If you live in the Seattle to Tacoma area, you get familiar with the phrase “the mountain is out” or “in”. This refers to Mt Rainier which can be shrouded in cloud or out in the sun. As a 14,000’ mountain, it is the most obvious landmark around here. It also drives its own weather systems so the clouds on the mountain are always worth a look. Not so long ago, I was quite taken by the cloud development over the mountain which was a bit different to what I am used to seeing. The boat in the front was not helpful but I wanted to get a shot of the mountain so went for it.
My buddy Paul was visiting so we had a day out looking for some interesting shot opportunities. We started off the day at Paine Field before the sun was really up. A Dreamlifter was due in and we figured we would give it a try. However, as we drove towards Everett, the fog was pretty thick. The field is on the top of the hill so we thought it might be clear, but things did not look promising as we got closer. The low cloud was also blocking off the sun that was just above the horizon which, given that it would have been backlighting the jet, might have been a bonus.
The Dreamlifter came out of the cloud very late on the approach and I was able to grab a few shots of it as it emerged. It was a rather ethereal look as it came into view. The dampness of the air meant that the plane was pulling vortices as it floated across the threshold and in to the touchdown zone. Conditions might not have been the sort of thing that sounded good, but the result was a really cool shot opportunity. As the plane taxied in to park, we got more shots of it although there was one that would have been fantastic, but Paul only spotted it when it was too late and I didn’t see it at all. I won’t say what it was but maybe there will be another chance in which case you will see it here!
I was heading east for a work trip that needed an early start. We got airborne from SeaTac before the sun came up and turned to the east after departure. We were heading towards what I thought should be Mt Rainier. However, I couldn’t see the mountain. I could see a cloud that was above the majority of the cloud bank which I assumed was the mountain but I couldn’t be sure.
As we came around the south side I was able to see that the cloud was indeed once that was forming over the windward side of Mt Rainier. The east side of the mountain was uncovered and, even though the sun had not yet come up, the early light was enough to give a view of the mountain. I was using the M6 which is not so great in low light but, even so, I was able to get some shots of the mountain as the plane headed on its way.
The weather while we were in Jackson was rather variable. Our first day was pretty sunny but it clouded over and the second day had clouds constantly moving through. You would get patches of sun showing up periodically but it was generally overcast. As you looked to the hillsides surrounding the valley, there was hardly a moment when things were constant. Light might pick out the terrain briefly and then a cloud would roll in and obscure the view completely. There was always something different to see. Even though the conditions were not great, it was still gorgeous to watch the constant evolution.
No long explanation here. I was down at Lake Washington and the sun was going down so I took this shot with my phone. Just seemed pretty…
Damp and cloudy days are not always ideal for aviation photography but they can provide some interesting options. One weekend I was up at Everett when they were approaching from the south. The jets broke out of the cloud at quite low level but there was some light from the side coming under the clouds. The damp air meant that the jets were pulling some conspicuous vortices as they flared for landing. They were a long way off but it was possible to get some shots of them. The 747 produced vortices that were easier to see but the 787s didn’t do too badly either.
My afternoon of shooting at SFO with Hayman was a lot of fun. However, we were a little thwarted by the weather at times. Banks of clouds would roll in from the hills beyond the airport at odd times. Sometimes, there would just be a thin layer of cloud that was over the water but it would, of course, be just behind the flightpath of the jets. The sun might be on them but, with the cloud behind, a white airliner can be a lot less interesting to shoot.
Shooting at SFO is often about waiting for the international traffic. Endless Untied jets is not really that special but the widebodies from overseas are the ones you want. Of course, the weather can choose exactly those times to bring in more cloud. If the sun disappears for a moment, you can bet it will be when the Cathay A350 shows up or something similar. You just have to work with what you get and keep looking through the viewfinder for that brief instant when the plane pops into the sun through a small gap in the clouds.
The weather over Sonoma was absolutely gorgeous when we were out on the photo flight (when isn’t the weather great in Sonoma?). While we were orbiting over the county awaiting the second aircraft to come up to shoot, I was looking out towards the coast. There was a lot more cloud that was hanging over the coastline with the sun still above it. With the door open and a long lens on one body, I figured I should get a few shots of the coastline. It looked gorgeous from where we were.
Getting shots of vapor is a popular thing when shooting fast jets. An airliner on a damp day can also result in some clouds being formed. While shooting something special at Oakland, I was getting a few shots to make sure the light metering was working as planned. A Southwest 737 came in and, as it flared for landing, it had a nice cloud of moisture form over the wing. Normally these things pop up further out on the approach and don’t make for a good shot but this one was close at hand.
There are some aerodynamic effects that always catch my eye when I am going through images and one of these is vapor forming in engine inlets. The combination of lower airspeed with high thrust settings and moisture can result in puffs of vapor forming in the inlet, either continuously or, more often, as little flashes of cloud. The F-16 can often demonstrate this phenomenon when taking off although the formation is a little way back in the inlet.
On a recent Red Flag, the F-16s were out in force and, since it wasn’t the hottest and driest day that Nellis can provide, they were getting a bit of vapor to show up. Here are a few of the jets squeezing the moisture out of the air (even though it is the opposite of squeezing that makes it happen!).