Location 1: Airport Road
Located around the threshold of Runway 23 on Airport Road, this is the single most popular spot at YYZ. It’s perfect for every lens size and skill level. Airport Road runs almost perpendicular to Runway 23, so based on the time of day you can move along the road so you’re never backlit not really, but we’ll get to that later, and you can get all sorts of angles. There’s also a parking garage you can use (but not park in) in the late afternoon. You can come to Airport Road with anything from a phone to a 150-600mm. Generally, most (and that most is very important) heavies will land and takeoff on 5/23 as it’s the longest runway, but see the aircraft section down below. Line ups are possible, but they may haze a bit. Facilities are completely provided for, you want food, there’s a Wendy’s and a convenience store. Bathrooms? No big deal. Parking? Easy. About a million spots in any store parking lot. The only issue here is light poles and large trucks that can get in your shot, so just be careful. I don’t have an example of a picture right now, but honestly they vary a lot based on distance and angle.
- Good variety of angles
- Low planes
- Line ups and arrivals
- Usable throughout day
- Many Facilities
- Hard to get touchdown and rollout shots.
- Poles and traffic
Location 2: Dixie Road
Not as popular as Airport Road (and for a reason), Dixie is the second main spotting place. Located at the threshold of 05 and running parallel to Airport Road, it’s essentially the same thing. The difference is that on Dixie, the planes are much higher. To put it into perspective, from Dixie to the touchdown zone of 05 is about 1 km or 0.62 miles, and from Airport to the touchdown zone of 23 it’s about 0.72 km or 0.45 miles. It’s a noticeable difference. Line ups here are very difficult, you need a long lens as the planes are about 1700 feet from you, and there’s a mountain of ILS equipment in the way. I took probably 10+ line up shots and only two were usable. It’s a tiny window. On Dixie, there aren’t a whole lot of facilities. However, one very convenient trick I’ve found out is to park on Director Gate (the only place, really), and then when you need a quick snack or need to use the bathroom, just drive out onto Dixie and turn right and then drive about half a kilometer to a Tim Horton’s / Wendy’s combo building. Then, you can go back and take smaller roads back to Director Gate. Here’s an example of a shot from this spot (once again you can move for different angles:
- Many angles
- Facilities in the area
- Usable all day
- Planes higher than Airport
- Traffic (poles less of an issue)
- Hard to get line up and touchdown
Location 3: Fedex Crash Gate
I have no idea what the official name of this spot its, but it’s pretty cool. It’s at the end of Bramalea Road next to a FedEx Ramp and a crash gate. There’s one key difference between here and the other two spots - it only works at a specific time. Since at this spot, you cannot cross the runway centerline, it only works in the afternoon, and that’s fine and all in the summer when the sun sets at 9:00 pm and you get great lighting, but as it progresses into September and October this spot isn’t usable until 3:00 pm to 3:30 pm and the sun sets around 6:30 pm. There’s also a fence you need to shoot through, which can be difficult and ruined quite a few of my shots. The benefit of shooting here as opposed to Dixie or Airport is that you can get both arrivals and departures on both 05 and 23, as well as taxi shots and shots of the FedEx aircraft on the ramp. For runway 05 operations, landing aircraft will pass by you generally either smoking up the runway or popping a wheelie, which makes for some nice shots, however it’s not easy to frame the aircraft as they are still clocking 130+ knots. For departures, they’ll come by mostly at a leisurely pace. A CRJ or ERJ might nearly be airborne by the time it passes you but a 777 might be like halfway down it’s roll in terms of speed. For runway 23 departures, generally heavies will rotate before you and lift of the runway split seconds before you can start shooting, while light aircraft may be far overhead. For 23 arrivals, you will need a good camera and a long lens, as you’re shooting aircraft a mile and a half away on touchdown. They will all vacate on the exit before you which means it’ll be hard to get them without haze. Here is a shot from here (unedited, don’t bash too much):
- Touchdown shots with airport background
- Taxi shots
- FedEx Ramp shots
- Departures and arrivals in both directions
- Fence (don’t think about bringing a ladder, it’s 12 feet tall easy and will get you kicked out)
- Planes very quick
- Not conducive to phone spotting, need a camera
- Only usable at a certain time
Let’s talk about the variety of planes that come to YYZ. If you plan a visit, here are some aircraft and their approximate arrival and departure times (these are off the top of my head so they are estimates)
- Emirates A380: 8:20 am arrival, 2:30 pm departure
- Etihad 777-300ER: 8:55 arrival, 3:00 pm departure
- KLM 747-400, 787-9, 777-200ER: 12:00 pm arrival, 5:00 pm departure
- Air France 777-300ER: 4:00 pm arrival, 6:45 pm departure
- Lufthansa 747-400: 4:45 pm arrival, 6:05 pm departure
- Korean 787-9: 9:45 am arrival, 12:40 pm departure
- EgyptAir 777-300ER: 7:25 am arrival, 12:45 pm departure
- IcelandAir 767-300 and 757-300: 6:00 pm arrival, 7:30 pm departure
- Plus Ultra A340-300: 7:20 pm arrival, unknown departure
- PIA 777-300ER and 777-200LR: 1:50 pm arrival, unknown departure
- Ethiopian B787-8: 8:25 am arrival, 10:30 am departure
- China Eastern 777-300ER: 1:45 pm arrival, 4:00 pm departure
- China Southern 777-300ER: 6:00 pm arrival, unknown departure
- Hainan 787-9: 3:00 pm arrival, 5:25 pm departure
- El Al 767-300ER: 2 times a week, Monday and Thursday, arrival times vary but generally seem to be between noon and 11:00 pm. Check FR24 before you go. Also police activity tends to run high when these ones are inbound.
And of course, all the Air Canada, WestJet, and Air Transat you could ever want to see.
Issues with authorities:
Ah yes, the best part of spotting. But luckily, at YYZ, it isn’t really an issue. The 3 spots mentioned above should be of no issue (unless you bring a ladder to FedEx or have little kids that are running and jumping everywhere). Also - don’t bring a soccer ball to FedEx. This whole family of like 20 came along and this one kid came with a soccer ball and was kicking it at the fence, which, when you’re trying to reduce shake, doesn’t help. Also nailed me in the head once when I was shooting. Luckily just a WestJet. Please don’t. It gets everyone kicked. The other time authorities run high is with El Al. If you want to spot on the 6s or 24s, it’s a little more difficult risky and I’ve never tried but I know spotters frequently get kicked out.
One of my favorite parts of YYZ is that there’s always a crowd around the spotting areas. At each of the above spots there’s normally like 5 people with cameras and like 10 more spectators (except FedEx - there’s like 10 cars but only like 5 people at the fence (normally). One reason authorities don’t bother people normally is because there’s so many people there at once so you don’t look suspicious and they don’t mind.
Lighting and Weather:
This is my least favorite part about YYZ. Generally, winds are either NE or SW resulting in 05 and 23 operations, respectively. But lighting is where YYZ hits you. In the summer, it’s not too bad, but in general, 11 am - 2 pm is really hard to spot because the light is coming from directly above which means you’re backlit from all sides (yikes) no matter where you’re standing. YYZ is only spotable from early morning to 11 and then from 2:30 ish to sunset (as the year goes on, push the 11 back to 1 and the 2:30 back to 4:00). Weather is a toss up. Pick a day with partly cloudy skies but be aware they can change in an instant because of the lake.
With all that said, what is the best time to come to YYZ? I would recommend from 7:00 am to 11:00 am or from 3:00 pm to sunset. Not only will these times lead to the best lighting and aircraft variety, but they will also provide the most stable periods of weather and wind. For spots, I recommend getting arrivals on Airport or Dixie depending on winds and after 4:30 pm ish head on over and give FedEx a try.
If you made it all the way here, wow. This was more like an essay than a quick guide but I hope you learned something and if you have more questions don’t hesitate to PM me.