Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A photographers pet peeve - called - Epic Fail

As I sit to write this, the rains of South Florida continue to beat down on the windows of the house. This is the time of year that makes it difficult for pictures in this part of the world - continuous rainy days. So, I thought I'd devote this blog entry to the real pet peeve of a photographer -the Epic Fail pictures. In this day and age of digital photography, it's not so much of a problem as it used to be in the days of film shooting. There - you could not have the do-overs that we get in digital photography. But, they still are a pain when you think you have the perfect shot, only to find out later - the one you wanted is the Epic Fail. This really is a tongue-in-cheek poke at myself because the majority of Epic Fails can be avoided by really checking your location and conditions.

There are two main categories I place the Epic Fail pictures into - man made and nature. To start with the nature, the leader in this category is weather. While we know when the weather is bad and we don't go shooting, there is always the errant cloud or rain storm that can sneak into the picture and just when you think you have that shot....darkness - and all the editing in the world will probably not save the shot.

Just as clouds can be the cause of the Epic Fail, the lack of clouds and heat can be another cause. Heat distortion is the enemy of the photographer. It is really only discovered when you get back to edit the shots. There are the obvious heat distortion shots that you won't take - aircraft on an obviously heat distorted runway. But, those in the sky don't obviously show until editing, and then, when you think that you have the perfect shot....distortion lines everywhere...

The rest of my definitions of Epic Fail fall into the man made variety. This can be anything from an errant road sign to a tree, another aircraft in the way to equipment. Road signs are everywhere. Roads are all around airports - it's how we get to our photography locations. So, oblivious of location, you are panning some shots of an aircraft.....sign blockage...

In the same way that signs are on roads close to an airport, so equipment is all over an airport. This can range from baggage carts, to fuelers, or, and I hated this this week, machinery repairing runways and taxiways. Here I was, shooting the brand new jetBlue logojet, I get back to look at the pictures....and....Epic Fail....machinery.

The same goes for trees, that tend to shoot up around airports as well....

Finally, there are the two Epic Fails that are totally man and photographer made - but Epic Fails still. The cut off....

And the aircraft obstruction.....

The Epic Fail - something we always try to avoid, but sometimes can't.

There is one good bit of news for the photographers around the country - the first Continental retro colors jet is plying the airways of the country - we will all be out trying to get a decent non-Fail shot of her. All we need in South Florida now is the rain to go away....

Another week behind the camera lens over....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Searching for.....the story on special schemes

One of the more interesting sides of spotting and photography is the search for those special schemes that airlines have out there. What is a special scheme for a spotter/photographer - very simply put (and this is my definition :) ), it's a color scheme on an aircraft that isn't in the normal color scheme of the airline. These special scheme can range from something simple like affiliation to an alliance like Star Alliance (as shown below on a US Airways B757), SkyTeam or oneWorld to a specific scheme that an airline paints on a plane to honor a special place (as shown below the Star Alliance - Southwest's Shamu honoring SeaWorld).

Some airlines honor sports teams like US Airways with their series of NFL teams that are located at their hub airports - Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers (shown below)

Southwest, apart from the Shamu planes, has a great deal of other special schemes, honoring states (as shown below with the Arizona One aircraft), but they take special schemes a lot further. They have Silver One which represents their 25th anniversary and others in totally special paint schemes. However, they also name the standard Canyon Blue and Yellow color schemes with names on the planes - such as the "Nolan Ryan Express" which honors that great baseball pitcher, a decal honoring the Tuskegee airmen, the "Southwest Classic" decal that bears the registration honoring executive Colleen Barrett and things like "Adopt-A-Pilot" decals. That's the one thing about spotting Southwest - you never know what will come in and if it isn't an obvious scheme - only when they get close will you see lettering on the nose and the camera has to come out quickly.

One deviation from the "special" scheme aircraft is Frontier. What makes them so unique is that every tail on all of their aircraft is painted with different animals (as shown below with the Walrus scheme). It makes it very interesting to catch them because of the diversity of the schemes. However, you can make sure you don't go running out for each Frontier flight. A novel innovation on their web site Frontier Airlines is when you track the status of the flight, they will show the tail scheme that is meant to be operating that flight. Very rarely is it wrong - a little spotters trick I found out about!.

There are three other types of special schemes that I want to touch om. The first is one that I think is close to a lot of people's hearts and those are the schemes that honor special causes. Delta, American and Quantaslink (you'll have to go to Australia to get this one) have honored the Susan G. Komen Foundation with different breast cancer awareness schemes. The first to do this was Delta with a pink Song aircraft that with the demise of Song became pink Delta, or as she is known in our family, Pinky. For the longest time, this was the top of my hit list of special schemes until one very special day at Palm Beach International when I caught her.

American have pink sashes on several different aircraft types and they are always a prized catch. American has followed another cause of the soldiers serving overseas with a lone Boeing 757 with yellow ribbon on the tail. Delta also has a single Boeing 767-300 honoring Habitat for Humanity.

Next, there are the alliance schemes - I noted above with the US Airways Boeing 757 in Star Alliance. All the members of the alliance have at least one aircraft in this color scheme and they are always a great catch to get. Next was oneWorld with a single title on the aircraft of members of this alliance. American has gone a little further with this and have a glorious paint scheme for oneWorld on a Boeing 777 (N791AN), although I have heard this scheme is going to go on a few other different aircraft types. The last of the alliances to get scheme planes has been SkyTeam. Delta's first aircraft was a Boeing 767-400 (N844MH). I'm not sure if the scheme is going to go on any of their other types - I can only hope because N844MH only seems to be on international routes and if you can't get to JFK or Atlanta, you won't catch her. Continental is due to join Star Alliance last this year - I only hope they paint different types with a Star Alliance scheme.

The final type of special schemes that I want to note is the retro schemes. Airlines have been absorbed into other airlines, or old schemes seem to be a favorite. A large number of the worlds airlines have started to introduce retro schemes. US Airways have some of the airlines that were absorbed over the years, PSA, Allegheny and Piedmont (shown below).

American also has a Boeing 737 in retro Astrojet colors that is a great catch. It's rumored that Continental is going to paint 4 B737-900's in retro colors - I hope that going to be a reality as I'd love to get those in my collection,

Hopefully that gives a little insight into the special schemes that daily ply the skies - they are rare to catch, and when you do get them, it makes it some much more special.

Weather is still a bit of a downer at the moment - FLL has been mainly cloudy. Hopefully, it will get a little better over the next few weeks. Another week behind the camera lens over....

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Introduction to PBIA - Palm Beach International Airport

With the weather this week not playing at all with the ability to spot and a lot of things going on like my son's Pre-K graduation, I'm again forced to go to a back up topic. A little while ago, I gave an introduction to Hollywood/Ft Lauderdale International Airport - where I spend a great deal of my spotting time during the week. My actual home airport (about 10 minutes drive) is Palm Beach International Airport. This is where I spend my spotting time when at home - weekends and holidays.

The airport is located a few miles south west of the center of the city of West Palm Beach. It is bordered by Australian Ave which becomes Congress Ave on the east, Military Trail on the west, Belvedere Road on the north and Southern Boulevard on the south. There is really only one official spotting/viewing location and that is a viewing park very similar to the one in Ft Lauderdale. It is located on the south side of the airport just off the perimeter road that runs parallel to Southern Boulevard. However, I have also spotted in a couple of other locations and been successful in some good shots. From the viewing park, you look north across the main runway 9L/27R towards the terminal.

There is a smaller second runway (that is currently undergoing discussions on lengthening and widening to a commercial runway) that handles small propeller driven aircraft - that is 9R/27L.

From the viewing park, the typical pictures that will be taken will be for runway 9L, departures to the east, similar to this Continental B737-500.

Also taken from this spot for the 9L departures will be all the biz-jets (and there are PLENTY) of them at PBIA taxiing from some of the stands out to the runway.

Typically, if the operations are landing/taking off to the west, this isn't too good a spot as due to the usual heat haze that exists around the Palm Beach airport, the pictures suffer from the same heat haze. With the easterly operations at PBIA however, the viewing park doesn't allow for landing/approach shots at all. There used to be the most amazing restaurant located next to Flight Safety International that has unfortunately closed. However, the parking for the old restaurant still exists and I have had some luck, on quiet weekends in getting some landing shots from here, as seen with this Sun Country B737-800.

To the west of Military Trail as some roads that travel west/east and a couple of them run perfectly parallel to the approach for 9L. There unfortunately is no real place to park so parking for long periods of time is not really a possibility. However, I have managed to catch some quick approach shots from these side roads, as with this US Airways Pittsburgh Steelers logo jet.
As noted above, when the operations are westerly, there is no really good spot next to the airport that allows for decent shots. However, to the east of Australian Ave/Congress Ave is the Airport Hilton. It does have a lovely big parking lot and I've sat there for short periods of time to catch some arrivals, as shown with this Kalitta Charters II B727-200F (which is a frequent visitor to PBIA in November through May with the whole equestrian circuit that moves to the Palm Beach area).

The final spot that I have had pretty good success with has been on the top of the parking garage at PBIA. This is right above the terminals and affords good photography access to the ramps and the active runway. The only downside is that the photography window on top of the garage is very small. It can get very top lit very quickly and as with the westerly operations on the other side of the field, heat hazed very quickly as well. It does however tend to lead to some good opportunity shots, as with these three Delta MD-80's that I caught lined up one day.

A final note about PBIA - always expect the unexpected! A very frequent visitor to PBIA is Donald Trump with his Mar-a-largo mansion being close by.

But, there can be some amazing sights to be seen. Unfortunately no picture, but on a couple of occasions I have seen the large Russian Antonov AN-124 Ruslan's in PBI. Earlier this year, Vice President Biden made a weekend trip to PBI which brought in Air Force Two.

But, most of all, with all the bizjet traffic into PBIA, you can see all sorts of different types of bizjets - from the Gulfstreams (as above) to the old B737-200's

Hopefully, I've been able to give a little insight into PBIA and the happenings at the airport. Hopefully, this week the weather will improve a little for some shots at FLL and maybe even some back at PBIA and another week behind the camera lens will be done....

Monday, June 1, 2009

Air France 447 - RIP

I am not an expert - I am not a pilot - I cannot even begin to imagine what happened, what forces existed in those thunderstorms, what caused this terrible tragedy. There are a number of pilot blogs that I went straight to this evening to see what comments were posted. From all that are out there, I found a great deal of sense and straight thinking from Captain Dave's blog.

Our prayers and condolences go to all those affected by this terrible tragedy. Normal blog service will resume later this week.