Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I headed down to Miami for the Air & Sea show. I haven’t started sorting through the thousands of images from the show. But here’s a few phots of Downtown Miami, my hotel views, and South Beach. The sites & sounds, the vibe of the city and the Cuban cuisine, Oh man! I was blown away. And if I’m honest, was a bit overwhelmed at first but I was there to have fun and I didn’t let it stop me from truly enjoying myself.
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Since I rekindled my love of photography, I’ve discovered it has an all too familiar rhythm. One that has been secretly and deeply embedding itself into my photography over the years but has just lately moved into the light of my passion. Looking back, this unrevealed rhythm has been consistently setting the cadence of creativity and exploration in my imagery. This rhythm I’ve been subconsciously marching to for years has been a driving force behind many aspects of my philosophy of creating unique images. And has spawned numerous adventures as a result along with a multitude of blog posts. This newly unearthed rhythm has 5 key notes starting with Envision, Chase, Capture, Process, and ends with Share. Let’s take a further dive into each.
It starts with envisioning an idea and setting it as a goal for yourself. It can be as simple as “I want to take some photos of flowers.” Or as complex as “I want to capture the USN Blue Angels sneak pass with a full vapor cone.” It truly doesn’t matter what your subject is or how grand of an idea it is either. You just need to have some direction, just a hint of a loose idea. Whatever you decide, don’t think that it has to be clearly defined with every detail known. Maybe you’re going on holiday, and you want to show a sense of location, or you are trying your eye in a different genre of photography. As long as you are not aimlessly searching for that “Great Shot”. I firmly believe that “Great Shots” begins with an inspiring idea from a creative standpoint and does not just happen. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying spontaneity hasn’t produced any mind-blowing images, because it has. But you shouldn’t expect Lady Luck to be waving her magic wand in your direction every time you push the shutter. It’s unrealistic and your results amounts to a waste of time.
That old saying “Knowing is half the battle” is relevant when it comes to chasing down your images. The knowledge of where and when your subject is available is tremendous. Attributes such as the time of day and or season you want to capture your idea. How you want to light your subject. How often is your subject available and how long will it be around? And being patient with Mother Nature because she loves to start tripping when you need her to behave. Chasing the image in your mind’s eye could take hours, days, or even years to capture. It’s paramount that you don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish. And it will test your resolve. Having a plentiful supply of vigilance along with an abundance of patience will aid you in mastering the chase. Remember, you will miss every shot you don’t take.
When the time comes and you see your image about to come to fruition, you must possess a healthy working knowledge of your gear along with an adequate understanding of exposure and composition. Knowing how to change your shutter speed, depth of field, focus point, or any other function without having to look and figure out what button does what. Developing that level of muscle memory only comes with time and experience behind your camera. How you’re going to capture the moment is just as important. What equipment along with what settings to use to successfully capture your idea. Will it require the use of a monopole or tripod, single shot, or continuous shooting to get the best results? Timing is a key factor as well. What amount of time do you have with your subject? You may be attending a multi-day event or just have a half hour with your subject. Regardless, you must make the best use of whatever time is available. Most importantly, how are you feeling? Even the slightest symptom such as headache, congestion, or fatigue can affect how focused you are on your task. Take care of yourself before heading out.
Having an effective post-process routine is necessary for refining your digital images. Knowledge of your post-processing software is crucial, and YouTube, as well as Google, are helpful resources. Whatever software you have, you should know how to import and export your files, maintain a competent understanding of the tools, be able to adjust the exposure, modify the white balance, level the horizon of your photo, and the list of edits goes on and on. A frequently overlooked aspect of post-processing is sorting. Finding that adequate set of images that perfectly expresses your vision. Because the quickest way to lose your viewer’s attention is to show them multiple pictures of the same subject that visually has little to no difference from one another. Finally, file format and location of files are essential as well. Not every platform can recognize the variety of file formats from the multitude of programs.
How you share your imagery along with who you share it with, is equally important. Receiving and learning from non-bias advice is fundamental for us to grow in life as well as with photography. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include family and friends. We all need someone who can offer us honest feedback and not give us sugarcoated responses. And the truth hurts sometimes. But that’s ok as long as we learn something useful from our experiences. On to how you share your photos. Sharing on dead platforms and oversaturated sites is not beneficial for growing your audience and gaining exposure. Knowing how to promote one’s images is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight. This too requires patience and consistency. With the numerous social media platforms, online forums to local photo clubs, there are countless ways to showcase your work and gain exposure.
This rhythm has been a major factor in my growth as a photographer. Relentlessly, pushing me further out of my comfort zone. It’s responsible for developing healthy photographic habits such as coming up with a shooting routine and help with the tedious task of image sorting. Not only has it altered my approach, but it continues to steer my journey into photography to this day. Time and time again, this seasoned rhythm has not failed me in any of my photographic ambitions. If you have been following this blog and reading my posts for any amount of time, you can see all the telltale signs of this rhythm. A prime example is Part Three of my “The Story Behind an Image” series. Where I share how I shot “My 11 Year and 16 Aviation Event Shot”. Each part of this rhythm is clearly shown from beginning to end. And I posted it back in June of 2017, 6 years before I wrote this post.
Since I returned to spotting around DTW, I’ve been shooting from the parking lot of the Marriott Hotel off Wick Road. It’s a well-known and pleasant location for catching arrivals on runway 22 right. But there are two airliners I want to capture that always land on 22 left. The first is Lufthansa 442 from Frankfurt, which is a Boeing 787-9. And the other is Air France 378 out of Paris, she’s an Airbus A350-900. Unfortunately, from the Marriott parking lot, both of these arrivals are just too far away to get a decent shot of. So, I turned to my know-it-all friend, Google. I searched “spotting around DTW” and came across “Spotter guide.net”. To my surprise, I found a location where I could capture arrivals on approach to runway 21 left. From all places, an abandoned gas station at the corner of Middlebelt and Goddard Road.
My Spotting map of DTW
During the extended Easter weekend, I challenged myself to chase these two European girls and get some images of them both. The Lufthansa Dreamliner is going to be first. She’s scheduled to arrive around 1:25pm. During the drive down, was a bit worried about the location. How close is the flight path? Will I get hassled by airport security, local police or some overly nervous passersby? Yes, it happens. I exited I-94 at Middlebelt, headed south and easily found the abandoned station. Was greeted with a good omen, another spotter was already there. I pulled into the derelict station and parked a respectable distance from the spotter so I’m not blocking their view of the flight path. I geared up, camera on, check setting, started up Flightradar24 and start tracking that Lufthansa Dreamliner. I got there about an hour before she was scheduled to arrive. There were a few arrivals before she graced us with her presents. A CRJ, a couple of A320s and a A330 from Amsterdam, all Delta airlines.
It was like a spring southern Californian day in Southeast Michigan, not a cloud in the sky, temperature was in the low 60s and winds were out of the south. As for shooting location, the sun is at your back from sunrise to about 4 or 5ish. By then the sun is parallel to the runway and starts to backlight the arriving flights until sunset. Which I was a bit worried about the lighting conditions for the Air France Airbus. She arrives much later, 6-6:30pm. But soon enough that attractive young lady from Germany was here and I was ready for her. The Canon 90D shutter blasted away like a machine gun as she effortlessly floated through the crystal-clear blue sky.
“The young lady from Germany”
It wasn’t until the following Wednesday that conditions were right for capturing the Air France A350. For her, I busted out my full-frame 50-megapixel Canon 5DSR. Which doesn’t have the advantage of the 1.6 crop factor of the 90D. Which makes my 100-400mm Mk2 when on the 90D into a 160-640mm. As I said earlier, from the abandoned gas station at the time she’s scheduled to arrive, the sun will be on the opposite side of the runway that I’m shooting from and backlighting her as she lands. My plan is to go to the abandoned station about 40 minutes before she arrives and see how the lighting conditions are. If it is manageable, I’ll stay and shoot. But if it sucks, I’ll jump on Google Maps and try to find a place to shoot from with the sun at my back.
I got there early, and the lighting conditions were as I feared, backlit. I shot a few arrivals before jumping into Google Maps. Thankfully, I found a visitor parking lot north of the airport which I would be facing East with the sun behind me but wasn’t sure how close the flight path to 21 left was. With about 20 minutes to spare at the visitor’s lot waiting for the next arriving aircraft. The first thing that passes by is a tiny Embraer Phenom that looks about all of 20 pixels in length through the viewfinder. And my thoughts instantly jumped to do I need to get closer? If so, where can I go? And can I find a new spot before the French A350 gets here? Or do I bite the bullet and go back to the backlit abandoned gas station? FUCK! Thankfully the next three arrivals calmed my racing negative thoughts. A Delta 737, a Frontier A320 Neo and a UPS 757. All filled up the frame more to my liking. Then right on time, that elegant French girl showed up. The 5DSR shoots noticeably slower but I managed to get the shot I was after. I’m going to return with the cropped sensor 90D and see if the extra focal length helps.
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
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.
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.
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.