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October 04, 2006

How to take photographs out a plane window

Good tips for shooting through a commercial airplane window.

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Re: airplane window photos, there's always this classic.

In addition, I'd add that it's usually a good idea to underexpose by 1/3 stop. This will help preserve highlight detail in the cloud tops.

I like to shoot at takeoff and landing to catch condensation vortices and suction condensation around the engines....

In addition, I'd add

Good God, did I really write that?

We're corrupting you, FL.

I flew home to the Midwest twice in the past few months, and on both occasions I paid attention to what the other passengers on the plane were doing, particularly those at the window seats. It's a beautiful flight, passing over all of the Great Lakes and a portion of Canada. Not one single person other than myself had any interest in the view out the window. They were all intent on their computers, or I-Pods or video games or whatever.

I find this incredibly depressing-- one rarely gets a chance to view the world from 30,000 feet on a clear, sunny day; I think it's a wonderful opportunity. No wonder half of our population can't even find New York on a fucking map.

I can get behind what global yokel is saying. I find the view from an airplane window fascinating, but I'm always one of the few who actually looks outof the window.

On the way from San Jose to Baton Rouge, you can see the vastness of Edwards AFB, the blue death of Lake Powell, and even get a great view of downtown Austin. Fly into New Orleans from the north, you get a good view of what the Mississippi actually looks like.

Flying from San Jose to L.A. during the winter...see the Sierra Nevada in the distance. Descending into San Francisco over the same mountains in the spring, you see the incredible blues of snow melting into the mountain lakes.

Given the current fascination with Google Earth, I wonder why more people don't look outside the airplane?

Felt inpired to put a few pictures up:

http://homepage.mac.com/vought/Seenfromjets/

>I wonder why more people don't look outside the airplane?

It's that inevitable lavatory trip--since the seats give you about as much legroom as the coffins of ancient Egypt did, I just can't bear the contortions as I'm forced to step on someone's head to get out.

"Save us the aisle seats."

I'm waiting for tips on how to take photographs out of a bathroom window. Oh wait, make that in through a bathroom window.

John, you're a deeply, deeply disturbed person. Must be why we feel such affinity for you. :)

I'm with Yokel. You've got geography, geology, meteorology, history, demography, agriculture, forestry, hydrology, right there in front of you. All you have to do is look out the God-damned window! Do people do so? No! I used to fly regularly between Miami and Panama over Cuba. Amazing cloud formations, verdant, emerald landscapes, astonishing views of colossal, aquamarine coral reefs. No one’s looking. Same thing with Alaska: scenery beautiful enough to make a dog weep, and everyone’s got their shades drawn? W.T.F.?

Cfrost, on planes I have one of two choices: look at the window at cloud formations, and read a book I'm ashamed not to have read up until now. I usually opt for the latter.

I bring a book along and read, but it irks me when I have to read only because the shades have to be drawn to accommodate the folks who need to watch some crappy movie that the airline then has the gall to ask me if I want to pay for headphones to hear. Movies that are sold to the airlines because no one will pay to see them at a real theatre.

Though I've never needed darkness to sleep, most people apparently do, so I understand they want their shades drawn, sleep being a merciful refuge from the general nastiness of flying.

Unfortunately windows in jets have been tiny since the 1954 crash of a BOAC De Havilland Comet which had squarish, relatively large windows causing metal fatigue around the corners after repeated depressurization cycles.

Hopefully, the people who google, "shooting through a commercial airplane", will not be a significant boost to your traffic. Not all of them will be photography enthusiasts.

Nice shots, FL.

I had a great view on my last flight from New York to Vancouver. Clear skies from coast to coast. It was amazing.

If you do get some good ones you might consider joining Airliners.Net and publishing at least a few there. Besides the dedicated hobbyists, many professional aviation photographers use it as a demo site.

Cranky

Bad news for those of us who like to look out the airplane window: your window shade-control days are numbered.

Cranky

What Global Yokel said. I spend the entire flight looking out the window if there's anything to see (if it's at all clear, really), and I usually bring a map so I can identify the landmarks.

Flying up to Seattle, you get great views of the Cascades. I can't say these shots are spectacular, but they do convey some idea of what you see from the plane.

I know it's off-topic, but have you seen

...but have you seen this? Apparently HP has developed a slimming feature in its new cameras, so that you can look thinner.

cfrost writes;
I'm with Yokel. You've got geography, geology, meteorology, history, demography, agriculture, forestry, hydrology, right there in front of you. All you have to do is look out the God-damned window! Do people do so? No!

Doyle;
I find it fatiguing to watch the landscape pass by under the plane. Often the view is unidentifiable. Perhaps one possible technique to consider is one of the map applications like Google Earth on your lap top. That might enhance what one is looking at.

The view is very ephemeral, if something appears it goes away quickly. There are some camera add ons that record the exact GPS location which I think is a helpful bit of photo info.

Microsoft has some sort of album application that allows one to build a cathedral of the related images. That sounds interesting.

What that means is that each image in part stands alone, and in part represents a relationship to a form in the landscape. Like architectural parts of a Cathedral. Each photo is just a little piece, but is a poetry of the person taking it.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor

I understand what Doyle is saying, but I think not knowing is a fun challenge - like looking for license plates from different states during childhood car trips. I like to take photos of interesting things and try to piece together later at home exactly what it was I took a picture of.

My big question is about night photos - Since I went digital, my camera won't let me take pictures of nighttime lights (cities from an airplane, fireworks, Halloween decorations). I just can't force my camera to stop trying to choose between flash and slow exposure.

Scott writes;
I like to take photos of interesting things and try to piece together later at home exactly what it was I took a picture of.

Doyle;
To me that is a very poetic approach. Some of my favorite photographers are the ones who go with no plan but catch the moment. It's a lyrical and artistic approach.

As Lindsay points out with her quotations from Flickr there is what I think of as an upwelling of photographic expression going on. When one looks there in Flickr it is quite amazing how many different styles and genres are being re-invented and expanded.

So Scott I endorse having many viewpoints about what to do. At most because of my individual needs I can't watch out the window for huge amounts of time, and fancy using some aids to keep me interested in the project, but the value of diversity of photographs and mentalities being built up is beautifully elegant testimony of a public soulful poetry.
thanks,
Doyle

I find it fatiguing to watch the landscape pass by under the plane.

It is, though that’s why I enjoy watching out the window. I can keep busy trying to figure out what I’m seeing. Much of what you see is puzzling or even incomprehensible.

Perhaps one possible technique to consider is one of the map applications like Google Earth on your lap top

In a truly benevolent world where the airlines actually tried to aleviate boredom, they could put a couple digital cameras on the plane’s belly and wire them up to the little movie screens on the seat backs. They could integrate the images with GPS & GIS information and Google Earth and everyone would have a window seat and one might have something to do other than watch a lame movie or read the free magazine. Maybe they could also install a USB port that you could use to download the camera images, GIS info, etc.

Then they could give us analgesics, preferrably opiates, to make the crowded, little seats bearable.

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