I do just enough corporate travel each year to push me into that category of fliers who are a bit more familiar with airports than they would really like to be. But this familiarity has a nice silver lining to it, and as a photographer, that translates to a target-rich environment for capturing people in a sort of raw, unrehearsed setting of life.
So, how should one go about catching this unique environment with a camera? Some photographers worry that federal agents will swarm upon them and seize equipment if they even try to pull out pro equipment on an airplane or in a terminal. I have to admit that at first, I had some serious reservations of my own – but the temptation was just too great!
My photo-conscious eye was constantly being drawn to interesting exchanges, lighting, and motion. I was missing shots left and right because I was just too timid to react. Finally, one fine day at Denver International, I just started blazing away in concourse B. You know what? No one made a peep. They barely noticed I was there. I have been shooting airports, terminals, and airplanes ever since, and it is amazing how much fun and excitement it brings.
The photos that accompany this story have been collected over a two year period starting in 2006, and they have become a special collection of technique and memories that I enjoy each time I look at them. Here are a few tips for those trying to get up the nerve to shoot the terminal:
1. I know it is tempting, but skip that non-stop flight, and choose an intermediate stopping point with enough layover to do some exploring. When I leave San Diego, I usually hit Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, or Dallas/Fort Worth. All of these are great airports to practice taking photos. Planning for a plane change will also get you mentally ready to confidently plunge into a great photo opportunity.
2. Choose a good bag for the task. I carry a sling pack that I can quickly slide around to my front. I pull my dSLR out nice and smooth, and shoot, then move on. Airport photography is all about quick, discrete behavior. I would recommend avoiding tripods or anything long and metallic that might draw the wrong kind of attention.
3. Do some recon and plan out your shot. Leave your camera tucked away and just patrol the terminals looking for that great shot. If you see a neat silhouette, or a person sleeping in an odd position, chances are you have a minute to prepare. Rehearse your approach in your mind, double check your exposure settings, and go make it happen.
4. Don’t be shy about telling people what you are doing. People in airports are suspicious by nature – it now goes with the territory. When you engage people and tell them what you are doing, they may become interested and might even help you get the shot you need. Be credible, and take cards with your information on them so you can easily hand them to curious people.
Now get out there, and embrace the plane change! There are some great shots to be had at airports. With a little effort and practice, you will soon find yourself actually looking forward to that next round of corporate customer service training on the other side of the country.