Class Report

Cleared for Takeoff: Photographing Airplanes at Gravelly Point

Teacher: Chris A. Williams, photographer
Documentarian: Kate Maloney
Location: Gravelly Point Park
Date: Sept. 2, 2014

See more photos of this class on Flickr!

There’s nothing like having planes whoosh over your head to feel like a little kid again, and there’s nothing like a photography challenge to find creative ways to capture those mechanical birds. Photographer Chris Williams shoots weddings and events professionally, but one of his favorite hobbies is photographing planes. He’s scouted airport runways all over the country, and recently he took a group of KCDC students to Gravelly Point Park near National Airport to share his passion and his knowledge.

As planes took off and landed right over their heads, students learned different techniques for capturing the action. Chris’ take-home message was to choose one part of the plane — for example, a wing or an engine — and try multiple approaches. Using a very fast shutter speed, you can freeze the motion of the plane; a show shutter speed lets you play with blur to show the movement of the plane. The varying methods tell different stories while focusing on the same airplane part.

Although D.C. doesn’t have any groups dedicated to plane photography, there are definitely dedicated plane-photography enthusiasts. Several were gathered at Gravelly Point Park on the night of the KCDC class. Some brought radios to listen to air traffic control and find out which planes were landing next, and others used smartphone apps to track take-offs and landings.

All in all, students had a great time at the class, and they appreciated Chris’ expertise and patience. The class was soaring until rain and thunder forced the planes — and the students — to come back to earth.