Making Heat Look Hot

October 11, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is situated 22 miles east-southeast of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as the crow flies. And during the summer the smart crow will fly only in the early morning, when the temperatures are least scorching. Then again, what's bad for the crow is good for manufacturers who want to test their wares when it's hot.

So it is that airframers, among others, will operate from the triple-10,000-foot runways at the former Williams Air Force Base in the heat of summer — plenty of room to fly and plenty of digits in the OAT. Working with the airport authority, I've documented several such programs.

When Boeing brought their in-development 747-8F Freighter to bask at the airport, we went out before sunrise to capture her. The result? A beautiful portrait, shot in HDR, capturing the textures and colors of the test site. What the photo doesn't convey is "hot."

Boeing 747-8F at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, 24 June 2010. So we waited until later in the morning (5:50 a.m. versus the 5:00 a.m. of the above photo) to catch her with sunlight pouring down. We also moved across the airfield to put her in a larger context with the mountains and the sun in frame, plus clouds and haze and lens flare — definitely hot, visually, though the thermometer hadn't risen appreciably.

Boeing 747-8F at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, 24 June 2010.

If 5:50 in the morning looks hot, what about 5 in the afternoon? The sun has been raining down rays for over 11 hours! Well, it depends. Boeing also tested their 787 at PMGA and, as the Dreamliner finished its flights for the day, the temps were up but the sky was blue. Good photo but not "hot." (Technically, that wasn't the goal for that day, so it's cool.)

Finally, I was shooting B-roll video with this Airbus coming and going at the airport and captured some real heat! This composite shows the action — the aircraft moves through the frame with the camera locked down — while the inset shows what the composite is too small to reveal: heat rising from the mid-July, mid-day, desert. And, of course, in moving pictures the burbles and wriggles of sizzling heat add another dimension to the footage. It is definitely one hot day in Arizona!

Stay cool if you can — but look hot if you must!

P.S. The photo of the Miami Air International Boeing 737 that illustrates this posting at the top level Blog page was also shot in the summer at PMGA. The orange effect is thus added to yet another image shot in the heat that doesn't show the heat.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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