Half an hour of spare time on my way back to John Wayne Airport so I figured a quick shoot of approaches was worth a shot. It wasn’t going to be the most productive of shoots but why waste an opportunity. There were some regional jets and some airliners while I was there but also a few biz jets showed up. The sun was getting lower so the light was a bit more appealing. Even so, just a few stock shots for possible future use. Two Alaska Embraers came in but they were from different operators, Skywest and Horizon. I know someone who has a preference there (David).
A rare arrival was due on a day that was not good from a weather perspective. It was dull and rainy and so not what you would hope for. Conditions like this mean I try to exploit some of the features of the camera and the processing options available. First, how to set up the camera? With the light being bad and variable, I went to a pretty high ISO level. I shot in aperture priority mode and added a lot of exposure compensation.
In my experience, the metering is pretty good when shooting against the sky in clear weather but, when there is a lot of cloud, the camera tends to treat the clouds as too bright and it underexposes the subject too much. I use a lot of exposure compensation in this case with a setting of +2.0 being used on this day. The reason I do this is that, aside from the exposure question mark, there is a lot more information available in the lighter end of the exposure curve. Shooting in RAW gives you options.
If you were to look at the aircraft at the time, you would see a dark and menacing sky but you would see plenty of detail on the plane. The camera does not see that for the original shot. The aircraft would be very dark. When processing, this dark area would give you something to work with but the variation in data would be more limited. Shoot overexposed and you get more to work with.
This approach will only work well if you are shooting RAW. If you are using JPEG, too much of the usable data will be discarded during the processing in the camera. To show you what I mean, here are two images. These are both from the same shot. One is the RAW file as it showed up when imported in to Lightroom and the other is the embedded JPEG that you can extract from the RAW file and which can be seen when the file is first imported before the rendering is undertaken. As you can see, the JPEG is over exposed but the RAW rendering seems even more so.
There is way more data in the RAW file though. Immediately, as I bring the exposure slider back down, the clouds go from being white to quite dark – just as they appeared on the day. Meanwhile, the fuselage of the aircraft has a lot of the data intact and maintains a lot of the brightness that you could see at the time. Very little needs to be done with the blacks and they are almost in the right spot by the time the exposure is good for the clouds. The fuselage might be a bit too dark though. A small tweak of the blacks and a little boost in the shadows to compensate for too much darkening with the exposure slider and suddenly the shot is looking a lot more like it did when I saw it develop.
One advantage of shooting on such a crummy day is that the sky is a giant softbox – in this case a very soft one! The result is that the light is a lot more even than on a sunny day. The darker look can actually make the colors look a bit more intense than if they were losing out to the whites when the sun is right on them. While there was only one plane I was specifically there for, playing around with these other shots and working on the technique was a nice extra benefit.
Medford is not a busy airport for commercial traffic but it does have some regular services. Horizon seemed to be the most common operator (should I call them Alaska now?). Their Q400s were coming and going quite often. Horizon has been painting their aircraft in a large variety of schemes, many of which are associated with colleges around the region. (My friend David who works for them recently shared with me just how many there are so I might start trying to get them all.)
One of the planes is painted to represent Washington State University at Pullman WA. I have seen this one before a few times but this time it was taking off while I was driving around the airport to see what was there. It quickly climbed away past me but I got a better look at it than I had previously done.
Alaska Airlines has a number of jets in special colors. My efforts to finally get the merger jet were covered in this post. One of the other jets that I never managed to catch in California was their Tribute to Service aircraft that is honoring veterans. My friend Roger caught it a number of times but I was always in the wrong place.
Alaska is, despite the name, headquartered in Seattle so their jets are regularly rotating through SeaTac. Shortly after arriving here, I saw that this jet was coming in and, since I was nearby, I decided to see if it could finally catch it. Sure enough, I got it. I would also like to point out the sun and blue skies in this shot for those of you that think I have moved to somewhere where it only rains. It’s true that it does rain but not as much as you think so far!
West Coast airline flying includes a lot of Virgin America. Headquartered in Redwood City, just down the peninsula from SFO, Virgin America has been struggling to establish itself as a carrier with a different level of service. It must have done well enough because Alaska got worried enough to buy it. They call it a merger but Alaska bought Virgin. Everyone wonder what will happen next since the fleets are totally dissimilar as is the customer service. Alaska repainted one of their jets in a new livery to celebrate the completion of the acquisition.
It is one of their 737-900s and the colors migrate from red to blue to symbolize the joining of the two. I have missed the jet on numerous occasions. I thought I was never going to catch it but finally saw it at San Jose. You are a lot closer to the flight path at San Jose which is good. What is even better is being there on the pouring rain when the clouds part five minutes before the jet arrives. Sadly, the weather closed in just as it took off again but the light was okay over the airport, even if it wasn’t where I was. Still, I finally got it!
Alaska Airlines makes a big deal about being an “All Boeing” airline (which I assume does not count the Horizon Q400s and the Skywest Embraers). With Boeing celebrating their 100th anniversary, Alaska put some special markings on one of their jets. I was wondering where this jet was operating so I could shoot it but I lost track of it for a while. Then, imagine my surprise when it happened to be at SFO when I was there for something else. It lined up for departure early in the day when the light was best. Thanks Alaska!
The step up in size that Embraer took when they create the E170/175 and E190/195 aircraft was important for them and it proved to be a successful move. Both types did well and have achieved a solid market presence. With a new generation of technologies coming, Embraer decided to go for a significant upgrade to the type with new engines and other systems resulting in the E2 versions. In line with that, they decided to tweak the current design to create the E1 upgrades. This turned out to be a well-timed upgrade as it came at a time when a whole bunch of airlines were looking to up-gauge their regional feeder services. Embraer picked up a ton of orders.
The speed with which these jets have entered the US fleets is impressive. Both United and American signed new deals for service with these jets and now you can regularly see their E175s feeding in to large airports. Alaska has gone a similar way (using Skywest much as United has) and their fleet of E175s is starting to grow. The E2 has now had its first flight in the larger E190 form but the 175 will follow in a few years. The E170 has been dropped from the line at this point. I imagine we will see even more of these jets as they will dominate this seating range which Bombardier seems to have ceded as they focus on larger jets.
There is not a huge amount of variation in airliners these days so coming across something a little different is usually a moment of interest. While the name Alaska Airlines might suggest an airline focused on Alaska, it is actually headquartered in Seattle and seems to have a wide range of operations all across the west coast. Consequently, we see a lot of them in both Oakland and SFO. They have a large fleet of 737-800s and 737-900ERs and both types have been retrofitted with the APB Scimitar winglets. Apparently, not all of them though. This example I saw coming by Coyote Point and it not only doesn’t have Scimitars, it doesn’t have winglets at all. A rare beast these days.
When an airline decides to change its livery, it isn’t too long before large numbers of their aircraft are in the new scheme and you start forgetting that there was ever a previous paint job. In between those two points is the time when you are interested in the change. Catching something in the new livery is of interest. Alaska Airlines has changed their colors. As an airline that is active in this part of the world, the chances of catching the new look should be good.
It so happens I have seen two of them in close succession. One was overflying me while I was out walking. There was a lot of wildlife on my walk so I had a long lens on the camera so managed to get a couple of shots. The light was not great and there was plenty of cloud so not a great shot. The next time was shortly afterwards when the conditions had become considerably worse. Torrential rain meant that the plane was pretty obscured by the rain drops even though it was not far away. Neither of these will be shots that get pulled from the archives I imagine as they will be replaced by many more as the planes get repainted. However, they were my first encounters with the new look.
In the past I have been able to get some reasonable shots of departing aircraft at SeaTac from the pier of the terminal that Southwest operate from while I am waiting for my flight. I was heading home in the evening and thought I would have little luck because the sun would be on the wrong side. Turns out, the sun was nowhere to be seen – this is Seattle so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Instead, it was raining (shocking news) so, even though the light should not have faded, it was pretty bleak. Normally, I would have thought this meant I would no be getting any shots. However, I decided to have a go anyway. Sometimes, the bad weather shots can come up with something a bit special. I did not anticipate getting this but it would have been frustrating to watch and miss something cool.
As it turned out, things weren’t too dramatic. I did get a few shots of the jets and turboprops as they headed out. Sometimes there would be puffs of vapor over the wings or clouds in the inlets but nothing too good. An Emirates 777 took off which meant a fair bit of spray behind it as it powered away. Sadly it rotated just as it went out of sight so the real clouds of spray were not visible from where I was.