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July 30, 2006

Losing Our Love in the Upload Queue

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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Two photographers meet a Delta 767 at Planeview Park. (Photo by Tom Alfano)
Two photographers meet a Delta 767 at Planeview Park. (Photo by Tom Alfano)
Two photographers meet a Delta 767 at Planeview Park. (Photo by Tom Alfano)

Two photographers meet a Delta 767 at Planeview Park. (Photo by Tom Alfano)

Like many people in our hobby, I had an interest in aviation growing up, but I didn’t know the hobby existed until I received that link from Clark Palika. It was a hyperlink in an instant message to Airliners.net. After clicking and tooling through the photo database, I saw some of the first uploads from the earliest Digital SLRs from greats like Chris Sheldon and his 3.2 megapixel Canon D30. It blew me away and I was instantly hooked for good.

This was around the time when “Anet” started to tighten their screening standards for uploaded photos. Immediately, the message boards on the site became more of a place to vent, complain and seek help on how avoid rejections.

Airliners.net is what made aviation enthusiasm what it is today, period. It took a small stamp-collecting style hobby and made it a spectator sport that attracts over a million people to its site daily. Just like it did to me, it let people with a kindling of interest in aviation know that there is a hobby, a large following and a way to act on that interest.

However, being an aviation photography database, it naturally ended up teaching many people that the way to follow that hobby is by means of photography. The site being the only easily visible output for the hobby, it implanted something inside people saying that you can be successful at this hobby if you get photos accepted into the database. What a snowball effect that started.

Think of how many thousands and thousands of people have, in the past couple years alone, gone out and spent thousands and thousands of dollars on professional photography equipment…..for non-professional reasons. I dare you to find another following that will do that. Nikon and Canon both received millions of dollars each from a hobby that is still fairly unknown to the public, for people with no real intention to profit from it beyond personal enjoyment. Nowhere will you find a lineup of white “L” series lenses outside of a sporting event or celebrity award ceremony.

So with a way for people to practice their passion, and after investing all that money and the time spent learning and honing Photoshop skills, one can see why people would get upset and feel frustrated when receiving rejection emails from photo screeners at Airliners.net. It’s natural. Let’s not even get into the restlessness some feel when the upload queue takes longer than a week to screen.

Now granted, people have practiced this hobby long before digital photography. Whether it was jotting N-numbers in a notebook, gathering baggage tags and other airline memorabilia, or shooting slides and keeping your own collection. If you were lucky, you knew someone else interested in the hobby, or befriended a pilot pre-9/11 while taking photos and you had someone to share you slides with. But now….there was a worldwide stage with which to exhibit your efforts. It wasn’t something you looked at and tossed in a shoebox that would go in the top of your closet anymore. The passion had now graduated upon the emergence of Airliners.net.

As great as it was for the hobby, it also presented what I feel to be a bit of a downfall. Anger. Jealousy. Resentment. Frustration. People were feeling all of these things based upon which photos got into the database and which didn’t. People began losing sight of what they got into this hobby for. Instead of the chance to capture and share the beauty of aviation, it became a struggle for notoriety or approval at the hand of a volunteer screener halfway around the world.

As much as I upload and enjoy Airliners.net, it is not the be-all and end-all for aviation enthusiasm. Getting a girlfriend involved in the hobby was one of the best things I’ve ever done in regards to my love for aviation. Both reasons are something I think everyone can learn from.

The first reason was that I let her use my camera most of the time. By simply putting down the camera, I can truly take in the beauty of what I’m seeing. By watching through a viewfinder, you add a degree of separation between yourself and what you’re watching. I’ve walked away from historic moments feeling unfulfilled because I was unable to take it all in, as I was too busy concentrating on framing and keeping my hand steady, that it passed before my eyes without my memory recording what I was witnessing. A digital photo on my computer or 50,000 hits on “Anet” doesn’t fill the void of an aircraft or airline that I might never see again.

The more important reason is getting to share the experience with someone close. Developing friendships and bonds with the others that come out to the airport are what it’s all about for me…moreso than the planes. The best times I’ve spent planespotting were only that good because of the people I spent that time with. A plane formation with a Wright Flyer, an A380 and a 747 Advanced with a Space Shuttle piggybacking would not be as enjoyable if I couldn’t share it with friends.

Photo by Justin Cederholm

Photo by Justin Cederholm

I specifically recall September 7, 2003. I had a video camera at the time and I had just started really coming out to spot with the other locals. In fact, we had some out-of-town visitors in the form of Brian Stevenson and Justin Cederholm. We spent most of the afternoon at Boston Market near JFK, just shooting away at the 31R inbounds. Aside from the Concorde arrival, I don’t recall any of the planes that came in that day, but it was still one of the best times I’ve ever had, aviation or otherwise. The 15 people that were out were all sharing that passion. The aviation jokes we cracked were that much better because…who else would understand them? The look on Brain Stevenson’s face when we fooled him off the Boston Market line because we swore a 747SP was on final is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Remember last year’s La Guardia Kids Day and the BBQ afterwards? Or how about the day of the last Concorde? I could go on forever.

That’s why I feel so badly for the people whose motivation turns back to the photography and nothing else. Getting a unique and beautiful photo is an amazing feeling. In fact, I’ve done some of my best shooting alone. But the people that leave their home with the sole intention of getting better pictures than others for hits, popularity or their own personal gain within the hobby, are such a pathetic and miserable bunch. Those who seek to exclude themselves are missing out on the best thing that this hobby has to offer; Friendships that really do last a lifetime.





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