Standing under the runway 27L flight line at Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Now that I have a decent camera, there is no excuse for me to not take advantage of the good weather and get some approach shots whenever I have the time. I have been mostly an indoor shooter up until this point, but this spring has marked my transition to the outdoors.

The best place to get approach shots at ORD is from the parking lot of the USG building on the corner of Mannheim and Lawrence. This parking lot is empty on the weekends, and it offers really nice (and close) views of aircraft approaching runway 27L. Best of all, this is considered a “safe” spot – the airport police don’t have any problems with people taking pictures from here. Of course they drive by occasionally and give me the stink-eye as they roll past, but I have never been told to leave.

I have spent a lot of Saturday and Sunday mornings at this spot. Yes, it is a long drive from my apartment (two hours one-way to be exact), but I have a system going and it goes a little something like this:

  • Start checking weather forecasts around Thursday(ish) just to get a sense of any real possibility at all for aviation photography during the weekend. I was looking for two key things: sun, and winds out of the west. Winds from any other direction meant that the 27’s would not be in use so there was really no point in going.
  • If things looked good, I would keep checking the forecast obsessively (right up until the morning I drove over there) to be absolutely sure that the forecast was good. After all, I didn’t want to spend 4 hours on the road for crappy conditions – which did happen a few times.
  • If all the stars aligned and the weather was good, I was out of bed and on heading west on I-94 before 5am.
  • Arrive at the USG spot around 7am, then proceed to take pictures non-stop for the next three hours or so.
  • By this time, I was usually getting pretty hungry and a visit to the bathroom was becoming urgent. So I drove down the road a little bit to McDonalds for a quick pit stop. I never stayed long though, because I didn’t want to miss anything arriving on 27L
  • Back at the USG spot, I continued to take pictures until the early afternoon. I should note that I am usually a sit-in-the-car kind of photographer. I don’t like to stand outside in the elements, so most of the time I am in the car between arrivals.
  • I’d continue shooting for a couple more hours until boredom (and tiredness) took over – and then it was back on I-94 east to Michigan.

American Airlines 767-200

Continental Airlines 737-300

Delta Airlines 757-200

FedEx MD-11F

FedEx MD-11F

Japan Airlines 747-400

KLM 747-400

Korean Air 777-200

Korean Air 777-200

Mexicana Airlines A320

Spirit Airlines MD-82 Hybrid Livery

Swiss MD-11


United Airlines 747-400

USAirways 737-400

USAirways 737-300

USAirways 737-300

I can’t believe how many times I’ve made this trip so far. My poor car! But aviation photography is my number one hobby right now, and my only “real” airport near me was ORD. A boy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

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