Tips for Taking Photos from an Airplane

Have you ever looked out of the window of an airplane? Now you would wonder why I am asking this strange question. Have you looked out of an airplane window and remarked about the beauty. Have you ever wanted to capture those moments? Well now you can capture those memories. Here are a few tips for taking photos while on an airplane ride.

airplane photos

Photo by Neil Howard.

A common mistake that people make when taking shots from the camera is to put the lens of the camera right against the window pane of the airplane. We normally do this hoping that it will cut down on the reflections. People also do this to take a steady shot. Now, resting your camera on the window pane might help you to decrease the reflection but it will never help in taking a steady shot. If you rest the camera on window pane the camera will shake a lot more owing to the vibrations of the airplane.

If you are using a DSLR with a fitted lens, what you can do is attach a lens hood to the lens. This way you will get closer to the window without really touching it. This is the best strategy to take a beautiful picture. Now, use your free hand to cup the lens, this way you will be able to protect it from the reflections. Now the best way to take an aerial shot is to shoot from an open window from a proper altitude. But since most of us cannot do it, the next best option is to shoot from the window of an airplane.

bird's eye view photo

Photo by Mariusz Kluzniak; ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/2000-second exposure.

Below are five tips for taking photos from an airplane window:

1. When you plan to take a picture from the window of an airplane, switch your camera from the auto focus to the manual focus. The reason is that the camera gets confused when you are shooting through the glass. When you switch to the manual focus mode and lock the focus on the main focal point you will achieve better results.

2. Windows of the airplane will often ice up or get condensed when you are flying for a long period of time. Therefore, you must make it a point to shoot early. Your shots will be much clearer and better.

3. If you are looking for the aerial shots of the ground, there will be fewer opportunities when you would be able to do it. Therefore, the key is to be ready for those moments. These opportunities occur when the plane begins to bank off before landing or after taking off. You will get very few opportunities to capture these shots. Therefore, always be ready to shot at the right moment.

4. Always turn off the flash when you shoot from an airplane. The reason is that a flash will not be of any help. An in-built flash will only work for a few meters and will aggravate the problem of reflection.

iphone photography

Photo by Theodore Lee; iPhone 5s, ISO 32, f/2.2, 1/402-second exposure.

5. There are times when the scene outside the airplane is just breathtaking. These are the scenes that you will never want to miss. But after you have captured these scenes you would really feel that they do nothing to inspire you. When shooting from airplane look for a main subject that will bring light on your photograph.

About the Author:
This article was written by Darren Flanagan (digital-photography-tips-and-tricks) who writes for a photography education site.

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6 responses to “Tips for Taking Photos from an Airplane”

  1. Ian Woodrow says:

    On the subject of taking photos from an aircraft (or airplane, whatever you want to call it)…

    If I am flying somewhere on a scheduled flight (as opposed to being in something smaller with maps and stuff) I often use Google Earth in conjuntion with the date/time info of the photo file.

    On take off and during climb out until reaching near enough cruise the speed will changed until you are more or less levelled out but once straight and level what to do is… take a shot of a known position as your reference. A shot of something else known after this and you now have a time period between shots. Locate these on Google Earth and use the RULER feature of that package to give you the distance between the two known points. Using the distance and time difference you can then work out the aircraft’s ground speed and direction. From then on any shots taken of places you are not exactly sure of can be worked out on Google Earth. If you change direction just estimate how many degrees you have turned and take a photo at that point so you know where the turn was made. Even if it is a pic of NOTHING, all you are looking for is the time. It doesn’t have to be pin point accuracy but it certainly will take you to a localised enough area to work out what an unknown object or place below you is.

    Give it a try, and when you are back on the ground with your pics and Google Earth.. test the accuracy by picking another point along the way and see how close you can get to the time stamp on the photo file.

    I came up with this idea on a recent flight to Milan and it was cartainly accurate for me and explained a few unknown places en-route, like airfields and stuff.

    If there are any spelling or grammatical errors above it’s because I’m in a bit of a hurry just now :)

  2. Dear Sir,

    I enjoyed reading the information provided on your website, very informative-thank you.

    Regarding taking photographs from a light aircraft, which is something I have done recently but I am not entirely happy with my images (taken with a 200mm lens)-what type of camera/lens harness would you recommend one should use when the doors/windows of the aircraft have been taken off? My aim is to obtain close-up images of wildlife for ID purposes, and therefore I intend to use a bigger lens (a 300mm or perhaps a 500mm). I need to secure my equipment under extreme conditions (wind) , the weight is a bit of a problem as well.

    Kind regards,


  3. Marc says:

    Thanks for the tips Darren. A few years ago I took a short flight over the Grand Canyon and I really enjoyed being able to get some photos from that view. Fortunately on that type of flight the pilot knows that you want a view and so the give you more opportunities than a typical (like you mentioned in point #3).

  4. tim gilbert says:

    My best aerial photos have been taken from a single engine plane with the window open (or the door removed!)

    Most airports have a flying club or flight school full of pilots that are looking for an excuse to go flying. You buy the gas and they’ll be happy to take you up.

  5. Stan Hooper says:

    Often, windows on a plane are so scratched up as to make photos nearly a waste of time. Because of assigned seats you cannot easily find a window seat with a clear window, I strongly suggest that you consider helicopter flight with the doors off. That’s the clearest view you can get and although you’re not going to be at 35,000 feet, you will get aerial photos that you might really like. Autofocus works, too, since you’re not dealing with any window at all. Use a fairly fast shutter speed and a somewhat higher ISO for the vibration (higher than on a commercial jet). As in the jet tips, it’s not smart to rest the camera on any rigid spot because the vibration will be extreme.

  6. Jan van ommen says:

    Don’t forget to take of the polarfilter!

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