Archives for posts with tag: airlines

My plan for this series in LensCaps at the start was twofold: First, to force myself to blog more regularly (I have found that like flossing and New Years’ Resolutions, it is extremely unlikely that I will commit to blog regularly after the initially burst of enthusiasm unless there’s some outside force compelling me: a pricey personal trainer makes me a much more constant gym membership user, and a public statement that I’m embarking on a numbered series of posts makes me feel guilty if I miss a day or two); and B, to feature older photographs that haven’t been featured lately (selected at random via an unscientific method of using the mouse wheel and random clicks in an index).

So what happens right after RPOTD #3? I go on a business trip to Oklahoma City, and posting to the blog becomes difficult, and it falls off the earth. Literally threes of devoted readers are if not mildly disappointed, at least somewhat aware of the break.

And then what do I do? I come back, and immediately violate the Highly Scientific Random Photo Algorithm. Today’s photos are from my recent trip, and I just thought it was cool that a couple of them were inadvertently sort of thematically linked, which is serendipitous, which is kinda like random, so I guess we’re OK.

This is the Devon Energy Center, at 52 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma City and tied for being the 39th tallest in the US. Architects were Pickard Chilton Architects Inc. The building itself is nice (if a little ridiculously out of scale with the rest of Oklahoma City (see the aerial view), but I really loved the morning sun peeking from behind it.

Devon Energy Building

The aforementioned aerial view:

Aerial view of Oklahoma City

The other “sunshine” photo is also an aerial, taken as I flew over California on my way back home (thank you, United, for the upgrade!), I was baffled by these three shiny objects on the ground below, and had to do a little webbly investigation to determine what it was that I’d been looking at. It is, in fact, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), near Nipton, southwest of Las Vegas. It’s the largest solar plant in the world, generating 377 megawatts by using mirrors to focus the sunlight on solar receivers on top of the central power towers (can we tell I think this is really cool?). The three plants together generate enough power to serve 140,000 homes during peak hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by over 400,000 tons annually. (Source: BrightSource)

Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar array

I am very bad person. I am a scofflaw, and a delinquent, and a wicked villain if ever there was one.  I am a troublemaker, a scoundrel, a reprobate, and a miscreant. I am the lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile, the most evil-doing of the evildoers. I am, in short, very bad indeed.

For while I am an otherwise obedient and dutiful citizen, and follow all the flight attendant’s instructions with regard to how to fasten my seatbelt, and keeping my seat in the upright position and my tray table latched away; while I am scrupulous in taking my laptop out of its bag and removing all metallic devices when going through security; while I am occasionally observant of the request not to take up valuable overhead compartment space with items that could,  conceivably fit under the seat in front of me; while I am in all these ways and more a most dutiful and obedient frequent flyer, I do fall short in one area:

I am frequently in flagrant and willful violation of both 14 C.F.R. § 91.21 and the flight attendant’s clear and meticulous instructions regarding the acceptable use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you: I often do not turn off my Nikon when told to do so on an airplane.

And not only do I blatantly violate federal and airline rules and regulations, I do so with malice aforethought: I frequently specifically request a window seat so I can engage freely in my perfidy.

The aforementioned regulation empowers the airlines to establish their own policies regarding electronic equipment. Most airlines adhere to policies like United’s :

Devices that may be used only when announced by the flight attendants and the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude:

       electronic games

       personal computers

       entertainment players

       recorders (audio and/or video, such as tape/CD/MiniDisc/MP3 players and camcorders)



       CAMERAS (emph. mine)

       aircraft power ports for laptops.

(Shavers? Really? I have felt many things on airplanes over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt an urgent need to shave, even during a long international flight. There’s usually plenty of time for self-grooming activities once I’m no longer hurtling through the air at 36,000 feet.)

Let’s be clear: There is No Evidence that any electronic device, much less a digital camera, poses any threat to airline systems. Neither the FAA nor the FCC has any sound basis for the prohibition, and neither seems able to point to any solid evidence whatsoever. The FCC states:

The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. Therefore, it decided at this time to make no changes in the rules prohibiting in-flight use of such devices.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. For this same reason the FAA also regulates the use of all portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as iPods and portable DVD players, during flight.

Now, I am second to none in my appreciation of everyone’s need to err on the side of keeping my butt from falling out of the sky. But until someone demonstrates that turning on a digital camera will cause a 767 to plummet from the sky, I’m likely to accept the risk on behalf of my fellow passengers and crew and, more importantly to me, myself. What studies there are (and there are few) have found no more than indistinguishable background radiation being emitted by digital cameras, with a barely-detectable electromagnetic transient when the shutter is activated. I do not have a GPS attachment for my D90, so it’s not talking to any satellites. I know that in addition to risking a violent and flaming demise, I am also risking hefty fines and even imprisonment for my felonious photography; but in this life risks must be taken, right? Plus, the likelihood of discovery is slim, since during the commission of my crimes the flight attendants are all snugly buckled in somewhere aft. And because my seatmates have also been, shall we say, liberal in their interpretations of when to boot up, turn on, lean back, or plug in, they are unlikely to narc on me. I’m not alone in my badness.

However, my surreptitious activities do not go unrewarded. Full compliance would have made the following images impossible, and that would be, in my view, something of a shame:

Rosemont, Illinois, on approach to Chicago O’Hare International Airport

LAX viewed during takeoff of a flight from Orange County Airport (SNA) to Seattle

Washington, DC on takeoff from National Airport

Red Bull Stadium and Newark, New Jersey, on approach to Newark Liberty International Airport

University of Nevada-Las Vegas’s football stadium, on approach to McCarran International Airport

Las Vegas Strip shortly after taking off from McCarran International Airport

Flying over the Space Needle on approach to Seattle-Tacoma

Boston skyline across Massachusetts Bay, immediately upon takeoff from Logan International Airport

Massachusetts Bay and the city of Boston, a few minutes after takeoff from Logan International Airport

Please visit EButterfield Photography and browse the galleries. Thanks!

One of the few joys I find in my frequent business travel is that I get to look out the window. OK, let me be more Serious: I enjoy taking aerial photos of the landscape. Whatever. Now that, of course, requires that I actively seek out window seats (on long flights, this has the downside of requiring me to climb over two fellow passengers to reach the aisle, but that’s really their problem more than mine).

What I’ve found over the years, using a Nikon D80 and D90, with telephoto and DX 18-105 lenses, is that the landscape, particularly of the southwestern United States, takes on a wildly abstract and interestingly non-geological appearance when viewed from the air. It’s likely a combination of the nature of the landscape itself, coupled with distortions resulting from the extreme angle at which “down” pictures must be taken through a tiny airliner window when the photographer is strapped in inches away from the plexiglass, along with the modest processing the images go through in PhotoShop. But whatever the reason, the results can look more like Jackson Pollock than Google Earth, and I love that.

Aerial view of Green River, Canyonlands NP, UtahAerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

I’m not sure what to call this. “Aerial photography” always sounds to me like someone with too many pockets on his shirt rented time on a Piper and flew around taking fabulous pictures leaning precariously out an open doorway. Snapping photos while twisted around in a 17-inch wide coach seat, lens pressed against a scratched 16×11 plexiglass window, holding the camera at a wrist-aching angle, doesn’t really qualify, at least in my mind, as something as exotic and professional-sounding as “aerial photography.”

Nomenclature aside, though, it’s something that I like to do, and that makes the frequent business trips I take much more creatively stimulating. I don’t mind that I make something of a spectacle of myself–a bald, middle-aged guy contorting himself and clicking his camera rapidly out the window like a nine year old on his first flight. I may not be leaning precariously out an open airplane window, but from time to time I brazenly defy the order to “turn off all electronic devices” and take photos with my digital camera during final approach and landing. I am terribly sneaky about this, waiting for the flight attendants to go to their seats before surreptitiously pulling the camera back out and shocking my row-mates with my flagrant scoff-lawery. My Nikon has yet to interfere with Boeing’s complex electronics, however (to the best of my knowledge) and does not seem to have brought down any planes. I do apologize for putting my fellow passengers at risk, but sacrifices must be made for art.

Aerial View of Seattle, with Space NeedleAerial view of UNLV's football stadium, Las Vegas NV

The biggest challenge I’ve found to this sort of aerial photography is picture quality. There is simply no way these puppies are going straight from the camera onto the web. At thirty thousand feet, even on a clear day, there is haze and glare that simply must be Photoshopped away. The image below shows the before (on the left) and after versions of an aerial view of southern Arizona. As you can see, there’s a lot of nasty haze and glare that the camera picks up that my eye, at least, doesn’t really register. The “after” image looks pretty much like what I recall seeing.

Comparison of original v Photoshopped aerial image of AZ desert

Here’s how I do it. There may be better ways, different adjustments to make, but I’ve found through a lot of trial and error that the most natural-looking and final image, the one most faithful to the actual appearance of the landscape, is achieved through two steps. First, a basic manipulation of RGB layers. Then some tweaking with contrast and desaturization (to eliminate the over-coloring that can result from the contrast change).

In manipulating an aerial photo to eliminate haze, the first step in Photoshop is to go to Layers and select “New Adjustment Layer” and “Levels.” That will pop up a window asking you to name your new layer. The default is fine, so click OK. That will open the RGB adjustment window. Simply drag the black pointer that’s on the left side of the display slowly toward the right, until it is directly beneath wherever the graph begins (usually with a simple horizontal line), and click OK. Here’s how that should look:

RGB adjustment

Now you’ll need to save the image as a JPG, since all this diddling with levels will have autosaved it as a Photoshop file. Once that’s done, open your new image and make any necessary adjustments to contrast, spot fixes, etc. You’ll likely need to adjust saturation down; these adjustments often result in colors that are a bit too vivid. Remember how that landscape looked while you were peering at it through your camera? Try for that. The goal (well, at least my goal; others may have different goals of course) is to illustrate how the natural landscape resembles abstract art, as accurately as possible.

Aerial view of AZ desert from 38,000 feet

Of course, as I said earlier, sacrifices must be made for art. I have, I must confess, occasionally wiped out entire small towns, farmsteads, and roads that interfered with the abstract image I was trying so hard to recreate naturally. I justify such artifice by telling myself that the goal is to show the abstract landscape, and the manmade objects mess that up. In any case, don’t be afraid to carefully spot-heal away villages or random buildings that distract the eye and give away the game.

There’s something else I love about my obsession with window seats, and that is this: It makes me look out the window. On long business trips I could, of course, pop open my laptop and peer obsessively at Excel spreadsheets. I could (and do, of course) turn on the Kindle and read, or plug my ears into my iPod and bounce in my seat while Lady Gaga tells me to “Show Me Your Teeth,” immediately followed by somebody singing about being the very model of a modern major general (I’m eclectic in my music). I could (and sometimes do) take a nap. But mostly I can look out the window, at the surprisingly consistent beauty and interest of the landscape below. Sometimes, there are even surprises:

Aerial view of natural geological formation somewhere in southwestern Colorado, due east of Egnar and south of Naturita. Coordinates 37.91219123585559,-108.597316688116.

The desert southwest is particularly photogenic, I’ve found, but there’s a majesty in the irrigation circles that dot the flat land like checkers on a board across the midwest. There’s the mystery of small cities drifting beneath the plane’s wing, filled with thousands of people who have no idea who I am or that I’m staring down at them. The old and rippling landscape on the eastern side of the country is beautiful, and the oceans, while a little monotonous, occasionally spring a surprising reef or island or some enormous ship going from someplace to somewhere. It’s all out there, a fabulous world beyond my window. Oh sure, I whine and complain about having to travel to cold and boring cities to sit in endless meetings in anonymous hotel ballrooms, but really in this case, as in so much else in life, the treasure is in the getting there. Right outside my window, as long as I keep looking.

shadow of jet on clouds, with rainbows circling

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