190119 Planespotting - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

In my ongoing efforts to find geeky and inconvenient hobbies I seem to have accidentally taken up planespotting. For those unfamiliar with this activity, it involves going somewhere awkward and then standing there waiting for something to fly past. And that's it. Sure, it can involve cameras, but there's really nothing else to it. Its main attribute is a sense of tantalizing boredom – the FOMO feeling that something might happen the second I give up and go home, a sense that's intensified by it being double-digit-minutes since the last interesting thing happened.

For context, it might be important to know that I really can't tell different planes apart. The aircraft I can most reliably identify are Dash-8's, and that's just because they're abundant on the Toronto waterfront. I'm sufficiently accustomed to Porter's Q400 model that the earlier variants, like this Q100 flying for Air Canada, looks oddly stubby. I can usually spot an Airbus A380 or Boeing 747, and know the military planes that show up in the airshow reasonably well, but otherwise that's about it. If I can't see the registration I'm pretty much sunk – so my thanks to Westjet, who usually puts it under the wing as well as on the fuselage, and boo to the rest who don't.

While I don't have any figures or studies to support this, planespotting-photography seems like one of those activities that's overwhelmingly male. I base this assumption on its fetishizing technology, fundamental absurdity, and that there are a lot of rules for what makes an acceptable image. Seriously. I've tried to create an account on one of the image sites, and its submission guidelines are dizzying. If I'm lucky they'll let the Q100 past their gatekeepers, but the first one is probably over-processed and the one above shows something from the wider world, which is forbidden. I like them anyway, clearly, and have put together my own planespotting gallery to hold my favourites. Go there if you want to know the registration numbers for the planes – sometimes I've had to find it from a different image in the sequence – and with that DuckDuckGo will be able to pull up everything from when it was made to where it is now.

And speaking of fetishizing technology, these photos were also a chance to try out the autofocus with my new Fuji XH1 and 55-200 lens. The results so far have been a solid 'meh'. While I'm not particularly adept at tracking moving subjects, it's a little concerning when the camera can't manage something as big and predicable as an oncoming airliner without user assistance. And man, do I ever need to stop that lens down. Next time I may try with my 80mm Macro just to see how it does instead. After all, there's nothing that says I have to take the bland plane-in-sky photos that show all of the aircraft and no personality.

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