Philippa and Calum were flying home from holiday and scheduled to arrive in Manchester  very early in the morning. I had promised to pick them up, but the logistics of being on the road from 11 pm to 4 am and still be fresh for a full day’s work didn’t quite seem to work. So I was instead booked into Premiere Inn at the airport so I could arrive early, get a good night’s sleep and drive the tired travellers home in the morning.

While getting ready to leave it occured to me that I could bring a camera and do a bit of plane spotting in the evening. A quick look on Google maps identified a couple of potentially good locations a stone-throw from one of the runways. So after checking in, I made my way there, and sure enough, there was a brilliant view. I imagined the main shot should be a silhouette picture of a plane against a burning red/orange/yellow sunset, so I had also checked when and where the sun sets over Manchester in early July (at 21:39, 321 degrees, North-Northwest, in case anyone wonders), and although that meant shooting across the runway rather than along it, I was hoping it would work out.

So I spent a couple of hours shooting planes taking off and occasionally having a chat with likeminded plane spotters (sans cameras though) who were enjoying the views. It’s been a few years since I last photographed planes, but it came back quickly enough. Keep the shutter time at 1/250th or slower for anything with a propeller, pan with the plane, try to get some of the ground in the frame as a reference point.

The sun has gone down; it is time to call it a night

I needen’t have worried about the sunset. Although there were a couple of promising gaps in the increasing cloud cover, the evening mainly went from light-grey to dark-grey without those tropical colours I had hoped for. Maybe that’s because Manchester is not in the tropics!

Around 10 pm I had waited 15 minutes since the previous take-off (an Airbus A380-861 flying to Dubai), by then the sun had been below the horizon for half an hour so the camera’s ISO setting was getting very high and it was getting chilly. So I called it a day and went back to the hotel for a quick pint in lieu of dinner and then bedtime so I could be ready for the tired travellers in the morning.

Information about the planes is courtesy of, but don’t click the link unless you have time to spare. It is very fascinating, and before you know it, you’ll have spent an hour checking the skies and clicking on planes.