Most of us fly at least once a year for an annual family holiday, weekend away with friends or business trip. As photographers we probably have our camera with us too, so lets look at taking a few pictures before we get off the plane.
Words & Pictures Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine
Pictures through the window of an aircraft can be rewarding if you follow a few simple tips. The first is don't get carried away. The view you see through the aircraft window is often awesome and well make your jaw drop, but you can capture the essence of this in just one shot. The temptation is to keep firing as you experience the view and if you aren't careful you'll waste all your film before you get to your destination!
Every trip I take usually has a few shots at the beginning of the roll taken from the aircraft window. Depending on the flight path these can vary even when taking off from or landing at the same airport.
||Getting a good picture depends on a few rules. The first essential thing is to ensure you have a window seat that's not directly over the wing. There are not many seats on the plane that won't have some of the wing in view as you look through. Siting right at the front or back (photo on left) will ensure you get the best window spot. Then there are occasions when the window isn't in the middle so you only get half of a window. It's often a matter of luck, but getting to the airport early gives you more options. When you flown a few times you be able to identify which aircraft offer best potential at what section of the plane.
The shot above shows what happens when you use a wide angle to get a wide coverage, you will end up capturing part of the round cornered window. Often the excitement of the view will make you forget to look right into the corners of the frame so remember to pay special attention! Sometimes the shape of the window just cannot be avoided so you will have to crop the photo later. This will be easier if you have a computer and produce digital photographs.
Try not to get bogged down with equipment, there's never enough room on the plane to stash a holdall comfortably under the seat so just have your camera and lens, ideally with a protective pouch, and keep the rest of your kit in the overhead compartment. I find a 28-80mm ideal for this sort of photography, although if you have a longer 28-200mm zoom you can crop right in to take pictures.
The window vibrates with the engine and if the camera is rested on the glass will cause vibration on the camera and possible camera shake. Take the camera away from the window and you'll see reflections of the inside of the cabin. The answer is to get the lens as close to the window as you can, holding it with your right hand positioned ready to take the photo. Use your left hand to make a shield around the lens which will reduce reflections on the window. You occasionally get windows that are badly scratched or condensed and there's nothing you can do about this. Both will cause the picture to be slightly fuzzy and lacking in contrast.
Despite what you've read about using a polarising filter to remove reflections in a window, you can't with an airplane as polarising material is used in the window which causes a cross polarisation rainbow effect. As seen below (we recently highlighted this in an article on using polarising filters).
If you use a compact camera the focusing system may be fooled by the window and cause an out of focus photo. Set the camera to the infinity mode or, if it doesn't have this mode, point across at the furthest part in the cabin and half press the shutter to lock focus. Reposition the camera through the window with the shutter still held halfway down and take the picture. This will only work well on cameras that don't also lock the exposure with the focusing lock.
When the plane sets off you could get shots of other aircraft near the runway or local scenes as the plane leaves the ground, but make sure you have a fast shutter speed as the speed of the plane will make the scene difficult to freeze and it's only when you get further away that the speed becomes less noticeable. Taking shots at a speed of 1/60sec and over is fine while in the air. You have to work fast if there's cloud in the sky because it will only be a few minutes before the ground becomes blocked and clouds cover the view. But here you have a new set of opportunities.
Cloud looks like cotton wool and produces great textural patterns that can be used for collages in your image editing program. You also get times where the sun is above the cloud and creates shadows making the clouds have more depth.
||Often areas of low cloud disappear on some parts of the flight so keep an eye out when travelling over land for potential opportunities. With this aerial shot of the Alps I had nodded off and heard someone talking about the view. To my surprise the cloud had gone and we had a this grand view.
If you fly at night and want to take photos of the night lights as you land you'll find it too difficult as the movement of the plane and the necessary long exposure will cause a photograph to appear with streaks instead of the lights. Best thing to do here is use the movie mode if your digital camera has one and take a still frame from this when it's being viewed on the computer. If you shoot using a film camera you could try fast ISO1600 film but the best advice is to sit back and enjoy the view - getting a decent picture will be almost impossible.