Plane Spotting: What Is It and How to Get Started?

While over the years, my aviation hobby has evolved a fair bit, there is one thing that remained unchanged. And that is my love of plane spotting. I visited an airport for the sole purpose of watching aircraft back in April 2006, and since then have been to quite a few airports around the world to do the exact same thing.

In this article, I will take a brief look at what plane spotting is, what plane spotters do, as well as what you need to get started with the hobby.

What Is Plane Spotting?

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What Is Plane Spotting?

Plane spotting is a hobby of watching and capturing aircraft movements at an airport. Generally, plane spotters are also aviation enthusiasts in a broader sense – they oftentimes enjoy learning about aircraft, flying on various aircraft types as passengers (or even pilots), and so on.

As for plane spotting itself, though, there are a number of different “types” of plane spotters.

Some enjoy photographing aircraft or taking videos of them while others enjoy noting down the registrations (“license plate numbers”) of the aircraft they see. Some like to travel to different airports around the world while others prefer to capture every single movement at their home airport.

Personally, I’ve mostly been taking photos of aircraft as I think it’s the most practical way of keeping track of the aircraft I’ve seen. That said, it’s also nice to put the camera down every now and then and just enjoy seeing the aircraft directly.

Plane Spotting at a Park in Tokyo

What Equipment Do You Need to Start Plane Spotting?

This will, of course, depend on how you want to capture what you see.

If you simply want to watch aircraft then, you don’t really need any equipment to get started. If you want to log registrations, then you will want to have a pair of binoculars so that you can not only see the aircraft, but also read its registration.

In case you want to take photos, you will need a camera – ideally a DSLR or a mirrorless with not only a wide-angle but also a telephoto lens. The reason you will want a telephoto lens is that you will often be quite far from the aircraft that you will be taking photos of.

I wrote more about choosing the right camera for plane spotting in a separate article.

Plane Spotting Equipment

In addition to the above, you might also want to get an airband scanner which will allow you to listen to air traffic control. Just keep in mind that in some countries it is not allowed to do so – so make sure you check your local laws and regulations before using one.

Finally, depending on the location you will take photos from, you might also need a ladder to be able to get an unobstructed view of the aircraft over the airport’s fence. Once again, while this is tolerated at some airports, it is not at others. So always do your research before using one.

Where Can You Do Plane Spotting?

Generally speaking, there are four types of places that you can take aircraft photos from:

  • Inside the terminal’s secure area: Only possible when you are taking a flight out of an airport and involves taking photos through windows.
  • Inside the terminal’s public area: Some airports have open-air observation decks while others have food courts, etc. that offer views of aircraft through windows.
  • Inside the airport’s perimeter: Some airports like Zurich and Prague offer photo tours that give access to areas around runways and taxiways. This is also possible during airshows and similar events.
  • Around the airport’s perimeter: Either standing near the approach path or by the fence, sometimes with a ladder.

Prague Airport Spotting on the Ramp

There are some airports – like Tokyo Haneda or Dusseldorf – that have excellent open-air observation decks.

More often than not, however, the best plane spotting locations are located around the airport’s perimeter. Sometimes they are official observation platforms and parks while other times they are “random” areas around the fence.

To find the spotting locations available around the airport that you are planning to be photographing at, you can check one of the many plane spotting websites including SpottersWiki and Spotter Guide.

I also publish some spotting guides and reports here on KN Aviation.

What Do Plane Spotters Do with Their Photos?

While most plane spotters take photos for their own pleasure – so that they can look back and see what aircraft they have seen, they also enjoy sharing these photos with other like-minded people.

Nowadays, one of the most common ways to do so is on social media – either via Instagram or Twitter accounts or through plane spotting Facebook groups. Uploading to photo databases like Airliners.net and Jetphotos.net is still quite popular as well.

In the past, I used to upload to those databases as well. Currently, however, I share my photos almost exclusively here – on KN Aviation (and from time to time on my Facebook page). If you are considering starting your own blog to share your photos and stories, make sure to check my guide about doing so.

Plane Spotting Photos

Summary

In many ways, plane spotting is easier today than it was a decade or two ago thanks to the fact that the hobby has become much more popular. That has led not only to more and more airports and authorities being understanding of the hobby but also more and more airports setting up observation decks and platforms making spotters’ lives easier.

Information about where to spot, what equipment to get, and so on is much easier to access as well.

As such, if you are interested in aircraft or aviation in general, I can only recommend trying plane spotting. In the beginning, I recommend you try a bit of everything – just watching aircraft, going to an airport near your home, visiting an airshow, etc. – to figure out which aspect of aviation you enjoy the most.

Once you know that, you can start taking trips to airports further away from where you live, investing in more expensive equipment if necessary, start sharing your photos in Facebook groups or even on your own website, and so on.

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