News and updates
Tue, 26 Jun 2018 11:06:00 +0000Another spot gone (or How Not To Win Friends Or Influence People)The Thistle Hotel near Terminal 5 was always a good place to watch and, depending on the sun's angle, to photograph aircraft landing on 09L during easterly operations or departing from 27R during westerlies. They have a terrace with tables and seats and it was a pleasant place to sit and have a drink and something to eat, while indulging in our hobby.
Not any more. No, some idiots just had to go and ruin it for the rest of us. From what I understand, a gang of spotters came onto the terrace with pizzas and McDonald's and when - quite rightly - challenged by hotel staff for bringing food in from outside and not buying it from the hotel, then got abusive. I have also heard that a certain hobbyist film crew set up on the terrace and stayed hours without buying anything, thereby completely abusing the facilities.
When I've been at the Thistle - during a day trip or as a guest, having stayed there a few times - I have always made sure I buy something from them, whether it's a pint if I am not driving or tea/coffee if I am, or a pizza. The terrace bar isn't often open apart from evenings, but there's a cafe down in reception so there's no excuse not to buy anything. That said, the bar's opening hours could be better and the reception cafe isn't advertised on the terrace, but that's no excuse for anti-social behaviour towards staff or taking advantage of what is private property.
Not only has the spotting community lost yet another Heathrow vantage point, it's also gained a bad name, which is worse. It's been bad enough in the past with inconsiderate morons leaving litter in places such as the green at Myrtle Avenue or venturing onto the M25 hard shoulder (that has happened!) or onto the ramps to the drop-off area on T5 and so on. We're losing places round LHR as it is, without people doing stupid things or getting verbal with staff. If someone gets injured - or worse - you can bet that, instead of working with the spotting community - LHR (and other airports), will try and drive us away which, in all probability, will lead to people trespassing on private property or getting into dangerous situations.
That said, I wish LHR would work with spotters and not against them. It does seem as if we are just tolerated at best and treated as a potential threat at worst. They pay 'lip service' with a ridiculous bus shelter-type structure next to the Renaissance Hotel on the Northern Perimeter Road, which is completely useless for photography, because of the trees and light poles and because it faces south. Okay if you're one of those who collects registrations - which is of no interest to me - but utterly useless for photographers. Maybe LHR will incorporate a viewing area when they add a new runway but by the time that's built most of us will be old and, judging by the indifference they've shown us up till now, if it happens, then pigs will be joining the airliners in the four holding stacks. However, that doesn't excuse appalling and anti-social behaviour, such as that towards the Thistle staff.
Mon, 28 May 2018 11:36:00 +0000Social media 'dopamine'I saw a post on Instagram yesterday by Canadian aviation photographer Jan Jasinski in which he states there doesn't seem to be any appreciation of the work that goes into his photography and his editing and that people just seem to scroll on by without taking a real look at the photo.
He goes on to say that the faked photos (composites) and poor quality images that abound on the internet seem to get a much bigger success rate than genuine high quality images. Because of this he's giving up Instagram and the what he calls social media 'dopamine' (a very good description of the nice warm fuzzy feeling generated by positive feedback, and which I've stolen for the title of this post).
Jan has a point. In fact I completely agree with him. It's something I've thought about over the past few years because, to be honest, it is galling when you post a good photo but it falls by the wayside with few likes and no comments. I consider myself fortunate if I get likes into double figures. I decided a year or two back that I don't care if people don't like my stuff or I don't get many likes but, in all honesty, deep down (even if we don't admit it publicly or to ourselves) we ALL want positive feedback and our peers' appreciation of our work. That said, Jan's got around 47000 followers on IG, I have just over 1000! However, scale up the numbers and the ratio of likes to followers or likes to views is pretty similar.
Flickr tells you how many have seen an image and how many likes it's got and when you see that one of your images has about 150 views and a handful of likes it's a little demoralising. My Mt. Fuji photo (below) taken from Haneda airport is a good example. On Flickr it's got 132 views but just the meagre one like, so that's 132 people who've actually bothered to click the image to open it but, out of those 132, only one person has decided it's worth a like.
It's by no means a bad photo but it's the sort of thing that Jan Jasinski is getting at. It's a photo that took a fair amount of work to edit, as the mountain was near invisible because of haze, but people have obviously clicked the image, gone 'meh' and continued on down the road to something else.
Another example is this photo, taken a couple of weeks ago at Narita: 263 views and a paltry 15 likes.
I don't for one minute believe that it's a negative reaction to the person behind the camera, it's more like the modern Western human being has the attention span of a goldfish and acts accordingly. I've been guilty of this myself at times, being easily distracted (HEY LOOK A SQUIRREL!) certainly doesn't help. Added to that is the linear nature of social media and, also, the algorithms that mean the most popular stuff finds a way to remain on top while everything else gets lost in the deluge of posts. As the Americans might say, there's a low signal-to-noise ratio - i.e. the quality is drowned out by the crap.
What I do find annoying though, and it's something Jan's Instagram post addresses, and that's the amount of absolutely dreadful - blurry, grainy, out of focus, unlevel, fuzzy, under/overexposed and just plain crap - and obviously fake - oversaturated magenta sky, a giant moon that's been Photoshopped into the photo and so on - images that get loads of likes and comments, way more than the image in question deserves. I don't have an issue with the fake, composite images if it's clearly stated that's what the photo is; that's when photography can become art (unless it's a duff image to start with).
People will claim they can't afford decent equipment and that's a valid point but a lot don't make the best of what they do have. They take a photo over a vast distance, crop the living daylights out of it and then post it, getting likes in the process, but when called out on it then get defensive. Just don't stretch the lenses beyond their capabilities (telephoto end of the zoom from miles away) or crop away 95% of a photo from a 16 megapixel sensor, especially in poor light, because that's the road to rubbish images. With care and not extending them beyond what they can do (or the laws of physics) it's perfectly possible to take good photos with an old beat up DSLR and third party zoom lens.
Here is the original Instagram post from Jan.
Fri, 20 Apr 2018 16:10:00 +0000Thinning the herdSince being made redundant at the end of 2017, I've had a leisurely existence which is nice for me but not so nice for my bank balance, so in order to pay for other things I'm doing this year I have had to offload a couple of pieces of camera equipment.
As I use my D810 and D500 for aviation I decided I can live without my D750. Likewise the 200-500 lens. I don't want to part with either but, as 'they' say Needs Must. That said, my D750's most recent and final outing was to Düsseldorf at the end of March.
Mentioning Düsseldorf, it's easy to do in a day from the UK (sadly not from Southampton, I had to go via Manchester) and has a cracking viewing terrace which, although you have to access via a security checkpoint, you can take liquids onto. Even better is the airport bus tour, which is a bargain at €12.50 each, as you get views like those above.
A couple of views from the terrace:
Tue, 30 Jan 2018 15:42:00 +0000Heathrow and my 300mmI finally got to test my new-to-me Nikon 300mm AF-S f/2.8 prime lens at Heathrow during the first weekend of January. To say this is an absolute gem of a lens is an understatement - I love my Nikon 80-400mm zoom, which is by no means a bad lens at all and is extremely convenient for travelling, but when you look at the RAW files from each lens you can certainly see the difference with - as you'd expect - the prime winning hands down for sheer image quality. The images below are NOT sharpened. The 300mm was on my D500, which is a DX crop sensor, so the 450mm equivalent field of view was a bit small for Myrtle Avenue and the A30 near Cains Lane.
That was a piece of luck passing the camera shop that Saturday morning in November...
Sat, 30 Dec 2017 14:32:00 +0000Favourite photos of 2017
Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:36:00 +0000I swear it was just five minutes since the last one...There goes another year, and it seems that years are going by faster and faster and are increasingly just blurs punctuated by Christmases.
2017 wasn't bad for travelling and I got to visit a couple of new countries, namely Japan and Ukraine (the latter was to visit Chernobyl - I'm interested in physics and all things nuclear, so when I got the chance to go, I took it...but I did manage to get a couple of shots from the terminal at Kiev Boryspil) as well as my usual trips to Manchester, Amsterdam and a couple of visits to Heathrow.
2017 is ending on a slightly crap note, as there has been another round of staff cuts at work and I haven't escaped this time. This Friday will be my last day and, as I was only told this immediately prior to the Christmas break, I've not had a chance to look for anything else yet. Talk about shit timing. The fat cat shareholders will probably still get their inflated dividends though.
2018 looks as if it will go along in the same vein as 2017, I am going to Dusseldorf via Manchester in March and Japan again in May. I want to do photography at NRT and HND of course but I also want to do a few other things like visit some shrines, temples, interesting bits of the city, all stuff I didn't get a chance to do this year. I'll only have 8 clear days so I'll probably go no further than Tokyo.
Hopefully 2018 will bring a new job, more travels and a weight loss regime that I will actually stick to (including cutting down on beer). Oh, and my favourite sports teams to stop being crap and show some sodding ambition for once.
Sat, 02 Dec 2017 14:07:00 +0000Disastrous spotting trips?I guess we must have all had them, spotting/photography trips that are memorable for all the wrong reasons - that special you were hoping for not turning up, unforecast bad weather, etc., a multitude of reasons can make a promising trip descend into a situation where you really wish you hadn't bothered.
I've had a couple of pretty rubbish trips but the worst was back in April 2016 when I went to Birmingham and Dublin. The drive up from London to Birmingham on the Friday evening after work was bad enough, dreadful traffic, driving rain and poor visibility made me wish I was actually heading back home to the Isle of Wight than heading north, particularly since I was in south London for two weeks for work, but had already been away for three weeks in Australia (I'd had a grand total of three days at home).
The hotel I booked in Birmingham, while not a complete hole, was something of a cross between university halls of residence and accommodations in Prisoner Cell Block H - what sort of hotel doesn't even have a bar...? That said it was easy to locate just off the M5.
The next day in Dublin I got both frozen stiff and bored stiff. I didn't get that many usable photos, due to a ridiculous combination of heat haze and highly variable (mostly bad) light and one of my camera bodies, a Nikon D750, locked up and refused to work because the shutter failed. In the end I cut my losses and went back to the airport for my Ryanair flight back to Birmingham as, at that point, a pint or three of Guinness was more appealing than freezing my bits off in the company of litter, dumped white goods and dead rats.
Worse, however, was to come. The following day I stopped off in the ASDA car park at Halesowen to get something to eat before heading to the airport for some photography and then the drive back down to London to work. As I backed out of the space in the car park, I managed to hit my car on a steel girder and do considerable damage to the front end (long story short, my car needed a whole new front end, including headlights and windscreen washer, and my insurance premium doubled overnight). Once I got to the airport, with a patched up car, my Nikon D750, which had resumed working, failed again and the heavens also opened so I called it a day and departed back to south London. To say I was extremely pissed off with it all is an understatement.
That was one to forget.
Sat, 25 Nov 2017 16:23:00 +0000300mm f/2.8I've always wanted a large prime lens (300mm f/2.8 or 400/500mm f/4) but, sadly, have never been able to afford one; for starters brand new copies of the latest ones cost as much as my car and the secondhand VR ones command hefty prices as well. I was in town this morning and as I passed the local camera shop I had my customary glance in the window. Normally the shop hasn't got anything I'm interested in (I usually have to go to Southampton for that, or browse the fabulous MPB Photographic) but I always look anyway and today I saw a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AF-S for sale. I went in, tried it out, found myself handing over my credit card when I shouldn't have and left the shop with an old, well-used-but-perfectly-functional 300mm f/2.8.
As it's about 4 iterations ago, it's an AF-S (I) and has no VR, it's hard to handhold (more so on my D500 which is an APS-C) but I'll try it on a tripod at some point and see what I get. So far I've aimed it at the cat, dog, bird feeders (never a bird to be seen when you need one) and the Moon.
I'm looking forward to trying it out properly and, hopefully, it will do until I can afford a VR version. It's a bit cosmetically shabby but the AF motor, optics and aperture mechanism all seem in good shape. These old primes were built to last - a feeling I don't get with my 200-500 as, despite that being a great lens, the build quality is plasticky - so, although this one is at least 16 years old, I hope it will last me for a while. The AF motor is the only thing that would concern me as I don't think Nikon makes the parts for these any more, but if the worst happens, I'd just have to use manual focus.
Wed, 01 Nov 2017 13:41:00 +0000Sad farewellsRecently there have been a number of aircraft types making their last appearances for their airlines and, more dramatically, airlines going bust, most notably Air Berlin and Monarch.
Air Berlin called it a day at the end of October, as they found themselves in increasing financial difficulties. Their long haul flights ceased before the short haul ones did and by the end of October 2017 they had become part of history
Monarch's demise was rather more dramatic. Whereas there was notice that Air Berlin were going to pack it in, Monarch suddenly ceased trading - although the writing had been on the wall since their flirtation with bankruptcy in 2016 - causing the UK Government Civil Aviation Authority to charter aircraft to repatriate people back to the UK after their holidays.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines retired their Fokkers at the end of October as well. Not as dramatic as an airline going out of business but still a sad occasion.
United Airlines are retiring their 747s, the last United 747 departed Heathrow only a few days ago and the plane which operated that flight is already in the desert.
N104UA, seen here at Narita in March, was retired in July 2017.
It's especially sad to see the big 4-engined jets like the 747 and A340 vanishing from the skies, seen off by costs and more efficient twin engined jets such as the 777 and A350, but at least the 747 will live on as a freighter for many more years. The 747 flew commercially for the first time a few days before I was born and some of its 'descendants' will probably still be flying when I am old. Old aircraft are replaced by new and there'll always be interesting stuff to photograph and travel on for many years to come.
Sat, 28 Oct 2017 15:32:00 +0000The HardwareI am often asked what cameras and lenses I use for my aviation photos. Like quite a few people I know, I am not just someone who loves photography but also someone who is a complete gear head as well, to the detriment of my credit card and savings account...
I use exclusively Nikon cameras and lenses for my photography. Ever since I could afford an SLR when I started my first job ('proper job' as opposed to working in a supermarket at weekends and evenings) in the Royal Navy I've used Nikon, apart from 6 years with Canon. I switched to Canon in 2008, because they had a lens I wanted but Nikon didn't have an equivalent; however I missed Nikon and switched back in 2014.
I believe in having the best equipment you can afford; that does not necessarily mean the best there is - I can't afford a Nikon D5 and prime telephoto! - but the best your budget will allow because, that way, you will not be dissatisfied.
Currently I use the following:
Nikon D810 36 MP DSLR
This is my main camera body, and the quality is second to none. The 36MP sensor allows ridiculous amounts of cropping but still having a decent picture afterwards and the lack of an anti-aliasing (AA) filter means that the output is incredibly sharp. I rarely have to apply sharpening on the D810's files when editing; if I do, because of atmospheric conditions, it's absolutely minimal.
Nikon D750 24 MP DSLR
This is my back up body and the image quality is also fantastic. Its low light performance is second to none and the noise levels are very low at higher ISOs. However, the D750 isn't without a few issues, all of which have been well-publicised. I sold my previous one, with full disclosure, after it had been subject to two recalls and the shutter packed in during a day trip to Dublin last year (luckily I had a second body with me). I had it repaired by Nikon, then sold it.
My current one, however, is excellent and has given me no problems since I bought it in March 2016.
I wouldn't hesitate to buy a D750 again, despite the issues.
Nikon D500 21MP DX DSLR
Mostly used for birding because of the crop factor, but great for airshows and where you need to put a lot of pixels on your subject and the huge buffer and frame rate makes this fabulous for action.
Nikon 24-70G f/2.8 zoom lens (non-VR)
A superb lens, if a little heavy. I bought mine second-hand from the local camera shop - I'd walked past it on my way to the dentist in the next road, and couldn't resist! The fact it doesn't have VR isn't a problem for me, not with f/2.8 at its widest.
Nikon 70-200G f/4 VR zoom lens
Excellent quality mid-range zoom lens. A lot lighter than the equivalent Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 - and a lot cheaper too!
Nikon 80-400G VR zoom lens
Not to be confused with the previous 'D' version. This is my main travel lens and, although expensive, it is good quality at all focal lengths. I have heard people complain about this lens and say it's rubbish but that's not been my experience. It's a lens that, if you don't try and shoot at stupid distances and then crop the hell out of the photo, performs well and I have no complaints. Frankly, the people who are dissing it as 'shite' are either trying to use it beyond its capabilities (such as cropping at extreme distances) or their long lens technique needs some practice.
For the record, I am one of those pixel-peeping types for whom image quality is everything so I wouldn't be using it if I didn't think it was any good.
Nikon 200-500E VR zoom lens
I bought this in late 2015, as I am also a birder, and you can never have too much focal length for birding. It's also great for aviation as well, although I stick with my 80-400G for travels because of the weight of this, coming in at 2.3Kg, and also the need to also take the 70-200 along as well.
The image quality is absolutely superb and it (only) just edges out the 80-400G at 400mm, it's a bargain at just over £1100.
Think Tank Streetwalker v2.0
My new backpack, replacing my venerable Lowepro MiniTrekker AW, easily accommodates my D810 with 80-400 zoom and my D750 with the 24-70 and has room for all the little bits and pieces such as memory cards, batteries, rain cover, passport and my 'Lensskirt', which is a little cloth device that you can stick to windows to eliminate reflections.
Think Tank Airport Takeoff v2.0
This is a hybrid backpack/roller bag which is airline carry-on compatible...I'll use it for real on my trip to Tokyo in May 2018, but initial tests show I can get my camera gear in it and have a couple of Kg to spare...
For editing photos - and despite what people might like you to believe, all RAW files do need some editing - I use an Apple Macbook Pro with Lightroom and Photoshop.