Over the Runways: Photographing LAX from the Heavens

In keeping with my philosophy of creating memorable experiences and capturing unique images, I arranged a bucket list spotting trip to Los Angeles International Airport which many simply call LAX. Which has numerous well-known and outstanding spotting locations that aviation enthusiasts from around the world flock to in hopes of capturing their favorite airline. But what’s going to set my images apart from others? Well, I’m glad you ask. Based over at Hawthorne airport which is a quick 15-minute drive from LAX, is Star Helicopters. Which offers tours, flight training, and aerial photography. Which includes flights over LAX itself. Leading up to my trip I took note of arrival and departure times, via Flightradar24, of the airliners I wanted to photograph from the air. Next, I figured out what would be the most opportune time to schedule flights that would maximize my time over LAX. I then scheduled two flights on different days as well as at different times. This would be my first time doing such an extraordinary feat of photographing from a helicopter and my first time flying in one.

Star Helicopters is the only private flight operation allowed to offer photo flights over the restricted airspace above LAX. And has three areas to operate over the tremendous airport. One north of the airport overlooks runways 25 left and right, another south overlooks runway 24 left and right, and the area which I chose, is right over the terminal itself. Which from this perspective, I can capture arrivals and departures from both the north and south runways. Along with capturing the tarmac action and routines of pushing back, the loading and offloading of aircraft from such a unique position.

Orbit areas and viewing directions to the runways

Star Helicopters was gladly accommodating to help me capture the numerous wide bodies I was after. Along with during each flight, precisely timed our orbits over LAX so that I was facing the direction at the right moment to capture take-offs or landings of airliners of interest. The brief time I spent over LAX was priceless. I can’t put into words just how incredible the experience of photographing from that vantage point was. Looking back, the heavenly perspective, the abundance of stunning subjects, and the unseasonable clear skies leaves me speechless.

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From all the great spotting locations around LAX, I chose Clutter’s Park. Mainly out of nostalgia and the superior lighting conditions. The small park set above the Imperial Highway offers a spectacular view of departures using runways 25 right and left. The location does have a few obstacles but can be easily overcome with a bit of situational awareness. Along with my favorite YouTube LAX spotter broadcast from there. L.A. Flights, “The Home of One More Plane”, has always been open to their followers hanging out with them during their live streams. And I can’t think of a better way to spend my Saturday than to plane spot from Clutter’s Park with the L.A. Flights family. Heck, even Captain Ken, a Delta 757 pilot and frequent visitor/cohost showed up. Along with it is a great place to meet and talk to other aviation enthusiasts and photographers from all over the world.

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This unbelievable adventure has fiercely intensified the fire within me, that burning desire to continue exploring and expanding my world of aviation photography. The memories I’ve created during this journey will forever be etched in my heart, reminding me that the sky is not the limit, but a boundless canvas for my passion to take flight.

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A enthusiastic shoutout and tremendous thanks to Philipp from Star Helicopters for his amazing piloting skill and welcoming hospitality. I highly recommend any aviation enthusiast or photographer to check out Star Helicopters if you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable experience.

Until the next adventure,


Gear used:

Canon EOS 90D DSLR

Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

iPhone 11 Pro Max

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Miami Air & Sea Show

Chasing down a couple of European hotties around Detroit Metro

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.

“That elegant French girl”

For more of my spotting adventures check out this post, “A Rekindled Passion: Three Spotting Adventures at Detroit Metro”

Thanks for stopping by,


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