How to do airport photoshoots without getting shot/prosecuted

Not everyone understands our little hobby, and never is this more clear (to me anyways) than when I want to take photos of an airfield for the purpose of making a scenery. It used to be that I would drive out to my airport of choice and start snapping away until someone tried to stop me, and then do my best to play dumb and explain that I'm a nerd with a serious addiction to a computer game (ahem, simulation) that requires taking pictures of airports.

It dawned on me though, that it's only a matter of time until some crusty old fart decides that I must be a terrorist bent on blowing up Bob's Sky Ranch and calls the cops on me. So lately I've tried the permission-asking strategy. But alas, the suspicion remains, and I get responses such as "Well, I'd rather you didn't..." and lots of quizzical looks.

So how do you folks do it? Is there something magic to say? Do you pay them off? Tell them you're from Flying magazine? Create a diversion? Chloroform 'em?

I guess things must be a bit tougher in your part of the world, but yes, if I'm not stopped by the police at least once a month I know I'm not doing my job properly:)

Actually, the last time I was stopped by the police was just in a popular plane-spotter location at NZAA, but I'd brought along a convenient boxed version of one of my sceneries. Of course I'm aware that to get anywhere sensitive within the airport actually costs a lot of money and organisation.

For smaller airports, normally I phone any contacts I can find and tell them what I'm doing. It's a lot easier to just get an email address and offer to explain everything by email -- then I send a link to my website, which at least makes me seem like the real thing.

Once I have a contact hooked, I make an appointment to visit the airfield. By then they are normally keen to help. Aero clubs and flight schools are easier to work with, provided you can find someone who doesn't see a stigma attached to FS. (More common than you'd think.)

Larger airports are a lot different. The process is similar, but takes a lot of talking and time to arrange. Even then there are a number of restrictions to work with.
Thanks for the help today Toprob, I just responded to your reply to my other post as well!

I was hoping you'd agree with the chloroform route, but in the interest of avoiding a felony I think your way will work better. I don't have a website to show, but I see how that would help. Maybe I'll throw something together just for this purpose...

Also, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it makes sense to offer the owners a little financial compensation (if it's a small, privately-owned field, which is what I prefer to do sceneries of). I am, after all, tromping around their property. If someone came to my house asking to take pictures, I'd probably tell him thanks but no thanks, which is what I've been told by the last two airport owners. But if that person came to my house and offered me fifty bucks to take pictures, and gave me a decent reason for doing so, I might just let them. I don't know; your thoughts?



Resource contributor
Most owners of small privately owned fields are pretty happy ... especially if it's freeware you are developing.

Since most are enthusiasts they seem pretty intrigued with the whole process, and quite keen to see their field re-created.

... or at least that has been my experience .... but controlled airports are likely different .. particularly in other parts of the world.
Maybe this would work… :redflag:

Elo Americaaaaan ieenfieedel, my name is Al Halu Sigenic, I em a suicide bomba and you av 1 hour to get the hell out of der…


I say, hello there old chap, lay down the red carpet or I’ll phone my good friend at Goldman Sachs, we'll shut down the entire air traffic control system, bankrupt the whole continent, and force you to blame it on a volcano…


Hugh Hefner is looking for an airport to do a photo shoot… can you help?
Request to speak to the Airport Manager, making an appointment. When you go in to meet with that person, bring your credentials.

When talking with that person, try to see yourself through their eyes. If you will state that you will stay out of the way, and wish to do this as quickly as possible, and on a day when the lighting is good for photos, and that you realise to stay out of the way of taxiing planes, then you should be good to go.

If that doesnt work, then go over there head, find his/hers boss, and again setup an appointment.

Other avenues could include finding a person in the EAA, etc, that has a plane there and you could literally taxi around the area (with him, you in the plane), and getting out now and then to take pictures. I cant see why they would stop you from taking pictures if you are in a plane and everything. Tell them you are taking photos for sentimental reasons if they are freaked out by business nightmare possibilities via being tied to a payware airport package, (if this is payware, which you dont really have to bring up).

Hope that helps.

I ran into this at Deer Valley. The nooot that ran the desk tried to tell me he was also the boss and was hostile and rude. The Airport manager was a gentleman, though I never ended up meeting with that person.

Also, an Airschool that is usually heavy into FS will also walk you around to take pictures.. A pilot that has nothing to do for an hour would probably love to take you around the airport for taking photos. If you are with a person that is allowed on the tarmac, you are fine.

Airport photos

I actually went into the airport managers outer office with a half completed screenshot of the buildings, and a screenshot of what Microsoft's version was.

I asked for 5 minutes of his time.

I mentioned the name of a few people who were acquaintances of the both of us.

The guy had a reputation as a winner anyway, and the upshot was that I had a standing invitation to ask a specific operations guy for an escort anywhere I needed to be. I don't abuse the privilege.

If you are reasonable, prepared, etc. this can work out well.

Regrettably, a self styled hot shot at Blue Hawaiian Helicopters on Maui refused to let his immediate underlings sell me a couple of leftover videos people had left behind.
If it is a publicly owned airport (Municipal or County, etc) they can't tell you that you can't take pictures. You (I assume) are an honest taxpayer (let's not get into this discussion.) A portion of the taxes you pay will finance the operation (and personnel) of this airport. You, in effect, are paying for that airport and the airport manager's paycheck. Since you are doing this, they can't tell you "no." They can request that you stay away from taxiways and (of course the runway:redflag: ) But the buildings themselves don't need permission to take pictures of.;)
I’ve been trying to get permission to take photography of my local airfield Murwillumbah (YMAR) NSW Australia it’s a small grass strip but its council propriety. It’s for a freeware project but trying to get the council reply is about 2 mouths and the fully missed what my intentions where twice. :mad:

Gold Coast (YBCG) airport I had more luck they have a form you fill out about $600 an hour for the airside, I filed it out post it and email it but no reply within the 8 Business days, it’s been three to four months. So I kind of got someone to drive by on the bypass and took about three shoots with my digital camera of the terminal. :D
Other avenues could include finding a person in the EAA, etc, that has a plane there and you could literally taxi around the area (with him, you in the plane), and getting out now and then to take pictures.
Actually, I get by far the best result by enlisting the local club to fly me around the airfield. At one combo regional/military airport I worked on, it was of course impossible to get inside the military gates, but with the help of the nearby aero club I managed to get enough photo resources.

I remember one time at a small airport the boss changed his mind once I got air-side -- but by talking slow, walking and shooting fast, I managed to get enough photos before he threw me out...

One last thing -- once you get official access, the best way for me is to befriend the security folk -- they normally welcome a change to their routine, and are almost always happy to drive me around. Plus they give you a nice bright vest so you don't get diced and sliced by a prop.
I must admit, that in the UK, especially where i come from, all airports I've visited so far have been nothing but outstanding, very friendly and welcoming to my hobby. Though I'm aware of some location that strictly prohibit photography of any kind but thats there loss :p
My guess is that most of the people "working" here are either in IT gaming, or have military contacts, or work for a satellite company in GPS or mapping.

As a hobbyist new to flight sim, and absolutely fascinated by the technology, I think that anyone that has found a niche in this market and that is now able to make a living out of it, can count their blessings, what a fantastic career if you have landed in the right place.

Mans fascination with flight and a mix of technology thats equally intriguing, is there anything better?

Imagine being the lead designer at Lockheed Martin and your job is creating the scenery for the simulators, or the engineer working on ESP flight dynamics, or the manager developing the market for the latest jet fighter, or the guy porting military technology to the civilian sector, including gaming... wow!

I think if you really are in this industry, getting in anywhere wouldn't be a problem, they might even want to kidnap you... ha ha
I think your enthusiasm would be your ticket in anywhere and all you'd have to do is talk about what you do.

I think though that you also have to be sensitive to current global politics and the mad world we living in right now...

I think a more interesting question is... who are you guys?
More than just gamers... thats for sure!
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Slighlty off topic, but saves creating a new one. What are the regulations surrounding images located on sites such as Google, can they be used for reference without infringing copyright laws, as surely, this is technically not using the image apposed to saving and editing as Photoreal textures etc?

I'm sure many companies go off what they find on the internet?
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In my case things are a little bit easier as I’m also a plane spotter maniac. Recently in Romania relations between plane spotters and airport authority are going very well so making photos with airports it’s ok.
The big achievement was last summer when I bought a Nikon D90 and a Sigma 150-500 telephoto lens. At 500mm I get good photos with a lot of detail from very far away!!! I believe that telephoto lens is a must for all scenery designers :p
So I use this photos just to see the design of the buildings although I could use these photos as texture! I like to draw myself all the textures. Getting a close photo with a wall of a building doesn’t always mean that the texture will be great.
Here is how my lens look’s like