What is a planespotter actually and how’s it being one yourself? For the most people, planespotters are just weirdos spending their weekends at the airports with their massive cameras. But planespotting is so much more than that!
I’m Joel, fourteen years old and a Swiss planespotter since almost three years. My passion for aviation started a long time ago already, I can’t really remember when exactly, but it must’ve been seven or eight years ago. I always liked flying very much and enjoyed watching the airplanes flying over my home. The thing with photography came a lot later, about 3.5 years ago, when I got my first smartphone. When I visited the observation deck at Zürich airport for the first time, I got my phone out and started making photos of the airplanes taking off and taxiing by. It was much more fun than I had expected, so I went there again and again. When I went there for the third and the fourth time, I really wanted to improve my image quality and become as good as all the well-known planespotters on Instagram. Christmas and my birthday arrived, and my parents got me my first camera, a Sony bridge cam. I was mind blown by the image quality and the zoom back then.
On the 6th of January I went out to the airport for the first time with my new camera and it was so much fun. I was very lucky to catch a Boeing 747 of Air China, since I already had a good knowledge of the aviation industry, I was very excited to have caught it. After about a year of planespotting I lost my passion for it again. I always saw these perfectly sharp images in the internet and looked down to my own ones which were much worse. For more than half a year I didn’t go to the airport, but in January 2018 I found my motivation again and went to the airport again regularly. To improve my image quality, I bought a new camera, the Nikon B700, also a bridge camera. And again, I was mind blown by the sharpness of the images. My passion was more intense than it had been before my break. Also when I bought my new camera I created my Instagram account where I shared my pictures daily. Because of my upcoming trip to the United States and because I was unhappy with the image quality of my camera, I bought my first DSLR which I still use today. I didn’t know a lot about how cameras work back then, so I used to shoot in automatic mode. During my holidays in the US I visited three airports, BDL, BOS and JFK. Spotting at these airports, especially at JFK, is the dream of every spotter out there. At Boston Logan airport I’ve also spotted my first Boeing 737 MAX 8, operated by American Airlines. Though still not knowing a lot about how cameras actually work, I still used to shoot in automatic mode, which used to set the ISO up to 3200, which is a nightmare if you don’t shoot with a full-frame camera. Because what happens if you turn the ISO up is that the pictures become very grainy and you lose a lot of details in the photo. I was still very satisfied with the results. As time passed, I also started editing my pictures with Lightroom and Photoshop. I also wanted to improve my image quality once again and started to learn more about cameras and how I could improve my image quality. In January 2019 I bought a new lens to replace my Canon 75-300mm with which I wasn’t satisfied at all. I bought the Sigma 100-400mm lens, which I still use today. My first time spotting with my new lens and my new knowledge about cameras was on the 12th of January at Geneva Airport. I was on an apron tour with some friends and spotted my second 737 MAX, operated by TUI, during the pushback procedure. Luckily, I shot all the photos in manual mode with ISO100, so the pictures turned out perfectly sharp and detailed. From there on, aviationphotogrpahy took me more than ever before. My photos had finally reached a quality almost equally to my idols. On Instagram I also surpassed my first big milestone, ten thousand followers. I also got into taking photos from the apron since my first apron tour. During 2019 I took part at about 10 apron tours, mostly at Zürich Airport, my home base.
During my Germany trip in Summer 2019, I visited another big airport, Frankfurt airport. It was quite a challenge spotting there because of the extreme temperatures during the 2 days I was spotting there. The temperatures were as high as 36 decrees, which made it impossible to get good shots of the airplanes which were a bit further away. I also had some very bad luck with some airplanes I really wanted to capture, for example EgyptAir’s new 787 Dreamliner. Still it was really worth it going to Frankfurt, an airport I can definitely recommend to you, especially if you go there by car.
After some weeks of school, I had my autumn break, where I visited Vienna airport, which I didn’t enjoy that much, and I visited Munich airport, an airport which I really liked. The main reason I went there is to get photos of the Lufthansa Airbus A350 fleet. It was a total success, I spotted a lot of Lufthansa A350, mostly in their new livery. I was also lucky to spot some A340-600’s in Lufthansa’s new livery. Munich Airport is definitely one of my favorite airports I’ve been to. So spotter friendly! They have so many spots to get very good photos from.
Just about two weeks later, I had a very special opportunity, I could go up on the air traffic control tower at Zürich Airport a whole morning for planespotting. The weather was not very good though I was of course in the dry, so it didn’t really matter. The views from the ATC tower were insane, much better than from the public spotting locations.
To sum everything up, the past three years of planespotting were insane, thanks to all the new friends and good memories I made in these three years!
I’m already looking forward to the next three years with you guys J
Joel Basler – Aviation Photographer