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Tips for Photographing Through an Airplane Window

1.    Book Yourselves a Window Seat

Many airlines let you choose the seat position, so make sure you book yourselves a window side seat, preferably on the side of the plane that will be away from the sun. Getting to know which side of the plane will be facing the sun could be difficult, but it will help your picture taking process if you are not facing the direct sun. The best seating positions for photography are window side seats which are in front of the airplane wing. If you are on a seat behind the wing the hot air and vapour emitted by the engines could ruin your shots.

airplane window photography
Photo By Kim Seng

2.    Carry your Camera With You

Always carry your camera on person and do not put it either in baggage or in luggage compartment. Since you will be seated near the window, it will be quite a hassle to get your camera out and it will also cause inconvenience to fellow passengers. It is better to have a general purpose zoom lens such as 18 – 135 attached to the camera as you will be able to cover most situations without the need for changing lenses.

3.    Shooting through Glass

a.    Clean the Window Glass

Airplane windows have multiple layers of glass on each window and chances are they might be scratched and dirty. While you cannot do anything about scratches you could clean the window from dust and other debris if any. The flight crew will be able to get you some paper towels or napkins with which you could thoroughly clean the window.

air plane window photography
Photo By Kim Seng

b.    Avoiding Reflections

The trick to avoid reflections from the window appearing in your shot is to shoot at the right angle. If you have a lens hood with you put it on and place your lens as close to the window as possible without touching it. If the lens or the hood touches the window the vibrations from the plane could spoil your shot. Another trick is to wrap the front of your lens hood with a piece of dark cloth (without covering the lens of course), and then place the lens close to the window glass, the dark material will prevent any light from leaking in and will thus eliminate reflections; a handkerchief, towel, a sock, a glove or anything suitable would do.

photographing from an airplane
Photo By Jonas Seaman

c.    Take Pictures Early

Take your pictures early during the flight, as the plane cruises in high altitudes, mist or even ice could form on the window glass making it impossible to take photographs through them.

4.    Camera Settings

a.    Use Manual Focus

The layers of glass just in front of the camera could trick most camera auto focus systems; the problem becomes worse if there are scratches in the glass. If your camera allows manual focus, it is better to focus manually.

how to photograph through an airplane window
Photo By Michael Foley

b.    Turn off Your Flash

Using flash while photographing out of an airplane window is useless; it only causes you problems, any subject you choose is well beyond your flashes effective range and the light produces by the flash could create reflections and flares with light being reflected off the window glass.

c.    Use Fast Shutter Speeds

You will need to use fairly high shutter speed to get sharp pictures when photographing out of a plane window. Anything above 1/500 should be good enough if light conditions permit it is better to use 1/1000. Shift your camera to shutter priority mode (TV) and select 1/1000 as your shutter speed. The camera will adjust aperture and ISO to match the shutter speed.

5.    Subjects for Aerial Photography

There are many good subjects to be photographed out of an airplane window such as the rising and setting sun, cloud formations, rainbows, landscapes down below, islands, another air plane etc. Night photography from an airplane window is yet another interesting option. But it presents a whole other set of challenges which we will discuss in a future article.

photographing from an air plane
Photo By Jamal Afzal

  6.  Secure your Camera

While using your camera during a flight it is always advisable to put the camera strap over your head. The flight could hit some turbulence or bank in one direction or other, else you may be clicking while take-off and landing or taxiying, having the camera secured with the neck strap makes sure you could safely take you hand off your camera in case of an emergency without damaging your equipment.

7.    Follow Rules and Regulations

While photographing in an air plane always keep in mind that there are FAA regulations limiting the use of electronic equipment inside of an air plane, especially during take-offs and landings. Always abide by the instructions given by the flight crew.

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