LAX Nights

LAX | After Hours

October 2020 to March 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 and the Lincoln Blvd. overpass.

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.

f/5.6 1/4 ISO3200 600.0mm

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!

f/2.8 0.3s ISO1000 105.0mm

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.

f/5.6 1/25 ISO1600 370.0mm

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!

f/2.8 1/20 ISO1000 105.0mm

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. 

f/2.8 1/20 ISO1250 105.0mm

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.

f/5.6 1/25 ISO1600 600.0mm

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.

f/5.6 1/25 ISO1600 600.0mm

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.

f/5.6 1/40 ISO4000 600.0mm
One more close up of the Queen. This 747-400ERF (Extended Range Freighter) registered as N903AR is heading for Wuhan, China as the daily SkyLease Cargo flight. The aircraft flies directly to Asia from LAX and returns via Anchorage for fuel. This is one of my best low light shots to date. It is really pushing the limits of my camera setup’s capability along with myself to ensure the shot is usable and in focus.
f/8.0 1/4 ISO2000 600.0mm

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.

f/5.6 0.3s ISO1600 105.0mm

“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!

f/2.8 1/4 ISO1000 105.0mm

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.

f/2.8 1/10 ISO1000 105.0mm

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.

f/2.8 1/30 ISO1000 105.0mm

Recently, China Airlines has been flying their brand new Boeing 777-200F to and from LAX with limited cargo onboard. These flights aim to familiarize the crew with operating a brand new aircraft type which will soon replace the Boeing 747-400F variant seen above. Notice the “C” in “Cargo” has the outline of Taiwan in the center. B-18772 is CI’s 2nd 777 freighter, and more have been ordered.

f/2.8 0.3s ISO1000 105.0mm

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!

f/2.8 1/5 ISO1000 105.0mm

What makes night panning shots so fun is the lights around the airplane. In this shot, numerous lights from the taxiways, apron, and parking lot add a colorful ambience to the shot. The airplanes speed and cameras lack of shutter speed is truly visualized through the surrounding lights! The shutter speed can be back calculated using the number of dots certain taxiway lights create. In this photo 24 blue dots are seen. Standard electrical current in the US runs at 60hz, but we double this frequency as it is alternating (AC). Therefore, there are 120 pulses per second of the light on the taxiways. Take the 24 and divide it by 120 yields 0.2 which is the ratio 1/5. It is a pretty interesting way to verify the shutter speed of a photo!

f/2.8 1/10 ISO1000 105.0mm

This is my first time seeing the Bombardier Global Express 7500, and it belongs to Kylie Jenner. The interior is popping!

f/10.0 15.0s ISO100 400.0mm

Rarely do I take long exposures, but this Speedbird (callsign for British Airways) Boeing 777-300ER was perfectly positioned for one. The ground crew were clear of the aircraft and waved them goodbye (seen in the streak of orange lights under the aircraft’s wing). At 400.0mm, the background elements become compressed considerably, making for a great view of Clutter’s Park directly behind the aircraft’s fuselage. Off to the right hand side of the image above the wing, the famous American flag pole is also seen.

f/2.8 1/5 ISO2000 105.0mm

A classic sight at the airport, but not often photographed at night, this Southwest 737-800 rolls out on runway 24R. The 1/5th of a second shutter speed not only brings out the details in the livery, but gives the sense of speed the aircraft is traveling at. The new MSC (Mid-Satellite Concourse) extension to TBIT is lighting the scene from the right hand side, making the background a little more interesting!

f/2.8 1/5 ISO1250 105.0mm

Air New Zealand has been operating a somewhat clandestine schedule to LAX since the Covid-19 pandemic. The aircraft, mainly filled with cargo, arrive in the morning, sit at the West remote gates all day, and then leave late at night. All their Boeing 777-300ERs have now been replaced by the 787-9 Dreamliners and the AUK-LAX-LHR service is now terminated. Seen above is one of 2 Air New Zealand 787-9s that night making their way off to Auckland with the TBIT concourse lights painting the scene behind. 

While there is literally a “night and day” difference in the image quality of low-light hand-held panning shots, they are still quite challenging and rewarding. Night action is certainly one of the lease captured aspects in the aviation photography despite how alive airports are during these hours.
I hope you enjoyed this short photo collection and commentary.