Many of my recent posts have involved aircraft operating from SFO. One of the restrictions SFO has is that, being bounded by water means there are limited opportunities to vary your shooting angles. One thing I was ken to try was an overview of the field. Driving along I-380, you are up on the ridge looking down to the airport and you are almost directly in line with the east/west runways. I thought that there must be somewhere accessible where you could get a similar view.
I checked with a guy I know who lives locally to see if he had any ideas. He had already beaten me to it and had shot just what I was thinking about a couple of years before. He suggested an area that might be suitable so I headed out. I found a location with just the sort of view I was looking for. The air was relatively clear so the shots of the field were quite good with one exception. At this range, the heat haze is really difficult. You are a long way out and everything between you and the airport is developed and has a lot of warmth rising from it on a nice day. However, even knowing this, I still thought the difference the shot provided was worth the effort.
I was extra lucky in that I met a bunch of guys working on a car in the driveway of one of the houses on the street I chose. They were a good bunch and a lot of fun to hang out with so the infrequent nature of departures on that runway was compensated for by having people to pass the time with. The shots here are a few that I got. The aircraft continue on a pretty straight departure route so they end up passing almost directly over you.
I would like to try shooting here another time. Later in the day with softer light and – hopefully – less heat haze would be good. The location might also be good for the multiple exposure type shooting I have done at Coyote Point. After dark would also work well to generate some light trails. Lots to think about for future shoots.
They were hunting – not me! I was hunting too but it was a plane I was after. However, since there was time before the plane arrived, I was able to watch a pair of egrets busily feeding. They are hungry birds! They didn’t always catch something but their success rate was high and then it was straight back to the next fish.
Watching them stalk through the shallows and then strike at their target was a lot of fun. The speed of the entry is impressive and then to see the fish in their mouth before it is swallowed is a sign of a job well done. With the water so calm, they also made for some very symmetrical shots.
I mentioned in a previous post that one of the few remaining passenger operators of MD-11s is KLM and they are currently bringing the jet into SFO on alternating days. I had previously missed it because the day I was there was the day that the A330 was running the service. I wanted to make an effort to see the jet since you never know how long it will be before the opportunity is gone. The draw-down of the fleet is underway but they can change routes with little warning. Therefore, I decided to make the trip.
This time it was a quick visit. We were heading over to the peninsula for other reasons so I persuaded Nancy to allow me to make the diversion. Since tracking flights is now so easy, there was little element of chance in this. We knew when the jet was coming so I didn’t need to make her wait long.
Sure enough, the MD-11 came into view overhead as it made the pass before coming onto the approach. There was some limited visibility out on the bay but the light was fine for the landing shot and I was happy with the result. I got a few other shots while I was waiting and then it was back to our previously arranged schedule. Glad to have shot this aircraft before the opportunity finally disappears. At least FedEx will keep using them for a while to come.
One idea that Paul had was for us to have a go at shooting some light trails at SFO after it got dark. This sounded like a good plan. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any tripods or cable releases with us. No matter. Target was around the corner so we popped in there and bought a couple of $15 specials. Hmm, these were quality items indeed. Given how much a good tripod costs, can you imagine what a $15 tripod is like?
However, we made the best of it. Getting perfect alignment was tricky so some post processing cropping to level stuff up would be required. The camera wobbled a lot on the tripod when touched so I chose to trigger it with the shutter button on a 2 second delay. This allowed some wobbling to stop and, on a long exposure, any lingering wobble would be lost.
We got some stuff but it wasn’t brilliant. However, a short while later, I had to go to SFO to pick up some family members arriving on an evening flight so I decided to go a little earlier and try again, this time with some more appropriate kit in the form of a decent tripod and a cable release. This time, I was able to control things a bit better and get a few shots of interest. There wasn’t a huge amount of traffic so I didn’t get too many trails but I did get a slowly taxiing British Airways 747 which left an interesting smear across the frame.
The alignment with the moving planes is not fantastic from where I was but it was okay. Coyote Point looks like it might be better but I think it closes at sunset so I’m not sure whether that will be possible or not. We shall see.
My friend Paul was in the area for work and we had a day to go out and shoot some aviation. We had a couple of options that we considered and one that we tried but that was not looking too productive so we ended up having a trip to SFO. With plenty of time to play with, we shot from a couple of locations. We started out at Coyote Point which is great early in the day when the light is good and also provides good light looking down the approach towards the runways.
Later we moved across to the bayshore area near the airport where you can get better views of the traffic on the airfield including the landings. The problem here can be that the distance, even on a coolish winter day, can result in some heat haze issues. These can be exacerbated by aircraft holding for departure when their exhaust plumes are in front of what you want to shoot.
There were a few things that we wanted to catch and then plenty of time between to take it easy, go and get something to eat or just chat about what we had been up to. The Air New Zealand 747 is now a rare beast so catching that was worthwhile. Cathay are also bringing theirs in which I can’t imagine will be the case for too much longer. We had hoped for the KLM MD-11 which is a rarer beast yet but, unfortunately, it alternates between an MD-11 and an A330 and that day was the A330 day.
The other thing to try and get at SFO is the parallel approaches. The two closely spaced runways can be used simultaneously and you can have two large aircraft coming down the approach in formation. Usually there is a bit of an offset but every once in a while, they are right alongside each other. Trying to get this is one of the goals. There were a few when I got them further out which made them appear closer than they were. Sadly, one approach was the Emirates 777 with a Gulfstream right next to it. I didn’t realize in time and was shooting with too long a lens. The 777 is fine but the Gulfstream was cut off so I blew it. At least Paul got the shot so we do have a record.
On my way home I wanted to stop into SFO to get something specific. JAL operates their new 787s into SFO and the daily arrival is around 4pm. I had seen a few shots from people catching it coming in and had been planning to try and get it for a while. This was a good opportunity since the weather was looking nice. I got there slightly ahead of time and just in time to catch an EVA 777 coming in.
It was a quiet time at SFO so I was able to relax and watch the activity along the shoreline between arrivals. A few departures looked interesting but the light was too far round to get a decent shot of anything that wasn’t departing from the 28s. A few heavies did go from there and I made sure to shoot them for practice.
The JAL 787 showed up as planned and so I got my shots. I was a little unsure about lens choice. SFO is a place where the 500mm can be very useful but it is too much for the longest aircraft when they are abeam you. The 787 is a deceptive aircraft that looks smaller than it really is so I was a little unsure as to whether to risk the long lens and miss the shot. I started out with the 100-400 which was fine for the part where it crossed the threshold and the aircraft holding for departure. Things looked about right so I quickly swapped back to the 500 and it was not too much. Good to know in future.
I was about to head home after the arrival when I looked up and saw a four engine jet passing over heading to the approach. A quick check on Flightradar24 confirmed it was a Swiss A340 so I figured I could manage ten more minutes. Once it was on the ground, a Virgin and BA 747 pairing were taxiing out. The Virgin jet went off 01 so was not well lit from my side and the BA jet spent so long taxiing it was clear the sun would be below the hills before it got going so I called it a day.
The head on shots weren’t the only ones I got at SFO. Rather than go to Coyote Point, I decided to hang around by the Bay near the airport. Here you don’t get as close to the aircraft but you do get to see them land and also hope for a parallel approach or two. One problem with being further away is heat haze.
I thought I might be okay on this trip. It wasn’t particularly warm (although the sun was out) and the tide was in so, rather than mud flats between you and the planes, there was a lot of water which means less heat haze. However, I guess the power of the sun was going to win. Haze was a lot more of a problem than I expected and the shots are okay but not terribly usable.
However, it was nice to spend some time out in the sun watching planes so I can’t really complain. There were a few interesting things to see including the first JetBlue A320 fitted with Sharklets and a United 737 in a retro Continental scheme.
During a previous visit to San Francisco I had a go at shooting head on departures and wrote about it here. I also tried some head on shots at O’Hare and that made it on to the blog here. I was back in San Francisco for another project and the weather was a little better so I decided to have another go.
This time, the light was a lot better but there were other conditions to deal with. Nice weather tends to bring with it more heat haze. This was certainly true here since the aircraft are coming across a heavily developed area that radiates a lot of warmth on a sunny day.
Additionally, the wind was obviously beneficial to departures as a few of the heavies were going off the cross runway rather than coming towards me. This is a pretty unusual occurrence although not totally unknown. However, it is pretty frustrating to see the big jets going away from you when they are the majority of traffic you can expect. However, I did get a few corporate jets coming my way which helped a little.
Despite all of this, it was still a productive shoot and I got a few good pictures before the light started to give up entirely.
My day out shooting with Hayman was mainly an aviation themed event. One of the things I was interested in was looking for something more head on as the heavier jets launch out of SFO. Most aircraft depart off 01 and head out across the bay. however, the heavier widebodies launch off 28 and climb out towards South San Francisco. A head on shot of them coming off the runway is what i really want.
Hayman had a location which was halfway to what we wanted. You are a bit further from the airport and so they rise out of the surrounding landscape rather than seeing them come off the runway itself. The location has a lot of promise. Sadly, on this day the weather was not nice and, as the day was moving along, what light there was after the clouds had taken their share was fading fast. however, it was rather fun to see the 747s and A380 climbing out over us. Definitely something to try again some time. As for the runway shot, we shall have to keep exploring to find the right spot for that!