I am privileged to have a job that gives me a chance of taking frequent flights, and a common request that I make during short-haul flights is “window seat, please.” During long-haul flights (typically beyond six and a half hours of non-stop flight), I prefer to take the aisle seats since that makes it easier for me to go to the lavatory and to walk around to improve my blood circulation. Well, that is not an absolute rule for me in my seat preference because I would also ask for a window seat even in a long-haul flight when I know that I will be catching the sunrise or the sunset a few minutes before the plane lands. I just have to make sure that I have my camera within my reach when the sun starts to give the clouds a different color. In 2009, during a flight to Seoul, South Korea and while we were flying above the clouds, I saw the most awesome sight of fluffy clouds turning orange below us while the sky above us is still dark and slowly turning bright as the sun rises. Darn! My camera was at the overhead bin and I am too shy to disturb the guy seating beside me who is in deep slumber. I missed that shot that could have been one of my favorite shots taken from the airplane window.
Taking shots from the airplane window is fun because you capture a scene that you do not regularly see from our normal vantage point. So here are some tips to readers who might be travelling by air soon with their camera.
Put your camera within your reach. You don’t want to be in the situation I described above. You can put your point and shoot camera on your pocket or your DSLR Camera bag under the seat in front of you. However, some flight attendants would remind you that your camera is an electronic device and that it may affect the plane’s navigation instruments especially if the plane is on its final approach. Well, Discovery Channel’s MythBusters proved that the radio signals emitted by cellphones are not strong enough to make the plane’s landing instruments to malfunction. Some other airlines don’t mind if you use your camera onboard. If there is a warning against using a digital camera, better comply.
Find a good subject. It may be a cloud formation, an island, a mountain, or another aircraft flying nearby, just like this photo I took on April 26, 2010 onboard an Airbus A-380 while entering the French airspace.
These two shots were taken on our way to Shanghai, China.
This was taken over Putrajaya, Malaysia.
This island was spotted just a few minutes before we land in Manila from a trip in Kajang, Malaysia.
It may be better if you include some of the plane’s parts in your composition such as the wings and the engine. This will give you a more interesting shot compared to just capturing the clouds in your frame.
Don’t let your lens touch the window. Some people stick their lens to the window thinking that it would lessen camera shake. Wrong! The whole plane vibrates during flight and having your lens in contact with the window would only extend the vibration to your camera. Don’t position your camera more than 2 inches from the window either. There is a big chance of capturing your own reflection on the window. Look at this picture that was taken somewhere between Lyon, France and Rome, Italy. The view is awesome, the color of the wing is striking, composition is good, but look at the upper portion of the picture and you can see a reflection of the camera lens.
The key is to use a lens hood or your free hand to block the reflection. Position your lens to a point of almost touching the window so any reflection would not be visible in the frame and vibration can be avoided. The lens hood is also good at avoiding glares from strong light source. Notice the glare from this shot taken by my Dad on their way to Davao City.
Include a portion of the window in your composition. This can have a framing effect that shows a portion of the plane’s interior while the exterior view can be seen through the window. Just make sure that you have the correct exposure setting because the camera might pick the dark interior and overexpose the bright exterior. Don’t use AUTO setting and turn off your flash if you are in Manual setting. Try to use a faster shutter speed if your want to freeze the motion especially when the plane is just about 100 feet from the ground.
Don’t just take pictures of the view outside. Take advantage of the strong light from the window to take a silhouette shot of your travelling companion. I feel sorry that I cannot find my silhouette shot inside the plane.
Lastly, and I think the most tricky, is to have a shot with the plane’s pilot. In my case, I always listen to the announcement stating the names of the pilots. Having trained at the country’s premiere military academy gives me the privilege of knowing people in the Air Force who eventually shifted to a private career at commercial airlines. The first photo is with a pilot who is a batch lower than my batch during our cadet days. He was our pilot during my trip to Taiwan in 2007. Second picture is with a pilot who has been my classmate in grade school and high school who pursued a military career and soon moved to a commercial airline. He was our pilot during our trip to Malaysia in 2009.
Enjoy shooting from the airplane window!