LAX | Fly By Night
October & November 2020, January 2021
LAX is arguably most ‘alive’ during the late evening hours. With plenty of heavy aircraft departures and the constant flow of domestic flights, the airport truly lights up as the sun comes down. I always enjoy watching the night scene, and recently began taking hand-held panning photos. I hope you enjoy this short collection with some commentary of night photos taken from Clutter’s Park by Imperial Highway.
All images are taken with the Sony A7R IV in the APS-C Crop Sensor Mode (~28mgpx effective with a 1.5x crop factor added). The f/2.8 photos are taken with the Sigma 24-70 DG DN Art Lens, and the f/5.6 photos are shot with the Sony FE 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 GM. Adobe Photoshop 2021 with the Topaz DeNoise AI, Topaz AI Sharpen, and Nik Define plugins were used for post-processing.
The United Airlines Boeing 737-900ER with split scimitar winglets rolls off of 25L via taxiway H7 (Hotel 7). Holding the camera still for 1/4th of a second at 600.0mm really was a test of my ability, and I will be the first to admit that there were quite a few attempts to land this shot before. However, it truly worked out quite nicely especially with the double beacon coming from the United 737 and the traffic behind it!
Sun Country’s ‘Tide Pod’ looking livery glides to a stop in the sea of lights. This photo was taken at 0.3 seconds exposure making it one of the longest hand held shots I’ve been able to land. The lighter Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 lens certainly and the fact that the relative motion of the airplane is less made this possible. Due to the low shutter speed and direction of travel, it is not possible to have the entire aircraft unscathed from motion blur.
Atlas Air’s 747-400F lit up and rolling out past the American Airlines terminal. Catching the beacon certainly helps to shed additional light on the aircraft’s fuselage and landing gears. This makes recovering details of this area in post processing much easier as well. Not to mention, having the plane lit up with the beacon light also makes for a pleasing capture!
The Korean Queen 747-4B5/F launches into the sky from runway 25L bound for Seoul. Despite being taken at 1/20th of a second, this shot has more motion blur than the Sun Country 0.3 second exposure. This is because the 747 here is taking off and thus its speed is much higher. I tried to keep the ISO to a minimum 1000 here to reduce noise, but the consequence is that the overall raw file is significantly underexposed. Post processing this shot took more work to strike a balance between fixing the exposure and removing noise. In actuality, the scene is even darker than this image and so the camera is working double time to reduce noise but also make the exposure bright enough to see details.
American’s 777-300ER stowing the reverse thrust doors and vacating 25L after a long haul from London. This shot was taken at the very tail end of blue hour, hence the deep blues in the sky; a faint outline of the mountains can also be seen.
Passenger airlines have been running some unique cargo routes due to the ongoing pandemic. This United 777-300ER is departing for Guam which is a destination LAX did not have prior. The Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) is seen behind the aircraft with another 777-300ER parked. It was particularly difficult shooting this and the photo below due to the very little amount of ambient light available and shutter/zoom requirements.
All hail the departing Queen. The Kalitta/DHL 747-400 BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) lifts off from 25L producing some smooth jet engine exhaust jelly and vapes on the wings. When shooting panning shots a nice treat is getting to see smooth engine exhaust. It is quite clear coming from engine 3 in this shot. Unfortunately the entire airframe is not in focus due to the relative motion of the subject and the shutter speed.
The Airbus A380 “whale” has become an endangered species around the globe with many airlines retiring the aircraft type and other putting them into long term storage. LAX went from having nearly ten A380 flights per day down to a single flight occurring every other day. Here is that single A380 flight; a China Southern A380-841 coming from Guangzhou as CSN327. The double decker super arrives at around 5:40PM and leaves the following night at 10:30PM.
“The Jump to Hyperspace.” A 0.3 second hand-held panning shot is really pushing the limits of motion photography. At this shutter, it’s nearly impossible to have the entire aircraft in focus due to the relative motion. However, it definitely makes for an incredible effect from the airport lights. I was quite hesitant to share this image as there are large portions of the aircraft that are motion blurred, but the effect and the fact that it was a 0.3 second exposure really made it worth it. I will follow up with a better copy if I can land it later on!
Cathay Pacific’s 747-8F vacates 25L and taxis toward the international freight terminal. This flight originates from Hong Kong and stops over in Anchorage, like most Asia incoming freighters, before arriving in Los Angeles. I find this photo quite unique due to the lack of top-down shadows and side-on lighting making the under-wing fuselage lit up. The 1/4th second exposure entails out of focus regions in the front and rear of the aircraft, but with Topaz Sharpen AI, this issue was mitigated.
This China Airlines Cargo 747-400F (B-18720) is flying as CI5155 on a heavily delayed trans-Pacific crossing to Osaka Kansai International airport. The slow shutter yields some very interesting light trails; which is why panning at night is so fun but also challenging.
The textbook example of “when the stars align.” I couldn’t be happier with the result of this photo. So much went right for this to happen apart from nailing the motion to produce a sharp result. LAX was on reverse operations (which is a rare event when the departures and arrivals directions switch) making this shot one of a kind. Also, the beacon is lit up, it’s a jetBlue aircraft (one of my favorite airlines), and the sea of lights that is LAX night are some of the other highlights of this scene. Shooting night photos is quite difficult, if I haven’t mentioned that already! It is so easy to get discouraged when +90% of the shots don’t work out. However, when even one comes out perfectly, it makes it all worth it!