Everyone loves capturing airplane window photos; they’re great for social media, they tell a great story, and they capture the excitement of traveling to an amazing photographic destination.
But taking pictures from an airplane window isn’t as easy as pointing your camera and hitting the shutter. Instead, if you want to create beautiful, sharp, well-exposed photos, you need to use the right settings, wait for the right moment, and create a compelling composition.
It’s all in this article: The Six Tips and Techniques You Absolutely Need to have to know for amazing results out the window. So the next time you fly 30,000 feet above the ground, you’ll be ready to capture the experience!
Let’s dive into it.
1. Keep the lens away from the window
When shooting through the window, it’s tempting to place your camera lens against the glass. After all, in addition to reducing unwanted reflections, this approach stabilizes the camera, right?
Not enough. While pressing the lens to the glass can help reduce glare, it actually causes your camera to shake. After, Not less. Unfortunately, airplanes vibrate when they fly, and when the airplane window touches any part of your lens, it will transmit those vibrations directly to the camera sensor (resulting in a lot of image blurring).
The best strategy is to keep your camera slightly back. Tuck your elbows in and if your lens or camera offers image stabilization, make sure the technology is on. To reduce glare, attach a lens hood to the lens and position your setup as close to the window as possible without any contact.
(If you don’t have a lens hood, you can put your free hand around the end of the lens, or you can cover your camera with a shirt or jacket.)
Although avoiding contact between the lens and the window will reduce camera shake, it will not completely eliminate it. But if your shutter speed is fast enough, it won’t matter; the split-second shutter will capture a sharp photo before the shake has time to cause problems. So increase your shutter speed if you can (and don’t be afraid to increase your ISO to ensure you capture a balanced exposure).
2. Switch to manual focus
Cameras often get confused when shooting through glass, especially dirty and/or scratched glass. They try to focus on the glass rather than the outside subject, which is usually not what you want.
So if your camera has the capability, switch to manual focus mode. Then slowly adjust the focus point until you get your main subject in perfect sharpness.
It may be helpful to take a test shot and then zoom in on your camera’s LCD screen. This way you can check the focus and make adjustments accordingly.
If your setup doesn’t offer a manual focus option, try placing your camera against the glass and focusing on your subject. (If your lens is close enough, the glass shouldn’t be too much of a problem.) Then lock focus and bring your camera back into position. Although moving the camera will technically cause the plane of focus to move, as long as your subject is reasonably far away from the airplane window, it won’t make a big difference and you’ll still get a sharp shot!
(Pro tip: If you’re using the focus lock method shared above but still capturing blurry photos, try dropping your aperture down to around f/8. The resulting deep depth of field should help compensate for the focus error. )
3. Be sure to shoot early in the flight
In my experience, the handful of minutes just after takeoff is the better time to shoot through the window of the plane. Why? A few reasons.
First, after you’ve been flying for a while, the windows tend to ice up or accumulate condensation, which decreases image sharpness and makes it difficult to focus. However, when the aircraft has been on the ground for an extended period of time, the condensation and ice will evaporate, giving you a (rather) clear window to work through.
Second, when you take off, you’ll see a wide variety of subjects. You can capture the airport from above (and use it to tell the story of your departure), you can capture rows of houses and cars (which often look dainty and even cute), and you can photograph beautiful buildings (if the airport is reasonably close to a city).
But as the plane gains altitude, you’ll get too high to capture many interesting subjects, and you’ll struggle to create a compelling composition.
Sure, you can often find interesting subjects when the plane starts to land – but why not maximize your time behind the lens and shoot during take-off and landing?
4. Wait for the plane to bank
Once the plane is relatively high in the sky, it can be quite difficult to take pictures of the scenery far below. You may need to position your camera at a steep angle, which can increase the likelihood of reflections and limit your composition options.
Fortunately, planes don’t just sit in the sky; from time to time they bankwhich – when in the right direction – will give you the opportunity to capture the ground.
This tilt usually happens shortly after takeoff and just before landing, and it doesn’t last long, so you need to be prepared. Carefully set and lock the exposure, and also be sure to lock your focus (you can tilt your camera so you can focus on the ground).
Then, when the bank starts, start shooting with abandon. (Your camera’s burst mode can be helpful.) Don’t stop shooting until the bank is finished!
5. Turn off your flash
Airplanes tend to be dark (especially if you’re flying at night), so you might be tempted to turn on your flash. (Otherwise, your camera may detect limited ambient light and automatically activate the flash.)
Regardless of, be sure to manually turn off your flash.
For one thing, a flash certainly won’t illuminate the area outside the airplane window; no flash is powerful enough to have an impact beyond about 20 feet. and a flash will be cause a lot of unpleasant glare and create blinding reflections from the window, so you won’t be able to see out the window and your shots will be ruined.
If your photos are getting dark, you have a few options. You can widen your lens aperture, you can increase your ISO, you can add positive exposure compensation, or you can reduce your shutter speed. If you’re on a long flight, you can also just consider waiting for things to clear up!
6. Include points of interest in your compositions
Scenes outside airplane windows can often look quite spectacular to the eye, but when you try to capture the beauty, you end up with images that are just…boring.
That’s because great photos usually need a anchor point – something that grabs the viewer’s attention and gets them to engage with the scene.
So instead of just pointing and shooting, look for a point of interest that catches your eye. It could be anything: a cloud formation, another plane, a coastline, or even a setting sun. For a creative result, consider incorporating elements of the plane itself, such as a wing or an engine. And if you want to make your photos even more unique, try incorporating elements of on the inside the plane, such as a person’s face, a hand or a drinking table.
This way you will end up with a much more convincing image!
How to Take Pictures Through an Airplane Window: Final Words
Now that you have completed this article, you are ready to capture many stunning photos out the window on your next flight!
So remember the tips I shared. Practice setting up your camera beforehand. Have fun!
Where will you fly next? What images do you plan to take? Share your opinion in the comments below!