Go Take A Photo Of An Airliner Landing

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There is something really cool about watching a hunk of metal defy Mother Nature and fly through the air at the most dangerous point of the flight, low, right over your head, and then land on a hard piece of asphalt, all while contributing to your long term hearing loss.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by matt.hintsa

This photography is fun and fast. The busier the airport, the better your chance of getting a good shot. Just pick a location with a view of the approach end of the runway (important detail) where you want to get the ideal angle of the airplane. Hey, you may even get a few good shots of an airliner taking off too.

Here are 15 examples to help show you where you may find a good angle to photograph airliners landing at your favorite airport. Another great site that is a host to a lot of great photographs of airplanes is airliners.net.

Swiss Air Lines A330-200 by caribb

Synchronicity by caribb

MD-80 by a Nose by caribb

Image by Joshua Davis Photography



perfect landing by atomicshark

Don't Go in the Water by matt.hintsa

American 757 by egm757lover

White on White by caribb

Plane Lands - You Can Almost Kiss It by bfraz

clash of the titans by picfix

Power Surge by caribb

Let the Moon Shine on Me by caribb

Image by daiji

747 x 2 by Ack Ook

Read more from our category

Nate Kay blogs about a variety of inspirational photography subjects on his photography blog.

  • Tim

    Interestingly John, I shot the DC Metro at multiple stations, both in the train and waiting for the train to approach. As I stated in an earlier post, I shoot with a 5DMkII so it’s not like I’m being inconspicuous. Either you simply got a guy having a bad day or there was something else that triggered them to react like that.

    I’ve pretty much shot what I’ve wanted, where I’ve wanted, whenever I’ve wanted. I’ve always obeyed posted signs regarding photography and by doing so (and applying loads of common sense), I’ve never once been approached or asked to stop. I’ve shot in London, Paris, Hong Kong as well as Chicago, NYC, Washington DC among other places. This is all post-911 as well.

    Just my .02 worth.

  • Tim

    Brent Says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 8:43 am
    Take all the pictures of airplanes at the airports that you like. There is not law against it. Don’t give into Bush’s fearmongering about terrorists lurking around every corner.

    You were making a great point, right up until you had to throw in the Bush-bash. That ship has sailed. It’s time to move on…

  • Rachelle

    I have great photographs of jets in flight and some take offs but none of landings:( Ill work on that hopefully this weekend.
    Phoenix airport has great places to get some photo ops in but im hoping a lil more adventure on this one.

  • Patrick

    It’s all fun and games till one of us gets busted and then you will wish you brought extra cigs and soap on a rope. It will happen sooner than you think!

  • today at heathrow ariport terminal 1 , i found a place from where i can take a side shot of landing aircraft ,

    Just when i was setting up my tripod and camera , 2 police van came in asked for my intention .

    the point to be noted is that i am in a village, almost 2 mile away of the main terminal building and almost 200 meters away from the runway fence.

    These 2 vans were full of police and they one by one got off and cordoned me just because i am taking a picture , it took me half an hour to make them understand that i am a photographer and not a terrorist.

Some Older Comments

  • mehul June 15, 2010 09:27 am

    today at heathrow ariport terminal 1 , i found a place from where i can take a side shot of landing aircraft ,

    Just when i was setting up my tripod and camera , 2 police van came in asked for my intention .

    the point to be noted is that i am in a village, almost 2 mile away of the main terminal building and almost 200 meters away from the runway fence.

    These 2 vans were full of police and they one by one got off and cordoned me just because i am taking a picture , it took me half an hour to make them understand that i am a photographer and not a terrorist.

  • Patrick August 7, 2009 01:02 pm

    It's all fun and games till one of us gets busted and then you will wish you brought extra cigs and soap on a rope. It will happen sooner than you think!

  • Rachelle August 6, 2009 10:42 am

    I have great photographs of jets in flight and some take offs but none of landings:( Ill work on that hopefully this weekend.
    Phoenix airport has great places to get some photo ops in but im hoping a lil more adventure on this one.

  • Tim August 5, 2009 10:30 am

    Brent Says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 8:43 am
    Take all the pictures of airplanes at the airports that you like. There is not law against it. Don’t give into Bush’s fearmongering about terrorists lurking around every corner.

    You were making a great point, right up until you had to throw in the Bush-bash. That ship has sailed. It's time to move on...

  • Tim August 5, 2009 10:24 am

    Interestingly John, I shot the DC Metro at multiple stations, both in the train and waiting for the train to approach. As I stated in an earlier post, I shoot with a 5DMkII so it's not like I'm being inconspicuous. Either you simply got a guy having a bad day or there was something else that triggered them to react like that.

    I've pretty much shot what I've wanted, where I've wanted, whenever I've wanted. I've always obeyed posted signs regarding photography and by doing so (and applying loads of common sense), I've never once been approached or asked to stop. I've shot in London, Paris, Hong Kong as well as Chicago, NYC, Washington DC among other places. This is all post-911 as well.

    Just my .02 worth.

  • Suresh August 4, 2009 08:42 pm

    You can get fairly good shots of planes approaching for landing at San Fransisco airport from Coyote Point, which is a public recreation area across the narrow bay. Entry is from 101N, first or second exit from San Mateo Bridge. There is a $5 entry fee to the park. As a bonus, you can get some nice shots of the yachts at the Marina and if lucky, some good wind surfing action too. Please feel free to check out few shots from this place using the link below, taken with a 70-300 Zoom lens on my Canon.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/sknair.213/AirplanesLandingSFO?authkey=Gv1sRgCJLMqMi_97T8pwE#

  • Bekki August 4, 2009 08:28 pm

    First of all these photos are great and I will defiantly be trying this.

    Secondly, How daft!! I think it's mad that people are so scared to do something that is completely legal and not at all threatening. If you are approached be polite and if they insist on moving you on.... go. Alternatively if you really don't want to have to explain your innocent actions then don’t do it, it will be your loss. Common sense guys!

    Thanks DPS for another unusual idea to widen our portfolios :-)

  • Patrick August 4, 2009 12:09 am

    You forgot one thing - bail money! Maybe where you are it's o.k. to shoot planes taking off/landing, but some places get real tense when you do that! Be careful and bring extra cigs and candy and DON'T drop your soap! Patrick

  • JHB August 2, 2009 11:53 pm

    There are more concerns than just terrorism here folks. As an example, one thing that has become "popular" in the U.S. is to sit at the approach or departure end of a runway and point a laser pointer into the cockpit of an airliner at these critical phases of flight. As a joke, it's meant to scare the crew into thinking they have a weapon pointed at them. On the serious end, it can cause serious distraction to the crew (at the very least) or even injury.

    As a pilot, I can assure you this is no joke. That being said, taking pictures of airliners on approach is something I've enjoyed doing for years for obvious reasons. There needs to be common sense on both sides. Yes, it's true that terrorists exist and have a history of targeting airliners in many fashions. To dismiss this is silly. But a photographer is no threat to an airliner and as long as no trespassing laws are being violated, a simple approach by security (who is in charge of making sure there isn't an incident) and verifying there isn't a threat is all that's needed in most incidents.

    I've been approached many times. All that is needed is a friendly "how's it going officer" and a quick discussion of what you are doing and they continue on with their job.

  • Mandi August 2, 2009 11:33 am

    Some really great images you have there.

  • Chris Pursell August 1, 2009 06:57 pm

    Paranoia, thats what it is, have any of you heard of that thing called common sense, I get a real feeling that you havent. A common courtesy is to ask permission, anyone asking permision first is treated with more courtesy and less suspicion than someone who just strolls up and starts snapping. I have never had a problem, including the week after 911 at both heathrow and SFO. Many airports have viewing area's where you can go and snap to your hearts content. Just dont assume you can go anywhere, after all assumption is the mother of all F*** ups.

    Ask
    Be polite
    Take no for an answer

  • LNH August 1, 2009 05:09 pm

    hmmm taking pictures of planes and then being arrested, questioned and detained could make for an interesting photo story, article etc.

  • Alex July 31, 2009 07:33 pm

    I double checked on that beach. It is Maho Beach in St. Maarten. If you go to Google Earth check out the photos at 18.02' 21".51N; 63 07'12".01W.

  • Alex July 31, 2009 06:28 pm

    Most U.S. airports are pretty tense about security. I used to take pictures on the beach by LAX, don't know it that is still accessible.

    The best plane photo I ever saw was in a recent copy of Popular Photography, July, 2009 (last page). If you can get a copy you will be blown away. The photo was taken on the island of St. Maarten. I have seen other photos taken at that location that are also awesome. The planes come in right over the water and a accessible beach, landing just a hundred yards from the beach. So, if you are planning any trips to the Caribbean, be sure to bring your camera along.

  • John July 31, 2009 03:18 pm

    I think the worries about shooting transit in the US are very real. Here's one story: My son, who was 5 at the time, got a new camera and thought it would be cool to shoot the Metro train in DC. So we went for a ride one afternoon, and he waited in Dupont Circle for trains to pass to shoot some speeding train shots. We were quickly approached by DC police and told to stop. We did, but it freaked my son out completely.

    It seemed more than a little silly that get so worked up over a 5 year old boy shooting his favorite thing--the Metro train.

  • Rolling Stone July 31, 2009 10:28 am

    Unbelievable. Political views on a photography learning sight. I really don't give a damn about your political views. Why can't there be just ONE site without someones political views. Just ONE! There are thousands of political forums and blogs etc. Plenty of places to just let it all out. I'm here to learn about photography. To read the opinions of others about photography. I could care less about your political views. I have mine and you have yours and some else has theirs and whatever you say won't change anyones views. So why even bother. Unless annoying others gives you some sort of joy. That would be a pretty pathetic life.
    On subject,
    I see people around a lot of US airports taking shots. Never bothered if following the guidelines.

  • Brent July 31, 2009 08:43 am

    Take all the pictures of airplanes at the airports that you like. There is not law against it. Don't give into Bush's fearmongering about terrorists lurking around every corner.

  • Chris July 31, 2009 08:29 am

    I was taking photographs of airplanes taking off and landing at the airport when I was stopped by the police. The officer asked for my drivers license. I was told it was not legal to take photographs of jets taking off or landing (the airlines do not appreciate it especially if it were involved in an accident). The officer asked why I was at the airport I said to pickup a relative. I had to give the flight detail which he called in and said that the flight landed. I was asked to go pick up my passenger. I noticed the officer followed me. So, please be careful!

  • Kate Bryan July 31, 2009 06:09 am

    Noise levels from airplanes landing can be too harmful for your hearing, I'm not talking about just hearing loss but tinnitus, a condition caused by loud noise, which consists in having a ringing, buzzing, cricket chirping or an acute tone being heard 24/7 in your ears. This condition turns in a terrible nightmare for some, with loud tones constantly in their heads, no silence ever, no escape. Many commit suicide...

    If you want to avoid this, please bring good enough earplugs each time you are going to be exposed to that sound levels (airplane shoots, concerts, clubs, very loud bars) and don't make exceptions. Foam plugs give the best protection, but if you also want to be able to hear conversations, there is also special custom plugs used by musicians to lower the damaging frequencies. Don't risk to loose your peace forever!

  • kate July 31, 2009 06:06 am

    Noise levels from airplanes landing can be too harmful for your hearing, I'm not talking about just hearing loss but tinnitus, a condition caused by loud noise, which consists in having a ringing, buzzing, cricket chirping or an acute tone being heard 24/7 in your ears. This condition turns in a terrible nightmare for some, with loud tones constantly in their heads, no silence ever, no escape. Many commit suicide.

    If you want to avoid this, please bring good enough earplugs each time you are going to be exposed to that sound levels (airplane shoots, concerts, clubs, very loud bars) and don't make exceptions. Foam plugs give the best protection, but if you also want to be able to hear conversations, there is also special custom plugs used by musicians to lower the damaging frequencies. Don't risk to loose your peace forever!

  • Mazz July 31, 2009 03:07 am

    In the UK you will be arrested for sure. The public do nothing to stem Ingsoc becoming reality. They are super paranoid here.
    I have had many incidents. I even had an incident were a member of the public called the cops on me for photographing hi-speed trains from a public park.

    I wouldn't go any where near London airport for fear of ending up at Paddington Green.(Anti-terror police station.)

  • Amir Paz July 31, 2009 02:54 am

    I was at the Le Bourge paris air salon this last june

    and i have some very cool images of fighter and airline planes landing and taking off

    i especially love this one of the new A380

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3643893837/in/set-72157619853869331/

    and a cool take off of the euro fighter...

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/3643906651/in/set-72157619853869331/

    (i know its a bit off topic, but i just couldn't resist, its too cool :) )

    Amir

  • Andy July 31, 2009 02:50 am

    I've taken pictures at the DFW International Airport for years and never had a problem with any kind of security or law enforcement, even in the fall and winter of 2001. I've also done a lot of volunteer work with police. I think that as long as you're in a publicly accessible area, you should generally be fine. That said, if you are approached by TSA or security or the police, just explain what you're doing. Maybe even offer to show them the photos (assuming you're shooting digital). Don't cop an attitude with them. If they want so see identification, give it to them. If they ask (or tell) you to leave, then do it. They are just doing the job they've been told to do. Most of them won't get aggressive about anything unless and until you throw up a brick wall. (Caveat: There are overly enthusiastic folks with inferiority complexes who like to abuse the badge they wear. Fortunately, they are exceptions, not the rule.)

  • Chris de Beer July 31, 2009 02:13 am

    I sure am glad I don't live in the paranoid police state, called the USA!
    Come to South Africa. You are welcome to sit on final approach (outside the fence) to take photographs.
    O.R.Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg has an observation deck, where you can also take photographs of the touchdowns!

    Chris

  • Ed July 31, 2009 02:02 am

    Unfortunately, in the USA it's not paranoia to expect to be confronted for taking pics near an airport. While things might be changing some since the fear mongering administration is gone, it is advisable to think a little bit about it before jumping in to this assignment. There are plenty of good suggestions in the remarks.

    I think it would have been wise to point this out in the original article, though.

  • Riayn July 30, 2009 03:33 pm

    Come to Sydney airport! Our authorities don't have any problem with people sitting (outside the fence of course) on the final approach to the runway taking pictures of the planes landing. At any given time, there is at least one person taking photos or simply just watching the planes land.

  • John Strickland July 29, 2009 02:13 pm

    Which looks more suspicious? Beside your car just outside the airport fence, or hiding in the trees on a hill top?

  • chudez July 28, 2009 08:05 pm

    i don't want to belittle the fears expressed by people here, but it's more imagined than real (except in the UK, where the government appears to be hell bent in making George Orwell's 1984 a reality -- for shame, UK!).

    in general, you're liable for arrest only if you do something really stupid, like trespassing. and even then, you're not going to be arrested because you're taking pictures but because you're an unauthorized person in the airport security perimeter.

    outside of the airport, an aircraft visible for all the world to see is also in perfect view to be photographed.

  • Amandalynn July 28, 2009 03:47 pm

    Wow, looks like many readers freak easy.

    I can think of about 3 dozen locations in my moderately sized city where I could go with my telephoto lens to get a picture of an airplane descending.
    Really, nobody needs to squat at the airport fence and make a target out of themselves if that's what people are worried about, just look UP, planes are everywhere.

  • Aamer July 28, 2009 10:33 am

    I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in arrests made, after this post here.

    What a wonderful idea!

  • Zack Jones July 28, 2009 02:49 am

    One way to do it without getting hassled by the man is to get a little further out from the airport and shoot. For example here in the Charleston, SC area USAF C-17 aircraft routinely fly over the Tanger Outlet Center so when I want shots of them I just head over that way and wait for one to come flying overhead.

  • RJS July 28, 2009 01:36 am

    night approach pattern photos ... long exposures ... big airport ... now that ought to make for some kewl shots ...

  • Tim July 28, 2009 01:29 am

    But, I guess take what you can get and then….get out!

    @Ken Morroco - From your last sentence it sounds as if you are trespassing during your photo taking session. Obviously, you would be harassed, even arrested and I can't quite feel sympathy for that. I don't think the OP ever intended on anybody trespassing or doing anything illegal to get these shots.

    With a little investigation, there are usually many great vantage points available on public property where you can shoot all you want. Heck, you might even go crazy and set up a tripod some places. Granted, some airports are more visibly accessible than others, but there are still many opportunities for photos.

    I've never been approached by law enforcement whether it be shooting airplanes, public buildings, bridges, etc. And with the bulk of my camera, it's not as if I'm able to be covert about it either.

  • Todd Eddy July 28, 2009 12:46 am

    I'd suggest printing out the photographers bill of rights (search for the pdf) and keeping that with you, really all the time but even for this assignment if you're that worried. Basically, in the U.S., if you are on public property you can take pictures of pretty much anything you can see as long as there's no assumed privacy (like someone using an ATM) or security (umm... police inspecting luggage?).

    Also when approached by any law enforcement don't immediatley go "OH $(@*" and start running. Just hold your ground and if they ask what you're doing go ahead and tell them. If they tell you to leave, just leave. Unless you are friends with a lawyer to help enforce above laws then it's not worth the time or hassle to fight it. But really if you just stand there and say "I'm a photographer, I'm just taking pictures of planes because they look cool" then they shouldn't have any issues.

  • Ken Morrocco July 28, 2009 12:42 am

    I just love the thought of taking photos of those mamouth airplanes in flight. I used to be able to get pretty close as a boy, to Detroit Metro Airport. Now, you better keep moving, because if you pause even for a minute or two, you'll likely be able to take photos of the homeland security officer with the flashing lights coming after you.....lol. But, I guess take what you can get and then....get out!

  • Eric Mesa July 28, 2009 12:05 am

    The BWI (Baltimore-Washington International) Airport outside of Baltimore, MD has a park where people set up to do this every day (or weekend day?). I haven't gone out yet, but I've seen them there while I go on the bike trail. Check out the GPS coords on this photo to see where to go if you want to get some AWESOME landing shots.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/87734610@N00/3718520373

  • Navneet July 27, 2009 11:54 pm

    Its not as scary as you think.

    http://www.planespotting.com/

  • Ola July 27, 2009 06:13 pm

    I am amazed by the fear I see in the comments! Makes me wonder what kind of repressive dictatorships you guys live in when you are afraid to take a picture at a plane overhead? Are all of the commenters from North Korea or Iran?

    What about trains and buses. Do you dare take pictures of them?

    Seriously, it is you guys that make me apprehensive of travelling to your countries, not the fears you try to protect yourselves from.

  • Sandro July 27, 2009 04:03 pm

    I've taken a number of images inside of airports (all of aircraft). Whenever I see a TSA agent, I ask if it's alright to snap a few pics of aircraft. Every one of them has said it's perfectly alright. They typically go on to say that it's ok to photograph anything inside the airport so long as it has nothing to do with security. We have a good (short) conversation and I snap some pics.

  • Anirban Sen July 27, 2009 10:45 am

    I managed to take some good shots North of Reagan National Airport (DCA). There is a good stretch of land.

  • Tim July 27, 2009 10:01 am

    I really think most of these responses to this post are quite funny. With the gear and lenses available today, there are many places where one can set up to take aircraft photography. As long as you aren't doing something completely stupid like trespassing around the fringes of airport property, you're relatively safe in your endeavor.

    It's so funny that just like sensational media outlets, we can get one or two people who are approached by law enforcement, blow the story out of proportion as they recount the event on the internet...and then so many people read that account and treat it like the status quo.

    I've shot near airports, in Subway stations and outside of major buildings in NYC, Chicago, Wash DC...I've walked hundreds of miles on city streets of the sames places and never have I ever been approached by the police, MTA, or any other law enforcement body.

    If you want Fear Factor, watch it on TV. If you want to shoot some really cool assignments as you walk about your environment, then get out there and do it; just be smart about it.

  • Nate Kay July 27, 2009 09:55 am

    @John

    Not an assignment, just an idea for those searching for inspiration. Sounds like you're stuck indoors in your city. Being a photographer isn't always easy I guess.

  • Greg July 27, 2009 09:39 am

    It's amazing how fearful so many people are of taking photographs. It's an airplane, it flies overhead. Anyone can take a picture of it. You can take a photograph of anything you see, pretty much. Taking a photo of a plane landing isn't going to help any terrorists do anything, but if you are afraid to to take a photograph at all I'd say that is a state of repression, and isn't that what the terrorists want? People living in fear?

    Go out and take pictures. Don't be afraid to enjoy the world around you.

  • John Campbell July 27, 2009 09:06 am

    “Go Take A Photo Of An Airliner Landing”: in the UK this is an easy way to get oneself arrested under the "Prevention of Terrorism" Act, and then handed over to the Americanese FBI for a trip to the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp. Even taking a photograph in the street can now result in the photographer being arrested and his or her equipment seized by our homegrown Gestapo.

    Can we have sensible suggestions for assignments, please?

  • Mike July 27, 2009 07:52 am

    check out my plain photo.

    let me know if you like it.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikefendtphotography/3671836268/

  • Erika July 27, 2009 07:36 am

    I took some wonderful shots at Pearson Airport in Toronto Canada. Yes, a cop did drive up and ask me some questions. All this after I took the best shots ever. I told him I'd move and then I drove home. Hell, I already got what I wanted.

    It's not that big a deal in Canada but I can just imagine in the US.

  • Craig Robertson July 27, 2009 07:25 am

    Let them arrest you. Go to the press. The more people makes a mockery of the stupid rules in some places around the world then the less chance there is of a jumped up security guard trying to exist his/her non-existent authority over you.

    I have a collection of aircraft images I have taken at Sumburgh Airport, Scotland (EGPB) if anybody wants a look:-

  • Nate Kay July 27, 2009 07:21 am

    @bryan

    Funniest response I've seen in a while.

  • Nate Kay July 27, 2009 07:13 am

    Some tips...

    1. Observe all warning signs, stay off airport property (outside the fence), and be respectful and courteous to those who may approach you. Seems most horror stories you hear about TSA or security always tends to have an unruly, mean person who is causing a scene when being confronted. Do your research about airports before just strolling out there and clicking away. Check airport websites for rules and make phone calls if necessary.

    2. Get permission. Every airport is different but some will issue you credentials to do photo shoots on the airport property. This may give you a safe vantage point and the opportunity for some even better photos. You can sometimes find this information on their websites.

    3. Go to someplace outside of US. I was recently in Europe and came across and large airport where I could sit right there at the approach end of the runway and watch planes land. There were about 8 other photographers there and in talking to them, they said it was just fine to be there. Other countries may have less restrictions and many of the photos you see were taken outside of the US. Again, do your research.

    4. Find out where others are taking their photographs. Go to airliners.net and Flickr and browse the photographs for locations or attempt to get in touch with the photographer to find out how they did it.

    5. Don't attempt this type of photography. Probably the safest way to stay out of trouble for those who are paranoid about being arrested.

    If you do serious photography in public places, you are probably going to encounter security concerns at some point during these shoots. Whether or not the concern is real or just some security guard on a power trip, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you do your research about the place you are planning to photograph and are friendly and responsive to any conflicts that may arise.

    Hope this helps those with concerns.

  • Silverzz July 27, 2009 05:50 am

    Great images, but I would be very careful about taking pictures of planes next to an airport or before you know it you will be getting arrested for terrorism :)

  • kjh July 27, 2009 05:34 am

    Many of these were taken in St Maarten at Maho Beach. It's right on the final approach for the airport on that island.

    Otherwise, there is normally no problem taking pictures as long as you outside the fence at the airport (obviously). You may be approached but in most cases there is no problem.

  • Peter July 27, 2009 04:48 am

    @ William

    That's the exact same thiing I asked my self!

    Excellent photographs... thanks dps...

  • William A. Wilson July 27, 2009 04:38 am

    How does one manage to take such photos without being being arrested and assaulted by the TSA and such?

  • anon July 27, 2009 04:00 am

    OK, so do we print this and keep a copy of it in our back pocket for when TSA jockeys & the NSA arrest us for this type of photography? "It's OK.... I saw it on the internet!" Not to be cynical, but I'm sure there have to be some legal implications.

  • Bryan July 27, 2009 02:07 am

    Really??
    Is this a competition to see who lasts the longest before being bound, gagged and beaten by 'enthusiastic' cops and rent-a-cops 'protecting our freedoms'?

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