Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Click the map to go to Google Maps satellite view of this airport
The Los Angeles International Airport is one of the best airports in the U.S. for planespotting and photography. The main reasons are the wide variety of airlines, good weather, and good photo locations. Most of the major airlines of countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia & New Zealand operate at LAX. The best time of year for photography is from fall to spring, mainly due to the runways’ east-west layout and sun angle.
The most well known spot at LAX is called Imperial Hill. It is located at the top of a hill overlooking the south runways on Imperial Ave. Take Imperial Hwy. west from Sepulveda to the first light and make a left, then an immediate right onto Imperial Ave. and go past the dog park. There is on-street parking, benches & picnic tables. You will have a nearly unobstructed view of aircraft departing and taxiing, although you may encounter heat haze on photos of aircraft on the ground due to the distance. You won’t be able to see aircraft touching down on runway 25L but after they exit the runway, while on the taxiway between the runways, you can photograph them but there’ll be heat haze. For aircraft smaller than an A320 you’ll need a 400mm lens, but for the large aircraft you’ll only need 100-200mm zoom. Here is a panorama showing the view from Imperial Hill (click for a larger view):
The other well known spot is a small park across the street from the In-n-Out Burger at the corner of Sepulveda and Pacific Coast Hwy/Lincoln Blvd. Due to the curve of the roads, this park is actually in the middle of the intersection. You can park either in the In-n-Out parking lot (though it is usually packed) or on the street in front. The park is situated directly under the approach path for aircraft landing on runway 24R so you’ll be able to photograph jets from underneath and from the rear as they fly over the approach lights making for some creative shots. To attempt any side view photos here, the light would be best during late afternoons in the summer. A wide angle lens would be best because the planes are very low here. Here is a video of a plane landing at LAX from this location:
For photographing side views in good light from fall to spring there are a few good options. One is a parking garage located at W. 98th St. & Vicksburg Ave. and another one further east next to the Renaissance Hotel on W. 96th St. east of Airport Blvd. Street parking is normally very hard to come by in the LAX area but next to the garage on W. 96th St. there are several streets with parking on both sides and no meters. If you can find a space on the streets around Belford Ave. (see map), you can get a good view of traffic approaching runway 24L. Most of the international flights and heavy jets use this runway.
Another location for landing traffic on the south runway is outside the Proud Bird Restaurant. This landmark restaurant has been here since 1967 and actually has some old warbirds on display in a park behind their building. They are located off of Aviation Blvd. one block north of the 105 freeway. From their parking lot, you’ll be facing north and can get side views of aircraft landing on runway 25L. Only a few international flights use this runway for landing, mainly those coming from the south or south Pacific such as Fiji Airways and Aeromexico; however, I also photographed a Fiji A330 on a different day landing on the north side. It all depends on traffic flow in this crowded southern California airspace but due to the prevailing weather patterns being west to east aircraft will almost always be landing to the west.
There is also a spot that has produced some excellent photos during late afternoons in the summer months only. The road that runs parallel to the north runways, Westchester Pkwy., goes over the Pacific Coast Hwy (Lincoln Blvd.) with an overpass that is slightly elevated and offers a view of the runway. But there is no parking anywhere along these roads or any place to turn around. On Lincoln Blvd. just north of the overpass there is an apartment complex with a small street on the side. There’s only room for maybe 6 cars here. If you can find a free space, you can walk up the embankment to Westchester at the overpass where there are ample sidewalks and a bike lane. If you can’t park there, you’d have to go further down Lincoln Blvd. and it’ll be a much longer walk. Most of the foreign airlines with large jets use this runway for departure so you could get some very well lit runway shots if you can get here.
Another thing to do if you really want some unique photos is shoot from a helicopter. A company called Star Helicopters located 4 miles away at the Hawthorne Airport offers photo tours. They are allowed to fly and hover over the terminals between the runways at 2,500 feet and you can easily shoot pictures of aircraft on the ramp & runways and approaching the runways. The cost is $300 for an hour flight on a Robinson R-22 helicopter. See the link below for examples of photos I shot from the air.
Overall, the LAX airport is a must for the true aviation enthusiast. Even during the winter when the days are short there will still be plenty of variety of aircraft that you won’t see in most other U.S. airports.