A had to go to Tokyo for work recently and, for the first time on my transpacific trips, I got a window seat. The low winter sun angle made the clouds look great out of the window as we crossed the ocean heading to Japan. I don’t know what was below us. It might have been the Aleutians or it might have been nothing. I just thought it looked pretty.
Clouds are not a rarity in the Seattle area but we do actually have lots of nice weather in the summer. You will still get plenty of clouds though and these can be nice to see with the arriving jets. A FedEx MD-11 was turning on to its approach over Kenmore when I was down at the lake and I looked up to see it popping in and out of the clouds above. It was pulling a little vapor of its own but the way it seemed to be peeping through the clouds caught my eye so I grabbed a few shots.
When you first think of Los Angeles, you think of sun and warm weather. It is true that a lot of the time, this will be what you get in Southern California, but it is not always the case. On the first day of my trip down to LA, I had intended to get some flying in. The weather had other ideas. The cloud base was low and waves of rain were coming through the area. Just when the sun came out and you thought it was okay, another bunch of clouds would roll in and, if you didn’t get under cover quickly, you would get drenched by some torrential rain. This does, of course, provide for a shot of LAX that you don’t normally get!
My trip to Rainbow Canyon gave me plenty of time to enjoy the scenery as the jets only showed up infrequently. It was a cool and clear day on the whole but there were some times when clouds moved in. This caused me some concern since I didn’t want to wait for a long time and then have jets show up when the valley was socked in!
Fortunately, the clouds did not get in the way of the main focus of the trip. We did get some clouds drifting over the valley far below us. We also got little puffs of cloud working their way up the canyon. One bank of cloud rose out of the canyon and across the ridge on the opposite side from me. I watched it drift across the surface gradually obscuring areas that had been clear a moment before.
Another small cloud formation drifted up the canyon towards me. It was an isolated little cloud and it drifted in my direction and floated up over the edge of the ridge and to one side of where I was standing before it dissipated. Then it was all clear again and I could go back to waiting for the jets.
This example is not going to get me to the sun from Seattle. It will head to Europe before it starts transporting passengers. I saw it during test flying activities as it flew approaches to Paine Field. The sun was out but the skies were stormy so it made quite a dramatic sight as it bashed the pattern at Everett.
They even were kind enough to fly a missed approach the first time to get a different view of the jet. Then it was around the pattern and back in for a second approach, this time landing. The dark sky background was only in the direction of the approach so the roll out shots were far less dramatic.
The stormy skies over the Island were very active in the Sandown Bay area. In the course of a couple of minutes, you could see the valleys on the opposite side of the bay have clouds wisp across them and then suddenly vanish from view entirely. They could be back a few minutes later and then gone again. The wind was blowing things through very rapidly. For a few moments, there were some great beams of light punching through the clouds and illuminating the water beneath. I was lucky to be able to get a few shots off before the clouds rolled through again and cut of the sun altogether.
My personal preference is to shoot planes tight. I like to see the detail up close and usually strive to get that in my shots. However, sometimes I remember that there is more to it than that and there is something interesting about the context of the shot. It doesn’t have to be a detailed shot of the plane. It can be a wider shot when no one is looking at the plane expecting to see the intricacies of its structure.
Having some nice clouds to play with is an important part of the story. Going wide when the sky is blue is not really going to add any drama. However, some nice puffy clouds will certainly be appreciated in this situation. In this case I was with some friends at O’Hare shortly after a storm had passed through. Things had cleared up nicely but there was still plenty of evidence in the air of what had been dumping water on us a short while before.
I doubt closer shots would have been much use anyway. With the amount of moisture in the air and the warmth that was quickly coming back now that the sun was out, heat haze would have destroyed an detail with a longer lens. Going wider was probably the only option. It was certainly worth it though. The texture of the clouds after the storm was there to see and to be emphasized in the shots. The plane provides a focal point to explore the image from but is not too important itself. You can’t just do this but, from time to time, it is good to fight your normal style.
When I arrived in Pueblo Colorado, the sun was shining and it was pretty warm. After our second day of testing, the weather had turned a bit and, as we headed back to the town, there was some storm activity over the Front Range. The road you drive out on is a federal facility so stopping to take pictures is not the best plan. However, once we got back to the more populated area, I did pull over and take a few shots. That night, there were some serious storms around us. I saw a few over the mountains as we drove but nothing too dramatic.
While out shooting the aircraft in the evening at Eagle Field, I also got to enjoy quite a nice sunset. The sky was turning a variety of lovely colors and, once the sun had dropped below the horizon, things really did light up nicely. Whether focusing in on a distinct part of the sky or going for the wider scene, it was a nice place to be for a while.
Moisture in the air is not always what you want when you are out shooting aircraft. However, it does have its benefits if there isn’t so much of it that everything is either obscured or gray. The weather conditions over San Francisco Bay can be very localized and, as the planes come down final approach, they can go through quite a variety. I was out hunting for Air Force One a while back and I got some good examples of this.
The weather at SFO was actually quite nice (although not when Air Force one departed as I have previously written about). The sun was out and the sky was pretty clear. In fact, there was quite a troubling amount of heat haze. However, once you got towards the south end of the bay, there was pretty solid cloud cover. The planes coming in were in full IMC for a good portion of their approach. Somewhere in the region between Coyote Point and the San Mateo Bridge they would break out of the cloud cover. Then, for the next mile or so, they were in the clear but still in very humid conditions.
The result of this humidity was a lot of vapor forming up over the wings. The low speed and high lift configuration made the wings a good place to get cloud formations as the moist air passed over them. Additionally, the trailing vortices were showing up well as a result of the condensing moisture in them too. For quite a while, each aircraft showed similar patterns as it descended. The widebodies seemed to be better for showing this but that might just be a function of them being easier to see further away when the effect was most pronounced. The closer they got to the field, the less the effect until it was pretty much gone when they were on final approach.