Photos from the Air May 25, 2012

July 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Steve in California | New Mexico | United States of America

It is 2 months since I posted anything.  I’m sorry, other things seemed to have kept me busy.  The next few posts will cover May through July and include Jamestown, CA., the Calaveras Big Trees, more Point Loma, and the U.S.S. Midway (CV-41) Museum in San Diego.

The first is from my May trip.  I had a morning flight home on Louisville to Atlanta to Santa Ana on Friday, May 25 on Delta Airlines.  It was a 6:00 am flight from Louisville to Atlanta.  I fell asleep on the plane and never noticed it take off.  The next thing I was aware of was landing in Atlanta.

I arrived at Terminal B.  My flight from Atlanta left from the new International Terminal F in Atlanta.  This is a long ride on the underground train and the last part the train slows down while it seems to negotiate some turns and a construction area. But we did get there.  The new terminal is bright, fresh, very large and has lots of open space with a very tall ceiling.  I walked over to my gate and found to my pleasant surprise a 1st Class upgrade waiting for me (my 8th in a row with Delta.)

I had nothing to do until the plane began to board so I did some window shopping in the new stores along the terminal promenade.  The first store was a large duty free shop with lots of things to tempt the international traveler.  I still walked about to see what they had for sale.  It only confirmed my feelings about duty free stores, they are generally no cheaper than other stores.  On the positive side you will sometimes see merchandise you don’t see elsewhere.

The second store I visited was a Mont Blanc shop.  Over the last 20 years the Mont Blanc line has expanded (at least here in the U.S.) from upscale pens to a variety of luxury goods.  I am always interested in their watches and pens.  I have seen their wristwatch line grow from 3 & low 4 figure pieces to high 4 and low 5 figure timepieces.  I wasn’t interested in buying, just looking.   The store was empty so the clerk and I got to talking.  I found out that store in the terminal was a duty free shop and couldn’t have sold anything to me anyway.  That was a surprise.  There must be some logic in establishing duty free stores, but if in-country travelers are passing through the terminal then they are automatically excluded from being customers.  Not a good marketing philosophy to me, especially for a luxury brand like Mont Blanc.

My upgrade was to a window seat in the 2nd row.  I pulled out my camera, put it on the floor, and went to sleep.  Again I don’t think I ever noticed the airplane take off.  I woke up somewhere over west Texas.

At this point I should say that shooting from a window of a commercial jet has some inherent limitations.  First, the windows are usually plastic.  They may be scratched, fogged, dirty, pitted, partly obscured, or have small stress cracks.  Some of these problems will refract or scatter the light causing difficulty with your photo.

Next, the window gives you a limited view of a subject.  The view offered by the particular window you look out of will generally cause some constraints your composition.  You have to adjust your composition to fit within these limits.  The window itself may be near a wing, or an engine, or both which may further limit your shot.

Another problem is the jet itself.  It is usually moving fast so you may have to react quickly.  Furthermore the entire attitude of the jet is out of your control.  It may not be moving parallel to your subject, it may be banking into or away from what interests you.  Disturbances in the air may make the jet bump or jiggle.  It could be that you may never see your killer shot because it is on the other side of the airplane.

The cruising altitude of a commercial jet will often be so high that the color spectrum of your shot will shift or seem to shift to the blue.  Or everything might be fine with the jet, but the atmosphere may be obscuring your light, partially, or completely blocking it.

When I travel coach I prefer an aisle seat.  That automatically cuts down or out any photos. But when I’m in first class, which happens quite a bit, a window seat may offer some possibilities.

I remember a great shot back in early 2009.  It was sunset over the California Channel Islands.  The sky was pink and orange, Anacapa and Santa Maria Islands showed perfectly.  There was only one problem.  I was on the aisle.  I couldn’t shoot over the passenger who was hogging the window looking at the view.

I remember another one.  Mt. Ranier in Washington was being backlit by the dawn sky.  It was quite beautiful.  As the jet approached the mountain everything began to come together for a good shot.  The plane approached at a good angle, the light got warmer and warmer, and my window began to show the mountain with no obstructions.  As I prepared to shoot some clouds obscured the mountain.  It happened very quickly.  We were in California airspace before the clouds broke up.

Offsetting all of the disadvantages of shooting from a high flying jet airplane are two important factors.  At a good window seat you will see things from a totally different angle than you are used to, and on rare occasion you will see phenomena you would never see on the ground.

My basic opinion is that most photos from an airplane may be interesting, but will usually be unremarkable.  On the other hand I expect a real killer shot once it a great, great while.  By my count I have been on over 150 commercial jet flights since the last time I saw something I thought was both extraordinary and able to be captured on a camera.

There are no killer shots here, but perhaps a few interesting ones.

I was on the south facing side of the airplane so these shots face south.

The first photo is Socorro, New Mexico.  Some of my readers are or were New Mexico residents.  New Mexico is one of my favorite places to shoot so I take photos of New Mexico when I can.

Socorro is a small town of about 9,000.  It lies about 75 miles south of Albuquerque.  Interstate 25 runs north and south through it and Interstate 60 meanders into it from the south and the west.  I-60 is an interesting highway.  State Route or California Highway 60 begins (or ends) in Los Angeles eventually merging with the I-10.  It was once an Interstate in California, but was delisted around 1972.  Now I-60 begins or ends in Arizona far from the California border.  It goes all the way to Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Most of its way across the country it is 2 and 4 lane road.

Traveling west from Socorro on I-60 is the Very Large Array of radio telescopes.  The Array stretches miles through the desert forming a large “Y”.  I was hoping to get photos of it from the air.  As we approached I got ready to shoot as the array began to disappear into what looked like a fog.  I looked up and saw it was a plume of smoke from a forest fire some 100 miles or more distant.  The fire was along the Arizona-New Mexico border to the south.  As we approached I could see the heat and smoke plume rising from the fire.  Here are 3 photos of the fire from about 38,000 feet.  The convection rise from the center of the fire is particularly noticeable.


I was hoping to get some shots of the Colorado River and the Salton Sea, but my viewpoint and the atmosphere left nothing to appeal.  That will have to wait for my next flight from Atlanta to Santa Ana in late July.

When we flew over the Coachella Valley I got a decent shot of Palm Springs, a well known vacation town.

Towering above Palm Springs is Mt. San Jacinto topping out at over 10,800’.  The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was put up the mountain some 50 years ago.  Construction began in 1960 & it opened for business in September, 1963.  The tram takes you from 2643’ feet in the foothills to 8516’ altitude stopping a couple of miles from the summit.

I was last up there in 1996 or 1997 with our Boy Scout troop.  We left Huntington Beach near sea level one Saturday morning.  By early in the afternoon we were at the top of the tram and hiking up the mountain with full backpacks to our campsite.  The next day another Assistant Scoutmaster, Norm, and I could hardly move. Walking felt like wading through knee-deep water.  I’m chalking it up to a low level attack of pulmonary edema.  We stayed back at the camp while the rest of the troop hiked to the summit.  I remember one of our Eagle Scouts, Mike was with us that weekend.  After the troop returned I was told Mike literally ran up to the summit.  Mike was always good for an adventure.  He is currently a Lieutenant in the Navy (O-3).  His career has included flying F-18s off of aircraft carriers.

In this photo you can see San Jacinto still has some snow in the steep canyons along its north face.  Beyond to the south & west is the famous Southern California “marine layer” of clouds.  This day the marine layer reached about 75 miles inland from the ocean to the edge of the Coachella Valley.

There being no other photo opportunities on this trip that was it for my photos.  I was in Kansas from June 3rd to the 9th with no weekend time and no photos.

The next post will be from late June and will show my visit to California’s Calaveras Big Trees.

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