With most airports (usually unofficially) offering at least half a dozen different locations for spotting, it’s hard to choose which one to go to. Unless you want to spend valuable spotting moving around between locations, it’s advised that you visit no more than two locations in a day. At least for most of us, it takes long enough already just to get to the airport. To then move between locations is, at least in my opinion, a waste of time. But if something out of our control happens that makes the location unusable, for example rain, change of active runways, or change of lighting, then of course we have to make an exception.
Therefore before leaving your home, you should have had a good thought about where you’ll want to be spotting for the day. When choosing a location, you need to consider a couple of things (ranked by importance): aircraft movement, lighting, accessibility, facilities, and perhaps weather.
Aircraft movement – You want to be at a location where you have a good view of aircraft movement, otherwise the purpose of plane-spotting is obviously defeated. You don’t want to be at the threshold of a runway that’s not in use, nor do you want to be at a location that’s a mile away from the airport or doesn’t have a clear view of the aircraft. Trust me in that spotting’s not very fun when you can’t see planes.
Lighting – If your goal for spotting is to simply look at planes and you don’t care much about the photography aspect, then lighting is not really something you have to worry about. However, if you’re an aviation photographer, lighting is absolutely crucial. If you’re in a location where there’s not much light or the planes you’re trying to capture are backlit, well then I bid you good luck. NO amount of post-processing is able to save an image shot in poor lighting conditions. As a photographer you must always pay attention to the lighting conditions, as after all light is what’s entering your camera and creating your images. A lot of beginning photographers make the mistake of focusing too much on their subject or composition and not nearly enough on lighting.
Accessibility – If I had everything my way, I’d spend my days spotting on the taxiway, but obviously that’s not possible. You always need to make sure that the location you’re going to spot from is one that you can physically get to. The inside of the passenger terminal is probably my favorite spotting location at HKG you’re willing to count it as one, but obviously it’s only accessible when I’m flying out. You also need to make sure that you can get to the location in a reasonable amount of time without an unreasonable amount of fuss. The Sha Lo Wan ferry pier on Lantau Island is an off-site location that I would like to visit sometime, however it’s an absolute pain to get there and most of the time I only have half the day to go spotting and therefore it would be silly to spend two or three hours getting to a location and then having to leave after 30 minutes of spotting.
Facilities – This one’s not quite as important unless you need to make a bathroom trip every 20 minutes or fancy doing some shopping after a day of spotting, but of course facilities are nice to have. I like spotting from the observation deck at terminal 2 of HKG because I can grab lunch at a restaurant or make a bathroom trip as needed.
Weather – Weather is definitely something very important that you should always consider, but it’s probably not something that’s going to affect the decision-making process for choosing a spotting location. If it were raining or snowing you probably wouldn’t be out spotting in the first place, and even so, most spotting locations are outdoors so there’s not much you can do to stay warm and dry other than remain at home.
These are the few basic criteria that I always consider when picking my spotting location for the day, and I hope that this guide has helped you gain a better understanding the decision-making process that goes into choosing your spotting location.