Evolving the Image

In my last post, I did a little walk through on the post processing side of the image. This post is on the camera side of the image. The image capture.

One comment that I get all the time from people, is they love how I make everyday things look interesting. It makes them see the beauty in the mundane. I think it’s a great compliment and I love it when I hear it. But with the right mindset and tenacity, anyone can make something look more interesting. There is no magic at play, you just have to keep working the image, and at the end of that process you will probably have a picture that will grab someone’s attention.

I’ll use a set of images from last weekend as an example. I was in Toronto dropping off Ellena at a trade show near the airport. Knowing she would only be 2-4 hours, I decided to stay nearby. As I usually do, I found a conservation area and headed in for a hike to see what I would find.

Well, that hike lasted exactly 11 minutes, and several dozen bug bites! I didn’t have bug spray with me and it turned into an all you eat "Dan Buffet", so I hauled it out of there pretty quick. Now back in the car, I was a bit discouraged and wondered where I would go, when I saw a plane taking off from Lester B. Pearson International Airport, or just Pearson as we "locals" call it. I thought, let's go shoot some planes! Not literally of course, for all the CSIS, RCMP, CIA, FBI, MI6, and ASIO personnel that surely read my blogs. It’s a figure of speech. Really, it is...

So I drove back towards the airport. Toronto Pearson International Airport as it is officially called is Canada’s busiest and largest airport. In 2018 it had over 474,000 aircraft movements, with a total passenger volume of 49.5 million people. This is what Wikipedia tells me anyhow. 

I just know it’s big, expensive to park at, stupid busy and a bit of a pain in the ass to fly out of. But, because of where it is located, it’s easy to get near one of its largest runways for some aircraft photography. Geek, I know.


On Airport Road, there is a Petro Canada gas station and a Wendy’s restaurant right in line with the airports' longest runway. It’s about 150 metres from the airport fence to the sidewalk on Airport Road, so it’s pretty close! Anytime I’ve driven by that spot, there are always photographers there with their big lenses, looking all cool and what not.

So I parked at Wendy’s, got a $1 Frosty of course, and made my way to the edge of the road. There was about a dozen people there some with kids in tow. Some had lawn chairs, I saw coolers, I heard tunes playing, I think someone even had a BBQ going! Now that last point may or may not be true, but it really was like being at the beach on a Sunday afternoon in July. I’m a rather introverted type of person, and that’s not my scene, so I took my Frosty back to the car and decided to work from there.

It’s not everyday you get to be within a few dozen metres of a 50 tonne aircraft roaring by overhead, but this is exactly what you see here. Have you ever seen videos of the planes landing near that beach in the Caribbean somewhere? The ones where the jets blow people, pets, and possessions into the warm salt water. Well this is like the colder Canadian, more polite version of that.

I managed to squeeze off a few decent shots between mouthfuls of Frosty. I got vanilla by the way, you can only get chocolate where I live. Ah, the wonders of the big city! The sky was a nice deep blue, and there were lots of nice puffy pillow clouds creating a good backdrop.

After a few shots from here, I knew I wanted something different, and I was done my Frosty so I looked around and made my way to one of the roads that branch off Airport Road. I thought a side view of the aircraft as they approached might be good.

Again, there were people here, more lawn chairs, only one kid though, but it was winning kind of loudly. There is a small elevated grassy hill on the edge of a parking lot away from the cries of boredom from the kid, so I perched myself atop that, and started shooting. I got a few planes from here, and was pleased with them. You could clearly see the airline name, and other details on the plane's fuselage. Nice!

This is definitely fun now, but again I wanted something different. I don’t want the same shot everyone else is getting. If a Google Maps car happened to drive by, that camera-ball on the roof would get just as good a shot as I was getting. I'm way better at taking pictures than some bald headed orb with eyes, on top of a small car. I hope I am anyhow.

This time I went on the next road parallel to Airport Road, where I could be directly under the landing path again, but without all the human distractions. I parked the car and got out, and this time there was no one there but me. That meant either the spot sucks, or I might have found what I am looking for.

So now I'm starting to feel it. The juices are really flowing now, my ears are ringing from all the noise, and I can smell a mix of jet fuel and burnt rubber. I look up and see a small twin prop plane coming in. So, I fire off a short burst and like the vantage point. The spot doesn't suck.


On one side of the road was a parking lot full of school buses, and on the other side was a 3 metre high concrete fence. A less than inspiring view, really. Regardless, I positioned myself with my back to the buses, and started shooting above the opposite wall, as the planes approached me and over the wall. 

The vantage point allowed me to isolate the plane in the sky with the nice puffy clouds beautifully. Then as they went directly overhead I could get some neat sunbursts when they flew right past the sun in the sky. I looked at the images and I could literally read warning labels on the belly of the planes they were that close! I thought, yeah, this is where I’m getting different shots!

Next I walked across the road and put the concrete wall at my back and waited for the planes to appear overhead, and shoot as it flew away from me, over the buses. There is some sort of landing light array, but if I cropped out the tops of the buses, it looked good.

Now I felt I had captured what I really wanted, something different. I still had time, so I composed a few different shots. I took a few pictures with the planes approaching as they lined up to land. I played with the focal length as they approached. Then I tried extreme close ups, shooting just the nose, or the belly or the tires. 

This is when I got my favourite images. Those unusual compositions, resulted in unusual points of view. Taking something we have all seen, and making it look more interesting.

By moving around, and continually thinking of different ways to see the subject, I managed to get some shots that I'm very happy with. Most of the pictures I got are everyday, run of the mill airplane spotting pictures, and that’s great. But the shots that people notice, the ones that make them ask me how I made it look so interesting, those are the ones that I want in my collection.

Happy shooting!