Plane of Pools

Stupid title, I know. I was just trying to think of something to incorporate the two completely unconnected subjects of this post. Because last week, this happened:

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I’ve never been so happy to see concrete in my life. The next step is to clean the interior of the pool and prepare it for the plaster, which will happen today – I’ve been envisioning some really crazy self-portraits in the empty pool wherein I don a ball gown and a snorkel, but unfortunately I’ve caught the first round of crud that circulated around the school  last week (in my case, it’s an upper respiratory infection, but I know others who came down with strep throat) and I feel lousy. I’m not sure I’m going to be up for taking photos for the day or two that the option is available to me, so it may be a sorely missed opportunity, but one I’ll have to let go if I’m still sick. Boo.

I stayed home from work today and went to the doctor for meds, and when that was done I processed more airplane pictures. At first I wasn’t to thrilled with the shots I got last Sunday at the new location; they definitely don’t allow me the super-close proximity the official observation spot provides, but they do allow for a lot more variety, due to my ability to shoot the planes coming all the way up the runway:

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I’m farther away, but getting to snap the planes taking off over buildings or just lifting off the runway is pretty cool, and means I get bored less quickly while processing the shots:

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Of course, I did have to hang out in what appeared at first to be a fairly suspect location to get them:

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Looking back from the dead-end where I parked

For most of the time I was there, I was the only person at this spot:

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My car at the bottom of a hill that provides a nice vantage point to see the planes 

But occasionally other plane-spotters stopped by, although I was the only one who went to the top of the hill:

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So overall, it was a fine place to hang out, although I was pretty nervous at first, thinking it had to be a bad idea to spend time alone at the end of a fairly deserted road behind an airport. I felt plenty safe soon enough, once I realized it really wasn’t as deserted as I thought it was, and appeared in fact to be a little plane-viewing spot for a lot of people with kids who were trying to entertain them and out of ideas, I guess? Moving on. Next time I’ll bring a blanket or something to sit on up there, though, since the grass was pretty high and brushy and it wasn’t too pleasant the times I tried to sit down.

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Severed head in a bag, or discarded Carl’s Jr.? You decide.

I got to this spot around 11:30, I think, and while I mostly shot United planes, I managed to snap a few others before I was done:

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I also had a chance to snap some planes landing on farther runways, and although they were too far away for the shots to be great ones, I did want to capture how close some of them fly over before they land, since it gives me a nice sense of scale:

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And I managed to snap this little bright-yellow Spirit Airlines budget plane (I definitely was able to get better shots of planes landing farther away from me than I can at the Lee Road location, too) :

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And then, of course, were all the United planes:

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That last one really took me by surprise; the little hill I stood on overlooked two runways running parallel to each other, and for the most part they were all taking off from the runway farthest from my location. But this one used the closer of the two, and when it roared up overhead I was actually focused on a different plane and didn’t see this one coming. It’s positioning really gave me a nice shot of it’s underbelly passing over; with the landing gear already retracted.  I guess it took off a longer runway, or something. Moving on.

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SECURITY!

I planned to head for home no later than 1:00, since these runways were fairly busy and by then I’d already taken plenty, but at one on the dot it was as if United opened the floodgates (or plane gates, if you will) and sent an onslaught of airlines taxiing over to take off, and well, it was just too good to walk away from at the time. They must have been taking off two or three minutes behind each other, at the most, so I kept snapping until my 32G CF card filled up. That’s right – 2600 shots of airplanes, people. And many of them are worthy of processing this time! How will I ever get through them all…?

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I mean JUST LOOK AT ALL OF THEM

Of course I’ve got more to share later, but for now this is all I’ve got. Time to go lie down and let that Nyquil I slugged about 20 minutes ago work it’s magic Until next time, y’all!

Sunday Shots

I’ve not taken any self-portraits in quite awhile, but I have been taking photos here and there when I’ve had the chance.

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In fact, now that I look back over what I’ve processed the past few weeks, it’s quite a few shots. A few weeks ago, while out buying groceries for the week, I stopped by the floral department and picked up some flowers to shoot, then spent the rest of Saturday taking photos of them. In the shot above, I was mainly trying to catch the reflection of the petals when the flower was lying on top of a plastic handbag liner I yanked out of one of my purses (it’s a piece of plastic you can insert into a handbag that lacks shape to give it some across the bottom – #themoreyouknow!). It was a challenge to get a whole lot of the reflection into the shot without getting into some really weird framing, but I guess it came out OK.

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Simon ended up in a lot of the shots because, well, that’s how he rolls:

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Sprocket and Penny got into the mix for a bit too:

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I also saw some flowers that were wrapped in netting to keep their shape (no, I don’t know what kind of flowers they were) and I really liked the pink and purple color combination that created, so I took photos of them without taking off the wrapping, although that may actually look stupid. Still, I liked them:

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I unwrapped them eventually, and took some super-macros of the petals:

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Then eventually I ended up putting all sorts of crap on them, just to see how it would look:

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That’s baby powder on the rose above, which I was hoping would look like snow. I also threw some glitter on the pink flowers, but I haven’t processed any of those shots yet. I took about 600 pictures of flowers, then got distracted by work and pool drama and ended up not processing nearly enough of them. For about a week there I didn’t process any shots at all, although lately I’ve had time to work with about one each night. This is the last flower shot I’ve had a chance to edit so far, but I know there will be more to come from this set later:

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Then, at one point during all the pool construction drama, I looked in the back yard and this tipped-over, mud-covered wheelbarrow caught my eye; I thought it’d make a good picture, so although it was already dusk I grabbed my camera and braved a trip into the muck to get a few shots. My husband almost had a cow when he looked out the window and saw me crawling around back there, because he knows what a klutz I am and how easily I can hurt myself just walking into a room, much less wandering around a construction area with a camera. But, I survived, and got a few cool shots out of the deal:

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I have a few more, of course, to process from this set (don’t I always?) but I have yet to get to them, either.

Now, if I thought Doug would have a cow about me scavenging around in our backyard with a half-constructed pool in the vicinity, he would have really flipped his lid if he’d seen where I was hanging out this past Sunday:

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I drove out to my usual planespotting location at IAH Sunday morning, but when I got there I realized I’d mis-read my flightradar24 app in thinking the airport was utilizing that runway for arrivals, and in fact there were no planes at all flying in that direction. Since it was early and I was already out there, I decided to be a little brave and try to find a second planespotting location I’d read about – I’d always been wary to try it out before because I’d heard you had to call airport security to let them know when you were there, and that alone sounded sketchy enough to me to discourage the trip. Plus, it’s not uncommon for the areas around an airport to be less than ideal locations to start with, and since I’m always by myself when I take plane pics I’d been a bit chicken to give it a try. But I was feeling up for it this time, plus I’d driven all that way and didn’t want the drive to be a total bust, so I found the dead-end road that stopped right up against two runway fences, made the airport security call, and got to work.

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These two runways are used mainly for departures, and they were pretty busy, although mostly with United planes – I didn’t get very many unusual planes this time. I did get some new angles than what I can get from the official observation lot, but the planes are farther away, so I was once again feeling the limitations of the 70-200 lens. It did the job, but I would have been happier had I been able to get closer. And the clarity isn’t the greatest either; I think I had the ISO setting too low this time. Still, the weather was nice, and it ended up being a fine place to shoot although, as I said, my husband probably would have freaked out had he known I’d driven to a dead-end road, parked the car, and hiked up a hill all alone to take plane photos! Actually, while I was up there I saw a lot of cars come and go; mostly people with kids taking a moment or two to watch some planes take off, but still. When I really stopped to think about it, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision. Not to say I won’t go back, of course.

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I say this so much you can probably all say it along with me by now, but once again: this is all I’ve had time to process from this set  so far, so there will be more to come. Although I haven’t been able to get dolled up lately for a selfie shoot, at least I do have a lot of photos to work with when I get a spare minute here or there.

Okay, tomorrow’s Monday, so let’s get back to it.

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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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.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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:

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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:

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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.