Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shooting Airplanes (with the camera of course).

As I started flying I developed another passion – I like taking pictures of the airplanes. I am not yet as obsessed as some dedicated airplane spotters or as skilled as some of the photographers in, but I sure enjoy it almost as much.

I stumbled into photography almost by chance when I rented my first underwater camera during one of my scuba diving vacations. The pictures from that dive came back so good (beginner’s luck), that I decided to learn about photography. The learning curve with all the requisite knowledge about F-stops, exposures, light, etc. was further complicated by the fact that all those had to work underwater. Having mastered it somewhat successfully I shot underwater exclusively for a few years but eventually became interested in what I call “surface photography”.

Going through my initial PPL flight training and the ground school, I made my usual annual pilgrimage to Mediterranean to see my family. That typically requires a layover at Heathrow. By that time, having gotten tired of missed opportunities (how is that you always see the most beautiful sunset in the world when your camera is safely out of reach?), I carried my camera with me everywhere. In Terminal 3, I discovered a neat Italian café facing the Rwy that was used for landing that day. With a 300mm zoom lens, I could do semi-decent shots of the planes in the flare, so I spent the next 2 hours clicking away to the amusement of other transient passengers. I must add that amusement cut both ways as I watched some of them attempting to take pictures with their cell phones.

I since gone through Heathrow once more and spent another 4 hr layover in that café again. Heathrow is great for photo opportunities as the planes land one after another in quick succession. I think controllers call it a snake – all the planes in formation. At all times I could see 4 or 5 on final approach.

Boston’s Logan was another place good for shooting from inside the terminal area and outside from the boat (trying to hold a camera steady in high seas was whole other story). We were flying out late at night and I had only limited time of available light, but some of the shots turned out OK. The area I was at was facing the Rwy used mostly for departures and I also had a very good view of the shorter x-wind Rwy.

Before our flight, Logan departures were hampered by active weather in most of the target destinations resulting in ground halt, so there were a lot of planes waiting to take off and go places. They were departing planes from intersecting Runways and also landing a few in between. Watching the planes performing intricate ballet on the field was fascinating. I wish I could have my handheld radio and listen to the controllers. Most of the planes were departing from a shorter Rwy that I could see but not shoot (too far). They were landing all of them on longer Rwy and it was also used by departing 747s of which there were a few. What a sight! Too bad the rotation point was beyond of what I could see.

As the sun was about to set, I snapped a shot of plane next to a Tower and used the dim remaining daylight for a shot of 747 with a football nose.

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