The desire to capture perfect photos of the giants of the skies is top of most plane spotters’ wish lists. It’s an achievable dream given that many airports have convenient locations for taking top-quality aircraft photographs. But if you’re a plane spotter in a low-level air traffic area, it can be difficult. What’s the solution?
A plane spotter and aviation enthusiast, Girmantas Gurbauskas has spent five years working in the aviation industry and 10 years spotting planes. He says that tracking jets in less busy areas teaches patience and precision when taking pictures. Based in Vilnius, this Lithuanian aircraft admirer admits that while Vilnius International Airport (VNO) isn’t as bustling as other Western Europe hubs, it still has its charms.
“In general, plane spotters are aviation enthusiasts who not only observe planes but learn a lot about particular aircraft types and airlines as well,” Gurbauskas says.
“I’ve been plane spotting since my days at school. I always wanted to relate my professional life to aviation, so I chose to study Air Traffic Control studies at the local Lithuanian university. I remember that my passion for planes first ignited when I took my very first transatlantic flight when I was visiting relatives abroad. Since then, I guess it wasn’t a single day when I didn’t ride my bike to Vilnius Airport to spot planes taking off and landing.”
As a schoolboy, his hobby proved to be a challenge. When Gurbauskas started taking his first photographs using his parents’ old camera, VNO was surrounded by a concrete fence. And, as plane spotting was rare in Lithuania, strangers standing by the airport’s fence raised the suspicions of airport security staff.
“Initially, I had been tracking arriving flights’ data online, then I used to take a ride with my bike to the airport, where I climbed trees or was looking for another ascent, and even had constructed a ladder, so I could take pictures of various jets,” Girmantas remembers.
Since he had limited access to flight data, sometimes he was unable to get to the airport on time. But the aircraft observer never abandoned his hobby.
Spotting planes from trees to the launch of the plane spotters’ community
A decade ago, Girmantas came across a Lithuanian online forum which had brought together people using the Microsoft Simulator. It was also sharing useful information regarding virtual flights. Gurbauskas then noticed some forum members posting pictures from real airports. And so, he decided to share some of his own photographs. This is how he began making his pictures public.
As his photography skills improved and his knowledge of airplanes increased, Girmantas created a Lithuanian plane spotting page on social media, and allowed other aviation enthusiasts to share their own photos. Initially, the little community consisted of just five members. Over time, the page gathered public attention and expanded into a community of thousands of Lithuanian aviation professionals and enthusiasts.
However, since Gurbauskas was focused on finding a professional job in the aviation industry, he had to temporarily push his aircraft observing hobby into the background. But as soon as the global pandemic forced the market into lockdown,and he was left temporarily without work, Girmantas decided to revive the community and dedicated his time to page reorganization.
“My colleague and I started sharing pictures with detailed descriptions, providing more information about the exact flight, details about the plane, and airlines as well as circumstances why the appearance of such a plane in Lithuanian is an exceptional case,” he explains.
Plane spotting in low traffic areas
Girmantas says that since Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s are the most common aircraft types visiting Lithuania, local plane spotters face various challenges.
“If I were Dutch living next to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I think that plane spotting would not be so satisfying a process as it is for me now. We have only a single chance to capture a rare aircraft vising our region and we can’t waste it. In some places where the air traffic is more intense, plane spotters can have more attempts to take pictures. If you don’t succeed, you will always have another opportunity sometime later as larger airports welcome larger numbers and a variety of aircraft types daily.
“But this is why plane spotting in our region is more unique – we must strive for the best quality picture from the first camera click.”
The plane spotter adds that the geographic location of the airport as well as climate conditions, which are especially challenging in winter, also make a significant difference in the plane spotting process compared with jet spotters in other countries.
“Even though we don’t need to climb into trees as we used to when we were children and the airport now has designated places for plane spotting, the harsh winters when the temperature drops below minus 18 degrees Celsius still make our hobby challenging.”
Gurbauskas adds that advances in technology have also changed the way that plane spotters operate.
“The good professional picture could be taken by a smartphone. But when you are passionate about what you do, you constantly improve your skills and invest in photo technics. It is quite an expensive hobby if you take it seriously.”
What does a plane spotter need to take a perfect picture?
Gurbauskas says: “We all use airband radio receivers to listen to conversations between the air traffic controllers and aircraft pilots. This is how we get detailed information on where and when the exact plane will land or take off. This helps us to be ready to take the shot on at the precisely best moment.
“We also follow latest updates on social media and we also have personal connections in the airport, who sometimes provide us with information regarding flight plans of less common airlines. It is also highly important to follow local and international news that is not related to aviation at first sight. For instance, if I find that the president of Lithuania plans to meet the Polish president, it means that we must be prepared to spot the presidential jet. If some Lithuanian sports teams are scheduled to have a game with some foreign sports teams, we are also can’t wait to see the aircraft with foreign sportsmen on board landing at our airport.”