September 3, 2009

Photo Phail

I went to bed early the night before, hoping to get up before sunrise to do some shooting. Mel stayed up after me to edit some photos she had taken earlier in the day.

She joined me in bed just after 5am, having fallen asleep on the couch with her laptop, as it was so named, on her lap. I’m sure she didn’t intend it, but I was awoken by her arms wrapping around me. It was about half an hour earlier than I planned to get up, but this was a more welcomed way of rising as opposed to the obnoxious alarm of my Blackberry.

The weather last night was clear. The TAF (terminal aerodrome forecast) predicted clear skies for LGA and JFK for the morning, and I only hoped that the runway configuration would end up in my favor, although I wasn’t sure which airport I preferred to attend.

My first shot was shot in monochromatic mode. Just one of the settings I forgot to change before starting to shoot.

I haven’t been shooting much until recently, and I was behind on photos of all kinds for new types and airlines to the area. Aerosur and Southwest are now members of the local team. Delta’s Airbus aircraft, A-320s and A-330s at LGA and JFK respectively, also were to be targets of my photographic hunt. Only runway usage would tell me which airport I would visit.

The sky was just starting to lighten, and as I looked out my apartment window, I thought I saw clouds up there. I frantically dialed JFK ATIS instead… “Ceiling two two thousand overcast”. [enter profanity here]

Regardless, I was awake, it was early, I thought I saw cloud breaks on the horizon, and I wanted to take some photos, so I continued to gear up, hoping that the thin clouds up that high would burn off at sunrise. I pulled the last battery from the charger, loaded it into my camera like a magazine into a rifle before combat and out the door I went.

Adding to my concern, La Guardia was landing on runway 31 and departing runway 4, while JFK was doing the opposite by arriving 4 and departing 31 Left. Though I could get some good skyline approach shots at LGA, no aircraft of any decent size would be arriving for a couple of hours, so I trusted that Kennedy would offer some tolerable morning arrivals, and maybe switch to a better config for me enjoy in an hour or two.

Down the Van Wyck, with my car smelling of the ham, 2 eggs, bacon and cheese sandwich I had stopped by a deli to grab, traffic was smooth, and I entered the gate at Bayswater just before 7:00.

I knew it would be somewhat slow, so I got a newspaper and sat down near the water’s edge to snack on my sandwich. No sooner do I see a Delta 757 coming in to 31L, making the Bayswater visit useless already. Additionally, operating up and down runway 31 offers nothing good in the morning light, and I sat for a minute anyway out of laziness before finally heading back to the car.

I knew JFK was a wash, and I scampered back to the Van Wyck, thinking about the 25 miles I’ll have unnecessarily added to my leased car. I wasn’t angry or upset, though. I just wanted to get out of the house for the most part. Even if no photos were taken, I knew I could be happy just by listening to some CFMs while I ate my breakfast and read about how poorly the Mets are doing, and David Wright’s new Spaceballs-esque batting helmet.

Delta MD-80 N910DE on Expressway Visual 31.

Delta MD-80 N910DE on Expressway Visual 31.

From the highway, I saw a Spirit A-319 banking on Expressway Visual, and decided to try my luck for those skyline shots, as an opening in the clouds to the east might actually afford me a little direct sunlight. Off the Linden Place exit, and a badass parallel parking job later, I was on the College Point shoreline, thinking about how I ripped my hand open at this very location almost two years ago to the day.

I finally had my camera out for the first time today, and I went through the settings. Mel had used this camera last, and I needed to change everything. I clicked my way to Av mode, 8.0, ISO 100, AI Servo, etc., which turned out to be the wrong settings for low-light panning at 400mm, as my first few test shots on some CRJ’s proved blurry at shutters of 1/20.

Tv mode, 500, ISO 200, a bite of sandwich, and I was in better shape. The light was simply not there, but I was at least getting recognizable shots. I wasn’t coming away with photos I’d be able to really do anything with, but I was shooting nonetheless.

Standing on the soggy shore over a half mile from the planes did bore me after a little while, and for some reason I decided to head back into the car and drive around the airport to Planeview Park. I apparently had felt the need to take runway 4 departure shots that are blocked by perimeter fence. Some sort of photo-masochism, if you will.

Ah, we meet again. The same Mad Dog that I caught arriving on the other side of the airport 40 minutes earlier.

Ah, we meet again. The same Mad Dog that I caught arriving on the other side of the airport 40 minutes earlier.

We’ve come a long way in the hobby, and I don’t think people realize that, though photography has been shunned on occasion at Planeview, at least the Parks Department clearly welcomes us now. This is indicated by the park bench they placed into the ground not 3-feet from the fence, overlooking aircraft waiting to depart at the Bravo hold line. I know it’s meant for planespotters because if you actually sat on this bench, you’re met with a view of bushes in front of your face; the only way to see anything is by standing on it, allowing you to see over the fence.

After 20 minutes and two MD-80s later, I admitted defeat, determining that I’d tried hard enough and burned enough gas and would go home. Creeping in the door so as to not wake up Mel, I sat at my desk and load the blurred, dark and barbed-wire-obstructed photos onto my computer.

Mel got up at around 9:30, comes into the room, and assuming I hadn’t left the house, asks “Why didn’t you go spotting? Crappy weather?”

About the Author

Phil Derner Jr.
Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has aviation experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He owns and operates NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation expert through writing, consulting, public speaking and media appearances. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.



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  • William

    That’s the worst feeling, when you know you’ve put a lot of time and energy into a trip just for it to be a waste. It makes getting the rare birds, like the Il-96 I got on approach from Costco a few months ago, that much sweeter.

  • William

    That’s the worst feeling, when you know you’ve put a lot of time and energy into a trip just for it to be a waste. It makes getting the rare birds, like the Il-96 I got on approach from Costco a few months ago, that much sweeter.