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Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Ive taken some interesting photos from airliners. Thanks for the color curve tip. Also, on any aircraft with wing mounted engines, sitting in front of the wing is important also because the the shimmer from the hot exhaust ruins most shots from behind the wing. It's visible as a fuzzy strip through a portion of the photo.

Its also fun to use Google Maps to locate shots in remote parts of the country.

I've always wondered how to do that color adjustment easily... thanks for this post!


Very nice images, Ctein.

I, too, have enjoyed occasionally shooting from plane windows. My own interest is finding scenes that prod the imagination beyond the familiarity of simple aerial landscape scenes toward conceptual abstraction, if only for a moment. To that end I look for areas where there is a sharp change in terrain or some other anomalous feature. Here's a series from a flight east from San Francisco (captured with a Canon S95).

Yes, post-processing can be challenging depending on the atmospheric and window conditions.

Echoing Paul Caponigro's remarks about Minor White, some of the magic of photography is to "...photograph not only for what things are but for what else they are".

My favorite kind of in-flight entertainment :) Unless there's cloud cover I'm usually glued to the window for the whole flight. I prefer my coach window seat over getting an aisle upgrade.

So that's why coral atolls or reef-fringed islands look spectacular from 30,000 feet. All those shades of aquamarine and blue which I can't reproduce at sea level. Color-crossover. Thanks for the edification, Ctein!

Being seated up front also gets the plane's wing out of the way. In an all-coach domestic flight, I always ask for a single-digit window seat if I check-in early enough.

I haven't had much success with in-flight night shots without image stabilization, or even using a camera with non-stellar IS (I don't own an E-M5). Is there a workaround for shooting at slow shutter speed, hand-held, aboard a vibrating airplane? Would using a rubber lens shade held against a plane's window work?

(Meanwhile, I've settled for trailing runway lights caught at slow shutter speeds on an unsteady and fast-moving platform like this one).

P.S. TOP reader and commercial airline pilot David Raboin has compiled a unique portfolio of in-flight shots taken from the best seat aboard. As a loyal Sun Country flyer, maybe you can get an invite to the flight deck to shoot through the plane's expansive windshield.

I love photographing while flying. I process in B&W to abstract the views. I even cheat and photograph at takeoff and landing!

My recent favorite topic is photographing California's Central Valley and the abstract patterns of the crop fields.

Ctein, do you experience problems with vibration from the the plane? What minimum shutter speed do you use?

Hi Ctein,
If you've not seen it before this went viral, shuttle Endeavour from a plane window;
best wishes phil

Last week, during a morning flight down to Portland, the pilot decided to scrub off some time by dropping down and doing a fly-by of the Mt. St. Helens crater. The lighting was perfect -- and my window seat was on the other side of the plane!

Excellent advice. I think I will start spending the extra to get a seat close to the front. I've missed so many shots because of those wings. Pilots are so self centered they always refuse to roll the plane a mere 30 degrees to get the wing out of my shot.

So I guess now I can write off a first class ticket as a business expense? Yay!

Oh yeah! The 'cattle car' experience has just about killed any desire to get there fast for me. My wife and I are seriously considering a bus for our next 5K mile round trip to visit family. Ride time is 2.5 days each way but....no 1 hour drive to the airport, get there 2 hours early, remove your shoes, stuff my 6'3" frame into a seat that would be embarrassed to be the back seat of an old Karmenn Ghia. Wonder what I could shoot through the window of a Greyhound?

I'll be going on a trip in a little more than a week, and I'm hoping to put some of this advice to work on the flights.

Lightroom 3.6 doesn't have colour curves, and I'm too poor and distracted to buy/subscribe to Photoshop - not to mention the upgrade in computer power I'd need. However, the GIMP has it, and a quick bit of fiddling with a shot from earlier this year shows your curves trick is very effective!

Thanks for this, and I'm looking forward to next week's B&W edition.

Also, David, thanks for the shameless self-promotion - more advice is welcome!

You might like these:

Great to hear there are others who like to take photographs from commercial flights. I've been doing it for several years. The biggest tip I have is to plan which side of the plane to sit on. Make sure your window will be on the shaded side of the plane otherwise the sun reflecting on the window ruins most shots. I know it is normally frowned on by proper photographers but I find that auto levels in Photoshop CS5 or earlier works amazingly on some aerials to remove haze and bring up the colours with minimal effort. I'll certainly be trying your more proper processing tip! Some of my flights over the more remote and arid parts of Australia, where i live, have produced some memorable and almost unbelievable images.

I forgot to add that I also spend many happy and interesting hours locating the exact location of each photograph using Google Earth!

The science I've been looking for, thanks. I travel a lot throughout Alaska for my work. For years I sat on the isle for the leg room and to be off the plane or jet as soon as possible. Then I bought a Panasonic GF1 and switched to the window seats.
In the off season I get to sit up front-- 2A or 2F, otherwise its the exit row. I've learned to pick starboard on the way north out of Juneau and port on the way home. I will take the "milk run" flight in the late afternoon if the weather is decent just so I can photograph the Chugach Mountains and Coast Range in fading light. It has made flying fun again. A sample of my From Up Above set http://www.flickr.com/photos/umnak/sets/72157632207247621/with/9456111760/

One of the things I like to photograph when I'm on an airliner are the "landscapes" you can't see from the ground.

Dirty scratched windows are a big problem for me, accentuated in my case by my preference for shooting as wide as I can.
In the past year or so I have found it more satisfying and challenging to
take aerial videos

Dear VK,

Your post brought to mind a great mental image. In American, we talk about having the shade down to darken a window. Having the window down is what we'd do in an automobile, to let in fresh air.

I do understand that many people sleep better with fresh air entering the room, and I imagine they get quite a bit of it at 10,000 meters up and 800 km/hour.


Dear Richard,

I imagine the seats are more comfortable, and the food likely better, too.


Dear John,

Plane vibration doesn't seem to be a problem, but I'm never pressing the camera against the window. If I'm bracing against the window or fuselage, it's my arms that are in contact, and the high frequency stuff just doesn't propagate.

More of a problem is that the plane is constantly making adjustments in attitude and orientation, so the scene is never truly still (not even counting the forward velocity). For that reason, I find that it's sometimes hard to get a tack-sharp photo at even 1/100th second with the 45mm lens, and below that the odds drop off considerably. Maybe 1 in 10 is sharp at a 30th of a second. I try to stay at 1/150th and above, and I'm not really relaxed about it until I'm at 1/250th sec.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

In the interest of non-discrimination, how about making a column on photographing from cheap buses next? removing spots from the dirty windows, using IS to compensate for poor suspension, etc.

Alright, I half-jest, but it is true I've never flown anywhere nor I have any expectations to in the near future, so this discussion feels particularly alien to me. I wonder how that affects my perception of all your photos? they all feel rather close to abstract photography, but I don't know whether that was the intention, as with Kenneth above, or my inexperience with the subject plays a part in it as well.

Dear Tony,

Hah! I knew I left something out. Right-- sunlight shining on the window you're trying to photograph through is a guaranteed killer. Multiple internal reflections between the panes, plus the myriad scratches and pits produce overwhelming flare.

Thanks for the catch.


Dear Sarge,

Photographing at night from an airplane is an uphill battle. Vibration isn't your big problem, so long as you don't press the camera directly to the window, and there's no reason to. But, there's a whole bunch else that can go wrong.

Unless the cabin lights are completely off, you'll need to throw a dark cloth over you and the camera to keep out stray light from bouncing between the panes and into your camera.

This is an inherently demanding subject, if what you're trying to photograph is the lights of towns, cities and airports. You've got a zillion pinpoint sources in your scene, and the least bit of camera motion will be very evident in the photograph. Which makes using low shutter speeds (see my earlier comment to John Camp) even more difficult.

Finally, you're in motion! In low altitude, low speed flight, you're still moving a meter in 1/30th of a second. At cruising speed, it's more like 3 meters every 30th of a second. Put another way, if you can resolve an automobile in your photograph, you're going to see trailing in those lights at that low a shutter speed. You can try panning with the scene and trust to luck.

I have photographed at night out the window of a plane. I *might* have one photograph worth showing from the attempts, and it's probably not portfolio-worthy, even when working at ISO 2000-3000.

It's just plain difficult, is what it is.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dirty scratched up windows can add a lot of character and shooting film in a manual camera allows you to comply with the "no electronics" rule during take offs and landings.


Spot on with the comments on the economy class. The Wall Street Journal had an article about it recently.


"Would using a rubber lens shade held against a plane's window work?"

Nope. Tried it. The window has two layers and the lens shade does nothing for reflections from the inside surface of the outer layer. A black cloth as suggested by others might work better.

Also, it's always a good idea to reserve your seat on the side that's away from the sun.

The ticket for lightning-illuminated clouds at night is high ISO, a fast lens and make a lot of exposures. If you're lucky you'll get a few keepers.

A few of my favorites:

White Castle

Clouds at Sunrise

Hazy Landscape


[P]lan which side of the plane to sit on.

Just remember that the letters assigned to plane seats read from left to right from the the front of the plane facing the tail-end. (At least on an A320 or a 737; don't remember that of wide-bodies.)

I once found myself seated on the wrong side of a plane because I thought its LH-RH orientation is the same as a car's. It's the opposite!

Thank you, Ctein and TOP commenters for the science and practical tips!

The LH-RH orientation of a plane is the same as a car's. My bad.

Sorry, Mike

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