“A Rekindled Passion: Three Spotting Adventures at Detroit Metro”

So, I totally disagree with New Year’s resolutions. But for the past two years, I’ve been setting some yearly goals to accomplish. Which I feel are more flexible and I don’t feel bad if I get rid of or change some throughout the year. Such as to keep building models the way I want, continue to discover and practice philosophy along with getting back into aviation photography again. But before, I start attending airshows again, I want to update my gear and to do some spotting to work out that forgotten muscle memory of shooting. I briefly toyed with the idea of getting a mirrorless DSLR but I’m not switching my lense inventory to Canon’s new RF mounts. And I don’t like the idea of using an adapter from EF to RF mounts. So, I’ll be sticking with DSLRs for now. I’ve outgrown my trusty 7D Mk2 along with newer technology that has outdated it. Plus, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rolled its counter. Canon 90D should be an excellent replacement for my 7D Mk2. It has a newer 32.5-megapixel sensor along with it can shoot at 10fps like the 7D Mk2. I can now shoot 4K video if I want. The 90D has a higher ISO range and longer battery life than my old 7D Mk2. And it too is weather sealed. I also chose to replace my 17-85mm with the newer 18-135mm IS USM. And to back up my 500mm F/4.5L, I got the Canon 100-400mm Mk2. Years ago, I had the Mk I and hated how soft the images were from it. I’ve rented the Mk II a couple of times and it’s a much better lens.

My new Canon 90D and 100-400mm MkII

Trip one

I had envisioned a shot, in late afternoon light or around sunset of a silhouetted airliner during landing. Though I had to wait for the conditions to materialize, I wanted the first images of my new camera to be of an airplane of some sort. I figured I’ll do some spotting down at Detroit Metro (DTW) as the sun is setting with a fire-like sky. But I feel sunset sucks without a few clouds on the horizon. All week long I was keeping an eye on the weather hoping for the right conditions. On Wednesday of that week, it was the first day that it wasn’t straight overcast and was partly sunny with a decent sky-to-cloud balance to hopefully make the sunset interesting. The catch is it was windy as shit. South southwest winds 10-20 mph and gusting to 30! Which was the cause of the wind advisory in effect until 4 pm. Sunset was around 6 pm, fingers crossed that the winds will die down. By the time I got home from work and packed up to make my way down to DTW, the patchy clouds were starting to dissipate and there were a few on the horizon but not as populated as earlier in the day. I packed up my gear and headed down to my spotting location. And during the drive down, my level of excitement was unusually high. It’s been 4 years since I shot any aircraft, but I feel it’s awesome that I was excited about spotting. I got parked, geared up, and checked my settings and it was time to play the spotters waiting game powered by Flightradar24. My first arrival was a Spirit airways A320 from Vegas. With AI servos on and high-speed continuous shooting @F/5.6, the 90D blasted away at 10 frames per second. With the wind howling and bitter cold, I didn’t stay long. And the Sun quickly hid behind the clouds on the horizon and the saturated afternoon light was gone. As of now, (wintertime) the sun sets too far to the south to achieve the shot I had envisioned. Where it sets now, is cluttered with light poles and power lines. Definitely a late spring or midsummer shot when the sun sets later in the day as well as farther north. But anywho, once home it was time to check out my photos and see how I did after a 4-year hiatus. The first 8 images were soft or out of focus but number 9 was spot on. Overall, I’m pleased with the new body/lens combo. Had the correct wind direction but not the right time of year for my envisioned shot.

Trip two

Wanted to test my new lens and body combo in some morning light. Conditions were favorable for my spotting location. Southwest winds but cold as fuck! 25 degrees(-3C) but felt like 10F(-12C) with the wind chill. Packed up the gear and headed down to DTW once again. I was hesitant to leave earlier due to the temperature and the sunrise was at 7:24. My mistake was that I left my apartment at 7 and I watched the sharp beautiful morning light during my drive down to DTW. As I parked the car while the last bit of that golden light bathed a spirit airways A320 and made it look amazing. For the next 20 minutes, nothing landed. That sought-after saturated light that I was after was nearly gone. Then I noticed a sole Delta A321 in the pattern for runway 22R on Flightradar24. Which was being used for arrivals and the runway I was in the position to photograph arriving flights. Even though it wasn’t in the light I was after, it was still fun to photograph aircraft in some better light conditions than on my first test trip. In the hour and a half, I was there, only three aircraft used runway 22R. The previously mentioned A321, a 737 along with a lone CRJ-900. The cold wasn’t as bad as I expected. I from time to time, hopped back into the car to warm up along with checking what is or isn’t lining up on runway 22R. There was more activity on runway 21R but unfortunately, there’s not a good location to spot that approach. I say it was a partial success, with correct wind direction, and sharp saturated morning light but had bad timing.

Trip three

After writing all morning, I decided to look at Flightradar24 and see what’s happening down at DTW. The first thing I noticed was the winds were still coming from the southwest. Which means they were using runways 21 and 22 for arrivals and departures. And after a glance out my apartment window, I decided to head back down and do some fair-weather spotting. I figure the more time I have behind my camera before show season starts up the better. Along with if I leave now, there are two Delta Airbus flights from Japan I want to capture in some decent light. The first one was an A330 that departed from Nagoya and the other was Delta’s Flagship, an A350 traveling from Haneda. Since both flights would be arriving from the west, there would be a good chance that both would land on runway 22L. The weather was mostly sunny with puffy fast-moving clouds that would look nice in the blue sky. Since my trip to Japan, which I flew on a Delta A350, I’ve been Infatuated with the aircraft. If I leave now, I could most likely catch both. On the drive down, “Detroit driving rules” were definitely in effect. Despite my spirited driving, the A330 from Nagoya gracefully passed by as I pulled into the parking lot of my spotting location. Fortunately, the A350 was only a few minutes behind her. According to Flightradar24, it was looking like she was on the same approach as the flight from Nagoya. Remember what I said about those clouds? Fast moving is how I put it. Yeah, the wind was fucking howling! More so than the other trips. At one point, I had to chase down my hat that went flying across the parking lot. But soon enough Deltas A350 graced me with her presence and the new lens/body combo didn’t disappoint.

The skies soon cleared up and I had nothing else to do on this blustery Sunday. So, I decided to stay, and I ended up hanging out for about another hour or so. A few other highlights from this trip were my first time photographing an A220, A320 NEO along with a 737 Max. I went to catch a couple of wide-body Airbuses and got “Wind qualify” in the process. I’m going to call this breezy trip a success.

All in all, I’ve been exciting about getting back behind the camera and spotting again. Like when I first began my journey into aviation photography over 18 years ago. I’m going to make at least three or four more trips down to DTW before my first aviation event this year. And at least one of them with my 500mm. I need to get use to holding that beast again. I’m also toying with the idea of some night spotting with my 5DSR. Its full frame sensor would handle the higher ISO far better than the cropped sensor of the 90D, but we will see.

Until next post,


The Pain of Sorting

If you ever photographed an airshow or sporting event, you know just how fast you can shoot through a thousand images. After a two-day event, you can easily shoot over 10,000 images. And it can be a bit overwhelming trying to sort through them all and finding the ones you want to share. After years of shooting, I have come up with a system of sorting that helps me find the images I want to share. There’s no right or wrong way to sort your images. This is just what I have learned that works well for me. And this may or may not work for you. With that being said, this is how I cope with the pain of sorting.

To start, it would be good to know what you are trying to share and for what platform.  Are they for your personal website, an online forum, Instagram, Facebook or maybe a yearly photo book? For this situation, I want my images to show the overall feeling of the TICO show on my blog. So, I want to limit the post to 50 images. The first step is to copy all the images from the show and place them in a separate folder. I never play/sort/edit the original files. My system is quite simple, it is looking at all my images from a show and in a series of rounds deleting poor images until I get to my set number.  

Yes, I have seen every photo I have shot from all the airshows and aviation events I’ve attended. Easily well over 250,000 images. You do not know what you got until you have seen it. It is exciting when you stumble upon something unexpected. I could not imagine creating images and not looking at them. This is not a process to speed up sorting. But it is a system to find the most visually pleasing images of an event that you want to share.

I am a Window user, so I use ImageGlass to view and delete unwanted photos. I find the copied folder and open the first image and start sorting. Hit the next button if it is a keeper and, Trash bin if it’s junk. The first round of images to be deleted are out of focus and soft images. Along with images that the aircraft is blocked by something. Hats, heads, antenna, speakers, airshow smoke, other aircraft. And images that part(s) of the aircraft are cut off. Missing noses, tails, wings, horizontal stabilizers…  

For the TICO show, I shot just over 7,900 images over 3 days on 2 bodies. And after the first round, I’m down to about 3500 images. The next round of deletions are images where the subject(s) are too small for my taste.

Tiny Subjects

Also in this round, if the sky has clouds (not overcast but a few here and there) as TICO did on Friday and Saturday. Those images are preferred over ones with a clear blue sky. I feel clouds adds visual appeal and a sense of location. This round is purely subjective, but I love showing clouds.

A new thing I’ll been working on is to blur the clouds by shooting a lower shutter speed than normal. It’s difficult to do but it makes your subject really stand out along with adds a sense of speed. Here’s a few examples.

In the next round, undesirable photos are deleted. Images such as belly shots, images where the wing is blocking the canopy, and what I’m calling “going away” shots. Starting with belly photos, I feel looking at the belly of an aircraft makes for a boring and uninteresting photo. Unless there is something of interest such as ordinance, open weapons bays or if your lucky, firing flares. An easy way to go about it is to ask yourself this question, “Why are my viewers going to look at this?” If you don’t have an answer, it goes in the bin. Next are images where the wing of the plane is blocking the view of the canopy. It’s an odd situation that happens soon after an aircraft passes in front of you and starts to head away. Its more noticeable with smaller low wing aircraft. I reject these images if I already have one showing the cockpit. And finally, “going away” photos. There are along the same lines of belly shots. An image where your subject is going away from you and has no visual appeal. But some “going away” images are cool. For example, photos with afterburner blazing and or vapor of some sort.  

Now I am down to about 250 images. In this round, it is time to get rid of the duplicate images that look the same but are shot on different days. There is no reason to show multiple images of the same aircraft especially at similar angles. This is harder to do if the weather is similar during the duration of an event. Sunday the weather crapped out and made this round of deletions much easier. There are very few Sunday images that made to cut. Here are two sets of duplicate shots, the first one is from Saturday’s show and the second is from Sunday. The Saturday image is clearly has better light. At the end of this round, my image counts is down to 100-120.

On to the final and hardest round. Weeding them down to 50. This is where it is important to know what you’re trying to show. To pick the right images that properly captures what you’re trying to convey. What helps me here is a series of questions that guides me to choose the most visually appealing images. What makes this image better than the others? Is there some element of design such as line, color, composition or symmetry incorporated into the photo? Which image has the cleanest/least distracting background? And which photo has the better exposure? With the last major huddle cleared, I now have my batch of visually appealing photos I want to share. But now come the Importance of Post Process. Which should not be a major chore. Nor do I want to spend an extraordinary amount of time in post either.

The less time I spend in post, the sooner I can upload and share my images. This system of sorting can work for any genre of photography. Again, this process is to help find the most visually pleasing images possible, and I hope it can help you with your sorting. Here’s a link to my final set of images from the TICO show.

Until next post,



Philosophy about Photography Part Three: The Importance of Post Process

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