this American Airlines plane just wasn’t photogenic. The Southwest planes really stand out, and this one blends into everything so much that it provided very little visual appeal – at least, that’s how I feel about it. Still, I took pictures of it anyway, so there you go.

two planes_Snapseed

I really wish this shot had come out better; it’s a cool placement of the two planes, but it’s pretty blurry and the color was blah. We were at the museum during the brightest part of the day, so color was tricky. Still, almost a cool shot, and the only decent one I have of wheels leaving the ground.

viewing area

Now, onto the shots I took from the viewing areas – these were where I could catch some real winners (and as is always the case for me, I’m saving the best one for last).


I did not manage to get this entire Delta plane into any of my close shots; they moved too fast and came in at an odd angle that made it hard for me gauge ahead of time how much zoom to use. So, this was the best I got, but look how close it is! Way better than what I could get at the museum. Check this one out:


I mean seriously! If the pilot had known I was down there, he could’ve waved at me and I would’ve caught it. These shots were taken at the end of the day, when I was sunburned and tired (due partly to the minor disaster of me locking my keys in my car at the museum – erm, sort of – more on this later) and almost out of memory on my camera, but next time I’m going straight to the viewing areas and hitting up the museum for french fries later. I have an app on my iPhone called Flightradar24 which tracks flight traffic all over the globe (but only if they emit from a certain type of transponder or something, still, it’s an amazing amount of flight traffic to monitor) and my dad sat in the car watching it while I stood outside with my camera ready; when he saw something heading our way he’d shout out where it was coming from and what it was, and in that manner we team-worked our way through the shoot. As I may have mentioned, my father is an airplane fanatic (although WWII airplanes are his thing) and he is as obsessive about his interests as I am, so he was totally game for all of this. In fact, I was the one who eventually conked out and had to quit – we were all about the airplanes from 10:30 AM to 3 PM.

And now, without further ado, the best damn shot of the day. This right here is THE EXACT SHOT I was going for – I didn’t care what type of plane it was, I just wanted to get this shot:


BAM! Perfection! At least in my eyes it is!! Notice how much nicer the sky is here, and well, that the rest of it is awesome.

Much more to come, including shots of the museum and a JetBlue airliner, which everyone at the museum made a very big deal out of when it lined up to take off, so it must not be a plane that regularly flies out of this airport or something. My telephoto lens made me proud (lots of planespotters at the museum confirmed I’d made a wise choice for this kind of photography in buying it) and my dad and I had a real blast and are ready to try it again. I’m just going to have to remember to wear sunscreen next time, and to not (sort of) lock my keys in my car.