A composite image of airplanes at Phoenix Sky Harbor

WHOA Airplanes!

Bryan Snider Aviation

Sometimes as a photographer, I find myself wanting to tell a story in a single image.  However, telling the story in a single image isn’t as easy as it may look.  About a year or so ago, I shared an image called, “The Rhythm of the Urban Sky.”  In this image, my goal was to capture a landscape that showed how busy the skies were above Phoenix were.  While this made for a really cool light trails shot, you didn’t see the airplanes themselves.

“WHOA Airplanes!” License this Image

This image is the result of nearly 40 minutes of airplane spotting at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.  I took approximately 30 photographs, mainly when an airplane was taking off.  Some photographs have more then one airplane in the shot, while others were just a single airplane.  Each image was captured with the exact same composition thanks to placing my camera on a tripod.

While you see several airplanes in the photograph, not all were used.  The reasoning behind this is simple.  Believe it or not, I had a few airplanes that right on top of the other.  So I had to chose which one I wanted to see, because one hid the other.  I also had more airplanes on the ground taxing to chose from, but because of the complexity, I only kept a few.

Finally, as a pilot myself, I can’t help but notice how the image tells the story and complexity of an airplane take off.  Contrary to popular belief, a bigger airplane doesn’t always need “more runway” to take off.  There are a lot more factors involved including destination (how much fuel is onboard), passengers, engine power, and weather.  If you look closely, some of the biggest airplanes I captured are on the top left which means they used less runway then the airplanes that are on the bottom right.  In fact, one of the smallest airplanes captured is the US Airway Express CRJ-900 about half way up and to the right of Air Traffic Control Tower.

How I captured this Photo:

Gear Used:

Photo Inspiration:

As much as I would like to call my photograph completely original it really isn’t.  I got my inspiration from two photos I saw on PetaPixel the past couple of years but never attempted my version until now.  The first inspiration photo is a photo captured by Ho-Yeol Ryu at the Hannover Airport in Germany.  This photo is very impressive, but in many ways the photo isn’t completely real.  To the average person there may not be anything wrong with the image, but to an ‘avgeek” like myself, I quickly spotted a few airliners that were a bit foreign to Hannover.  Its almost as if Ryu was taking a more artistic approach to his photo, instead of a realistic.

The second photo that inspired me is called “Wake Turbulence” by Mike Kelley.  This photo brings airplane multiplicity closer to home.  This is a very impressive photo that captures several airlines taking off from LAX bound for destinations all over the world.  However, in order for the airplanes to appear perfectly placed on the photo, Mike states on his blog, “I took some liberties with the positioning of each of the planes in order to make a more compositionally interesting photo. True aviation geeks may say this is sacrilegious, but it makes for a more interesting and easy to view shot.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to rip either of these photo apart.  By all means, they were the inspiration for mine image and both very impressive images.  However, instead of trying to copy these two, I really wanted to find my “own” version of the photo.  For starters I wanted to capture my home airport, and I wanted the photo to be as real as I could possibly make it.  In other words, every airplane you see in the image was captured at Phoenix Sky Harbor during the time period I stated above.  I did not move airplanes around the image, and I did not change the angle of attack, hence the reason you see some airplanes on top of each other.