I’m drawn to sunsets, having dragged my camera—and, by extension, my readers—to a good many of them. But when I set out last Saturday to follow the “golden hour,” I wanted to try my hand at something more than just the setting sun. I found myself at a place called Imperial Hill, on the south side of LAX in El Segundo. Imperial Hill’s great claim to fame among aviation buffs and photographers is that it overlooks the south complex of runways at the airport.
It was a particularly clear day with an onshore wind of about 25 mph, enough to keep it clear. And the control tower did its job by keeping the planes taking off into the wind.
And the setting sun did its part as its rays grew diffuse and golden against the aluminum of the planes.
Aircraft photographers are a distinct subset. They like to call themselves “plane spotters.” Many have a lot of specialized equipment—extra-long lenses, dedicated aviation radios, and some even carry a spotting glass (like ship’s captains from the 18th Century.) Some keep detailed archives of the planes they’ve photographed, their tail numbers, the weather. A few I’ve talked to claim they’ve made money mining their photo archives if a particular plane makes it into the news.
I was more interested in the action photos than in the gear. At one point, I even turned to the other end of the runway, where planes were touching down. The points of light are planes on final approach to LAX, each at a different distance and thus a different altitude.
I think the high point of my photo session was the “big boy,” a Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 that lumbered down the runway and then crept toward the sun.