Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Always Wanted......and got (almost all)...

Weather in South Florida has most certainly not been conducive to photography. The mornings have a very harsh hot light, then the clouds roll in and it's a wet lunchtime, afternoon and evening. Hopefully this is going to change soon - it's the longest pattern of this type of weather that I have seen since I moved to Florida. So, I thought about a question, got my own answer and then contacted some of my photography friends and here are the results.

The question:

“What has been the hottest shot you have always wanted to get, actually got and why?”

My answer was a very easy answer. Ever since Delta (and it's sometime subsidiary, Song) rolled out the Breast Cancer Awareness aircraft, I always wanted it in my collection. Because of some scares with that exact issue in my family, it made it all the more important. I was always stalking the flight tracking sites searching for that single registration N610DL. When she was in her Song colors, I saw her from a distance while I was driving - cursing for missing her. Finally, one day, I happened to be working from home. By this time, ACARS searches had become a reality and it was easier to track where the registration was flying. I happened to go onto one ACARS search engine, typed in the registration, and there was a flight plan for that day. I did a real double take when I saw KPBI in the listing - finally, she was back in my area, and it would be over lunch time. I got to the airport spotting area with plenty of time to spare and with camera eye-piece glued to my eye, started shooting as she was on her take off role and took to the air. After getting home and looking at the results, I finally had that one perfect shot for myself - "Pinky" in all her glory.

Phil Derner, founder of, my favorite website wrote the following.

Before I got my first DSLR, I've been watching the skies for a several years, planning my shots before I knew if/when I'd ever even get a camera. In the Spring of '04, I got a Canon 10D and went to work.

One of those hopeful shots was an LGA sunset shot with a Delta 767.I knew a spot that I could perch myself up on to line myself up with La Guardia's runway 13/31, and I waited until the end of June/early July so that the sun was setting as far up north on the horizon as it would to be behind planes departing toward me on rwy 13.

My variables were the weather, runway usage and Delta 767 schedule, as they were the only airline that operated the larger 767 at LGA, and I needed a sizable aircraft as I'd be pushing the limited of my 100-400mm lens. I spent two weeks monitoring cloud coverage and LGA ATIS until July 8, and I made sure I was ready. The sun was fading fast and the 767 to ATL was taxiing out slowly. It finally turned onto the active and came towards me. I fired off a few shots and only one came out properly exposed because of the varying sunset light intensities. I knew I had the shot I wanted and I had a big grin on my face the whole way home.

Looking back, the quality isn't the greatest on the shot. I wish the shadows were darker, that there was less grain and that it was a tad more crisp. Regardless, I can still feel the warm air from that day and how excited I was, and I'm still proud of the shot.

Another shot that I had planned for a while was of an American 737 against a larger NYC skyline. I had grown up playing on the College Point shore overlooking La Guardia and in my photo-planning, I knew that I could get a runway 31 arrival at LGA passing right in front of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings if I worked it all out properly.

There were several challenges here. First I had to find the specific shoreline spot that offered me the right angle and aircraft height in the glideslope that layered the buildings into the frame just so. Some of the shoreline was at sea level, and some spots were on high cliffs 25 feet above the rocks. The other issue was sun position; I needed a very clear day in the Spring when the sun rose further to the north and crossed the sky slowly, because nothing larger than a regional jet arrived until 9:30-10am, and that was also about the time that aircraft became backlit, potentially ruining my chances.

I chose the 737 because it's a little smaller than the 757, which would allow for a tighter shot against the skyline which was a bit in the distance from my shoreline, allowing it all to fit just right.

May 29 of 2004 was the day for this one. Weather and runway usage working in my favor, I picked my spot and hoped that any AA737s that came in were not too high or too low, and I got one that did just what I'd hoped. I knew I had created what I envisioned.

I have many photos that are of better quality, more crisp, better colors, more "alive", but this is still my flagship photo. American Airlines, my city skyline, taken from my town. Doesn't get much better for me.

Adam Trilling wrote:

I'm not sure this qualifies as "always wanted to get", but the story of how I spent a whole weekend trying to get a usable shot of N106US might be's definitely my hottest shot.
Thursday afternoon, about 3:30 PM. I'm at work, and we start hearing rumors that there's a plane in the Hudson. At that point, nobody really knew what kind of plane it was. My co-workers, who know what I do in my spare time, were all asking why I was still at work instead of running out to take pictures. There was a simple reason why: my camera was at home. After a couple of hours, I found out that the plane had been moored near Battery Park. The chase was on.
On Thursday night, the plane was indeed there, but the entire surrounding area was roped off by the police. I went across the river to try to get a better view.
The next morning, I tried again. The plane hadn't moved, and the surrounded area was still roped off. So, again, I took a trip across the river, and learned a very interesting lesson...heat haze can be a serious problem even when it's 12 degrees outside.
Various emergency authorities spent most of Saturday trying to get the plane out of the water without breaking it. Not an easy thing to do :) They didn't make much progress...they finally got the plane out of the water and on to a barge well after midnight, and well after most of the spotters had given up and gone home. Sunday morning, it was fortunately much warmer outside. The plane was on a barge, and there was a much smaller area roped off, but I still couldn't get a clear shot from the Manhattan side, so one more trip to New Jersey. As it happened, I ran into Moose, who gave me a ride.
Finally, I got my shot.

And finally, Andy - is still searching for the shot...

I would say the shot I will always lust after will be "the one that got away" from me, Wunala Dreaming arriving on 31R at JFK during a perfect sunset. We were spotting at Firestone and were approached by one of the Nassau County PD's least finest officers who became very aggressive and practically ordered us to leave, lest he pursue "further investigation" against us. We left and I drove some fellow spotters back to JFK to catch the airtrain, when who shows up landing on 31R in this gorgeous golden sunset lighting? Yup, Wunala Dreaming. There were hearts breaking in that car, lol, but especially mine because now that I live in Atlanta, I have no hope of getting a shot of Wunala unless I head to LAX. It will be a shot I will long seek again, but will likely never have.

Here is Wunala at JFK - sorry Andy, I had to post a shot (credit for the picture to Eric - another of our website crew).

Thanks to my friends for their input - all are great photographers and even more, great friends. Hopefully, the weather in South Florida is going to improve soon - the lucky guys in New York have been getting tremendous weather. I need to get out shooting again...the shutter finger is itching.....