Business

Flying high: planespotters about favorite models

Рlanespotters about shooting in airports and avoiding detention, why Dubai falls short of Zurich and Osaka, and how to make a living out of planespotting

The very core of planespotting is quite simple: you have to like airplanes and to snapshot them. You can do it everywhere – through the window of an airport terminal, over the fence enclosing the airdrome, on the flight and landing strip, in the sky. Most popular web-sites for planespotters – jetphotos.net and airliners.net – collected more than four million photos and over ten billion views. Bird In Flight had a talk with planespotters from Russia, USA, Germany and Australia on the reasons they shoot airplanes.

Victor Pody Profile

Victor Pody, Australia

administrator and trainer

I began planespotting at the age of about ten. I think living under a flight path in Melbourne helped me with my passion for aviation. That’s thirty years of taking photos of aircraft.

I believe if you are friendly and honest with the officials at the airports you photograph at, then your chances of photographing there are stronger. One must remember to follow any rules that are in place at the airport you photograph at. My local airport, Melbourne Airport know my work and respect my contributions. I love my local airport Melbourne Airport and also have a soft spot for Sydney Airport. I have enjoyed spotting at SFO, LAX and now I’m on my way to Sint Maarten for a few days.

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I enjoy photographing from a helicopter: it is the best way to capture air to air. It feels like you are a bird flying alongside such massive machines.
My favorite aircraft is the 747. It is truly the queen of the skies. I also love the A330. I do enjoy photographing new and unusual color schemes at the airports I photograph at.

Christian Lachtaras profile

Christian Lachtaras, Germany

correspondent, Airutopia

I started planespotting around 17-18 years ago. Back then there weren´t too many Airplane pictures available – you were only able to find them in some expensive aviation magazines. So I did the most plausible thing – borrowed my father’s camera, went after school to an airport nearby and started to work on my own archive. My passion for aviation started as a kid. My parents and I travelled a lot and airplanes were always the most exciting thing for me while travelling.

I studied technical writing. Whatever I learned about photography, like so many other planespotters, I learned by myself. Reading in forums, studying books, read magazines and so on. My interest for aviation brought me into Airutopia – a company which produces aviation related documentaries or image films for airlines, news channels or strictly for DVD-releases. Many people ask me if they could jump in and work as an accredited photographers with a regular salary and get to fly planes. (I’ll admit this was also my original thought when I applied for this job.) But the truth is that around 70% of it consists of video editing, writing e-mails, making phone calls and writing narrations. Then, if you have time, you will do maintenance of computers, video cameras, tripods, hardware attending discussions and doing some additional training in editing software. Afterwards you’ll probably get and assignment to attend an airshow on the companies behalf or film an airliner from the cockpit.

I get to do some planespotting (which is probably not more often than once in a month) more for my enjoyment, relaxing in nature, enjoying the sun and the people. I have never heard from anyone in the worldwide community about making a living out of planespotting. Of course there are guys who do outstanding work: Tyson Rinninger, Eric Hildebrandt or Ioannis Lekkas, but as photographers they also focus on other branches.

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For me, a good picture has to be something you don’t see every day, something what you probably won’t even notice in real life: crews boarding their plane, views over great cities and places. I have a passion for illuminated cockpits at night. There are people who prefer only one sort of airplane, like only big heavy airplanes such as the An-124, B747, or they want only jet fighters, but I am interested in everything what flies.

Nowadays I’m shooting in airports as a hired contractor for my main job – if you have an assignment and you film within the airport perimeter, everything is pinpointed and prepared. Authorities, police and airlines’ security crosscheck your criminal records, train you how do behave in the airport tarmac, you attend airplane emergency trainings before a flight (just like the normal aircrews do) – so, you are pretty much «into the system» and you know what to do.

Back in the old days the system used to be much more difficult. I got arrested once in Athens over ten years ago – back then people could not imagine why to stay all the time around an airport and «just taking pictures». It was a regular thing back then in Greece – the Greeks were constantly afraid of spies, as their airports are used not only for civil airliners but also for military planes. The only thing I could do was to explain them what I was doing and why. They went through my criminal records, checked what kind of pictures I took, and by the end of the day they let me go.

Derek Hellman profile

Derek Hellman, Dubai

captain of Boeing 777

I started taking photos of airplanes when I was a teenager and in 1987. But my love for airplanes began when I was a young child flying over Midwestern America on an American Airlines Boeing 747 and I had the chance to see the sunrise over the farm fields below. The beauty of that sunrise caught my attention so deeply that I was in love with all things aviation from that moment on and was determined from that young age to pursue a career in aviation.

Of course in my early teenage years I was too young to do any work in the aviation field so I began taking photos of airplanes in Los Angeles when I was growing up. Every time I had the day off or even sometimes after school, me and a friend would ride our bicycles from our homes about 20 km south of Los Angeles airport to the to take photos of airplanes and just watch the action. There were some exciting times when they would taxi an airplane from the freight area to the maintenance hangar, it would turn a corner in such a way that the jet blast would catch us and toss our bicycles across the parking lot – like small toys. This was not only very exciting for us but increased my fascination with the power and beauty of these jet airplanes.


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I began learning to fly when I was 14 years old and during that I began using the airplanes that I was flying in as photographic platforms. That is why you’ll see some of my airliners.net photos include quite a few views from the sky looking down on either parked airliners or in some cases airliners taking off or approaching.

You may have noticed that there is a trend on airliners.net website these days featuring people who fly helicopters near the approach path of Los Angeles airport and other airports around the world to see the view of airliners taking off and landing from above. I’m not too proud to say that this trend was in fact my own creation since the late 1980’s when I would take such photos from my small airplane with slide film.

I never had a formal course in photography but I had quite a few good teachers for example. My mother was an avid nature photographer and she introduced me to the photograph hobby and gave me my basic skills in adjusting exposures and the proper use of lenses and films. I’m grateful that I was able to develop my skills when film was still popular and before the digital revolution.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a photo come out of the camera in perfect condition. Many of the digital photographers you find it today are more likely what I call «picture takers» rather than photographers – they take hundreds of photos and manipulate them in the computer environment to make them perfect. I still prefer to take photographs that look good just coming out of the camera – I am now using digital camera Canon 5D Mark III and various lenses.

As with any skill such as being a musician or artist your photography skills are sharpened best through constant use. So even though I fly an airliner for a living I still love to go to the airport either on my day off or even when I am down route at one of our company destinations to take photographs.

When I was still a student it was possible to make quite a bit of money by selling your photographic slides to collectors either at conventions or through slide distribution services. There is a lot more challenge to make money out of your airliner photography hobby these days.

When I was still a student pilot more involved in the aviation hobby it was possible to make quite a bit of money by selling your photographic slides to collectors either at conventions or through slide distribution services that used to exist. There is a lot more challenge to make money out of your airliner photography hobby these days because of the digital revolution: there are a lot more photographers that can take very high-quality photos because of the photo manipulation. Further there is no longer so much value in selling individual photographs because unlike when we sold our print film or slides, the digital photos can be copied without any loss in quality and therefore the value of each photograph is diminished.

Today the challenge is to take your photographs and make some kind of other product out of it for example books or websites where you can sell your art. Because the marketplace has become so crowded I think it’s very difficult to make a living from this hobby but I do have some friends who are able to use their digital photographs as a kind of second income.

I am a captain on Boeing 777 and I take some time each day while I am at work to appreciate the opportunity that I’ve been given. I also encourage my colleagues to appreciate that opportunity because when you have the chance to fly every week the job can become routine and it’s easy to forget what a special place you have in the world. On some of the routes I fly I have the chance to see amazing scenery from the perspective that very few people will ever experience. It’s hard to believe, but only 10% of the world’s population has ever been on an airplane: it’s very easy to forget about it when we are dealing with hundreds of customers every day and transiting through very crowded airports. It seems like the act of flying has become routine when in fact it’s still something very special.

After having spent many years in the hobby you get a gut feeling for which airports might be spotter-friendly and other airports where the risk of taking photographs is greater. Even at my home airport here in Dubai it’s quite difficult to take photographs in all the spots that you might like to because people are unfamiliar with this hobby and they become very suspicious.


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I like certain airports more than others because in some places they get an idea of planespotting. One example is Germany where the hobby is very well understood and they build special photography locations near the runway for people, who would like to take photos of airplanes. Another favorite location is in the Osaka Itami domestic airport in Japan where they have built a huge beautiful park along the entire length of the main runway and you can spend a very relaxing and enjoyable afternoon taking photographs with no obstruction in the way while watching young children play in the fountains and eat ice cream! Those crazy Japanese they sure do love this aviation hobby and it makes me enjoy visiting their country to do photography. In Zurich Airport they not only put up a very nice observation deck but also allowed photographers to board a city bus and ride around on the airport itself under supervision of course, to take pictures on a nice sunny day with beautiful mountains in the background.

My favorite photos are the ones that I have taken from the high vantage point of my small airplane. I like these most of all because they are challenging to achieve due to high speed of the aircraft and the need for a good subject to be in view which also takes not only skill but quite a bit of luck. I have a passion for taking photos of active airliners from a close-up perspective: you can see the heat waves coming out from the engines that represent the great power and awesome beauty of these machines.

Artyom Anikeev Profile

Artyom Anikeev, Moscow

employee of business aviation at Sheremetyevo airport

Aviation has always been fancy to me. About sixteen years ago I have accidentally got into the airport and saw the landing airplanes in a close up – I was superimposed. In 2008 a friend showed me the airliner.net website and right off the bat I realized that I want not only to look at these beautiful photos, but take them by myself.
At first I was learning from my more experienced colleagues, eventually my own ideas and visionary came around. Fortunately, mostly professional photographers were doing planespotting back then, so I got inspired by their fascinating works.

I choose locations depending on what I want to shoot, but there are some things you have to pay great attention to: the set of wind, exposure to light, taking off and landing of planes. You can get a rap over the knuckles for shooting in most of Russian airports, but if you are wise enough to negotiate with people, working there, you can assert yourself and continue taking pictures. Most of all I like the Sheremetyevo airport – it’s very «homey» for me.


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You can’t make a living out of planespotting, but I have never set myself an aim to. There is a very low call for airplane photos in Russia, but it’s quite possible to find people interested in cooperation on international web-sites. On the average I get about $400 per month by selling planespotting photos – it’s not too much, but a good cash bonus.

I snapped my best photo almost accidentally – during the parade’s rehearsal in the center of Moscow. I was on 24th floor of the tower building and was lucky enough to take a look at the sky through the lens of my camera just at the right time – the light, perspective and arrangement were perfect. In fact, it is one of my most popular photo on airliners.net, it was frequently selected for various exhibitions.

Alexander Karmazin profile

Alexander Karmazin, Almaty

photographer

I made my first ever aviation photo in 2006 – back then I felt as it was reasonably good. While looking through works of my more skilled colleagues, I began noticing serious flaws in my own pictures: light, contrast, sharpness and arrangement weren’t that good – I had to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

As distinct of fashion photography, aviation photography intends working with given parameters, when you can’t take control over the light or to turn the object the way you want to. You have only seconds to compose the shot, there are no second chances. There is nothing you can do but get ready and rectify your camera while airplane takes off from the runway. If there are some problems with light patterns you have to wait till the sky brightens. If the contrast is very high you have to wait till the sun goes down. The art of waiting is an extremely important skill for the aviation photographer.


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Airport staff has fellow feelings for planespotters; they often share our interest in aviation. But for airport security the person, who spent the whole day hanging around fences that surround the runway, evokes suspicions. In Paris’ airports you need to get a special permission from the local police authorities. In Frankfurt you don’t need anything like that; indeed they have four official locations where you can shoot from.

Photos that are difficult in terms of planning are my favorites. When the air humidity is high you can see the vortices shed by an airplane’s wings. If you look against the sun, you can observe the chromic phenomena that resemble rainbow. Photos, taken during the dawn, sunset or good rainfall are interesting as well. Pictures, that express the dynamics of movement, create a presence effect.

Each airplane model is very special, but when you look at the sky and spot the intercontinental airliner, you catch yourself thinking that it’s far more interesting to shoot big airplanes. If it’s remembered, that there are 300-400 passengers at the other side of the illuminator, and each of them has his own plans and destiny, you can indulge in philosophizing – these heaps of time can’t be wasted.

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