I’m not sure what motivated me. Just a quick thought, I suppose. I sort of had a photo in my mind, but I knew it wasn’t really possible either. But I figured it would be fun to give it a try and see what I could come up with. And what I got was a lot of starbursts as an airliner landed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
I returned to one of my favorite spots to photograph the jets on arrival to the north runway complex at LAX. It was dark, so I knew the shutter speed would need to be a bit slow. I wanted to use that to my advantage to get streaks of light for an approaching airliner. Of course, as long as I was aiming for a long shutter speed, I might as well stop the lens down a bit more to get a starburst effect for the approach lights.
This naturally required a bit of a balance between the aperture (stopped down for starbursts), the shutter speed (slow, but not too slow), and the ISO setting (high enough to achieve a reasonably fast shutter speed, but not so high that noise would be a major issue).
The thing is, the starburst effect you achieve varies a bit depending on the specific aperture you set. In this case, using a 10-22mm lens, there was no question that the starburst effect was best at f/22. And I also needed to use a shutter speed of around one to two seconds to achieve the desired length for the streaks of light that would appear for each approaching jet. That ultimately meant that I needed to keep the ISO relatively high, and I settled for 3200 ISO. Keep in mind, of course, that the key subject was the lighting. So, I didn’t need to expose for the really dark areas. Instead I focused on making sure that the lights looked their best.
I was fortunate that in this situation I was able to take plenty of practice shots in between landing jets, so I could evaluate the results and decide what the best settings were. And there were plenty of jets approaching over the time I was there, ensuring I would be able to keep trying until I got it right. Not that I wanted to be there all night.
This was most certainly one of those situations where I was photographing for the pure fun of it. I had no expectations whatsoever for the photos. I just had an idea that seemed like it might be fun to explore, so I did. And I got a lot of starbursts in return, including starbursts on the rotating beacon and strobe on the underside of the fuselage. Fun!