Whenever we are planning a spotter tour, it’s good to know what kind of things we need to bring with us. Preparation is at least as important than being at the right place at the right time, so I’ve tried to collect the most useful tips what might help us to get nice shots.
I am not sure how other photographers plan their spotter trips, so my method could be quite different. First of all, I have a couple of favourite photographers, whose work inspires me and most of the time the scene of the desired shot determines the location of my next trip. There are many aviation related websites on the internet which might help to get started to find inspiration.
2. CHECK THE POSSIBILITIES
After I fell in love with a picture, always take a look where was the shot taken from. Then before I could make myself completely fascinated, I check out spotterguide.net, which is a brilliant website for those who are planning a spotter tour but never been to that airport before. It helps to find us the spots what we are looking for with detailed guides by explaining where it is and when it is best to use. If we can’t find the looked-for location on their website, it’s probably taken from airside, and it doesn’t make any sense to travel there if we won’t be able to take that shot. However, there are certain locations that are not listed on the site above. So, if we know a missing spot on an existing guide, we could help by contacting them and they can update their list to support us whenever we are looking for a new location.
3. CONSIDER THE PERIOD OF THE DAY
If we are planning to stay outdoors all day long, we have to take it into account that the sun moves around and we probably won’t be able to stay at the same spot at all times. There is a useful app which helps us to determine the angle of the sun at any location at any given time, it’s called suncalc.org. By using this app we can also check the time when light is getting softer or even harsher, and taking advantage of it.
4. GET WEATHER READY
I am sure that I don’t have to explain, that the weather is a significant factor whenever we want to take pictures outdoors. Besides, it’s important to dress for the season and circumstances too, and don’t forget that it can change at any time. There are plenty of weather forecast apps which can be downloaded to our cell phones for free of charge, so we can keep track of the weather easily. For real-time radar I use sat24.com, which shows live map satellite images and offers updates every 5 minutes. In the summer it’s important to prepare a hat and a sun cream to protect our skin from the sun and sunglasses for our eyes. Furthermore, the waterproof rain cover should be essential protection in all backpacks regardless of the season. Wearing comfortable shoes are also highly recommended! Additionally, in winter I suggest to wear a hat, scarf, gloves and boots too and put warm clothes on when it’s chilly outside. If I can manage it, I also take a thermos with me then I can drink some hot tea which warms me up a little bit when it’s freezing cold. As well as, hand warmer sachet or gel could be also a good idea if we need to stay outdoors all day long. They are small disposable packets and provides warm for approximately 10-12 hours.
5. CHECK NOTAM
NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen) contains alerts for pilots about hazards along the route they fly, both on ground and air too. Furthermore, informs us about taxiway, runway closures, maintenance work, etc. So it’s worth to check it if we don’t want to miss a shot.
The world’s most popular flight tracker that shows real-time commercial flight information on a detailed map, is a must for every aviation photographer!
7. GOOGLE MAPS
Moreover finding a place what we are looking for, this app is also good for discovering new potential locations. Furthermore, we can calculate the distance between two positions to find out the appropriate focal length for the shot. Just simply touch and hold anywhere on the map for the dropped pin till the red needle appears, then tap the title of the location at the bottom, and we can see the “measure distance” tool then. Simply click on it, and the black circle starts to move as we drag the map. The distance is now noticeable at the bottom of the page. That’s it!
8. CHECK THE EQUIPMENT
It’s crucial to check the body, lenses and sensors all of the time before spotting to enjoy the session. Also, make a decision about what kind of lenses to take and what not.
9. MEMORY CARDS
Be sure to take enough empty memory cards. It can be very frustrating to miss a shot because we don’t have enough space on the card. Keep in mind that RAW files use more space on memory cards than a JPEG!
Always check them before leaving home that they are fully charged and take as many as possible.
Popular cleaning tool specially designed for cameras to clean optics and lenses. It’s safe and pretty easy to use on all lenses.
12. CLEAN THE SENSORS
Dust and grease are the worst enemies of all photographers, so to keep sensors clean is crucial for all of us, especially for those who use interchangeable lenses.
13. PASSPORT, ID CARD
It’s highly recommended to carry with us at all times in case we have to prove our identity.
14. CAMERA BAG
These bags are especially made to carry and protect our equipment and there are different types and sizes of them. The bigger ones have several parcels separated by foam to protect our lenses and bodies and most of them are weather and waterproof also.
It’s a must-have accessory for air shows to protect our ears, as military planes can be a lot louder than commercial ones.
16. STEP LADDER
For certain shots, we need to use a ladder if we don’t want to shoot through the fence, but make sure to keep the required distance.
17. RESPECT OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS
It’s just common sense to let them take the shot they want and don’t block their view!
18. TAKE A MONOPOD OR/AND TRIPOD
If we are using a long lens which is heavy, a solid monopod could be a good choice to support the weight of the camera. It has only one leg, collapsible and coming with different heights to keep the camera still through the exposure. The other option is the tripod which is mainly used for night shots. It has 3 legs, collapsible and also responsible for keeping the camera stable. Moreover, don’t forget the remote control at home!
These handheld devices are perfect for anyone who wants to listen to communications between ATC and pilots. However, we can download different scanning apps for our cell phones if we don’t have a radio – like liveatc.net -, but please be aware that streams are unfortunately a bit delayed. Also be concious of, that we are not allowed to use radio at all airports.
20. FOLDABLE CHAIR
This kind of furniture is very handy, especially if we are planning to stay at the airport all day. After a few hours of spotting our back starts to hurt and it’s good to have a rest, even for a couple of minutes. These chairs are easy to carry, as they are not heavy at all, and moreover very cheap!
21. FOOD AND DRINKS
Be aware that some spots are far away from supermarkets, so it makes sense to pack some food and water.
22. RESPECT THE AIRPORT PROPERTY
Don’t cut any holes in the fence and take your rubbish with you at all times!
I think it’s done by now and hope that I’ve covered everything! Then it’s time to go out and enjoy your spotting!