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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