The Window Seat: 36 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos from Airplane Windows


Photography from the window seat of an airliner is becoming a controversial topic. Before we talk about how to get awesome photos, let’s have a chat… First of all, no one seems to look out the windows of airliners today, and many passengers give the evil eye to those who do not close their window shades. Fact: Future airliners may be made without windows at all. This saves manufacturing costs, and builders have realized that no one seems look outside anymore because they are staring at glowing screens or sleeping. Another fact: The Washington Post reported that part of a failed 2017 Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill contained a regulation banning all photography on airliners. Will that regulation resurface? When these windowless airliners are built, or if photography is banned, will anyone care? I know I will.

Above photograph: FUJIFILM X-T2; 14mm f/2.8; 1/1000; f/5.6; ISO 200

Photographs ©Todd Vorenkamp

Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 18mm; 1/2000; f/5.6; ISO 200

In airline travel these days, it seems like there are two types of passengers: The first—the vast majority, according to my surveys—find that the light pouring in through the cabin windows only serves to create unwanted glare on their smart devices or seat-back TV screen. Some leave their blinds closed for the entire journey; never once looking out the window at the world outside. The second, the minority, are those intrepid travelers who realize that some of the most stunning scenes and scenery on this planet can be viewed from airliners.

For those who like travelling in metal cylinders with no windows, may I humbly recommend travel by submarine? This way, I will avoid the resentment of fellow passengers when I raise my window shade to admire the planet below and take a photograph. For those who appreciate the magic of air travel, enjoy the beauty of Earth from the air, and prefer to watch TV at home, here are some tips for taking photos from the passenger window of an airplane.


Get a window seat—We can start by stating the obvious: you probably need a window seat to get good photos out the window. I have been known, when stuck in an aisle or middle seat, to ask if I could lean over my window-seat neighbor for a snapshot, but not everyone is amenable to that request. Once upon a time, I unbuckled, crossed the center aisle, and asked a nice woman if I could raise her window shade for a moment to get this image:

Nikon D70; 70-200mm f/2.8 at 110mm; 1/800; f/7.1; ISO 200

Study the route—With a fair degree of accuracy, minus air traffic control routing for weather and other air traffic, you can preview your route on a given flight. The Internet has many resources for this. What scenic areas or cities will you be passing? And, on which side of the aircraft are they likely to be sitting? Don’t pick a seat on the port side of the aircraft when the Grand Canyon will be off to starboard!

Time of day—Night photography is a bit tricky. Night photography from an aircraft is very tricky. This is due to the movement of the airplane. Think about your flight times as a photographer. Will you be witnessing sunset, sunrise, long shadows, or harsh midday daylight?

Weather—Studying weather maps just before the flight might give you a clue as to how much of the ground you will be seeing, or if you will be flying over undercast skies. Use this to manage expectations and to help prepare for the photos you may or may not get.

(Left to right) Nikon D70; 10.5mm fisheye; 1/125; f/5.6; ISO 200. Nikon D1x; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 35mm, 1/320; f/8.0; ISO 125. Nikon D300 ; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 55mm, 1/125; f/2.8; ISO 400

Where on the aircraft—Aside from a window seat, where you sit on the aircraft will affect your images. Exit row seats might have extra leg room, but you will likely find yourself over the wing, unable to see the ground close aboard. Use one of the airline-specific seat map websites to help you plan. Before we get specific, know that any seat will work for good photographs, but here are some considerations for the different options:

  • Above the wing—All is not lost if you are directly above the wing, as you can still photograph toward the horizon.
  • Forward of wing—Generally, this is the preferred shooting position, because…
  • Aft of wing—Aft of the wing can be less preferable since, if on an aircraft with engines mounted below the wing, you can get hot jet exhaust blurring areas of the foreground in your frame. This is not the end of the world. A majority of my images are from aft of the wing, as I am not in the tax bracket that allows me to sit forward of the wing.
  • Engine placement—The days of the tail-mounted engine configuration appear to be numbered, but if you are in an aircraft with tail-mounted engines, the position relative to the wing is less important.

Camera Nearby—Have your camera accessible. On one particularly lazy afternoon in the midst of a mid-life crisis, I boarded a plane out of SFO, departing an hour or two before sunset. Taking off to the south, turning, and climbing north over the San Francisco Bay, the entire SF skyline and Bay Bridge was cast as a stark shadow stretching across the shimmering sun-lit water. My camera was in the overhead compartment. Never again.

(Clockwise from top left) Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 55mm; 1/500; f/8; ISO 200. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 55mm; 1/180; f/8; ISO 200. Nikon D1x; 17-35mm f/2.8 at 17mm; 1.5s; f/2.8; ISO 125. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 55mm; 1/500; f/8; ISO 100.

The Window

Clean—Have a way, or have a way in mind, to clean the window as much as possible. Forehead prints, hand prints, and more, find their way onto the Plexiglas windows of airliners. Grab a napkin in the terminal, or ask a flight attendant for one. You could use a lens cloth, but perfection isn’t needed. The end of a long sleeve shirt has been used by this photographer in a pinch, to the horror of my usual travel companion. Desperate times…

Condensation/Ice—Condensation, and then ice (at altitude), may form between the Plexiglas panes of the window. There is not much you can do to prevent this, but you may use it to your creative advantage, and it can make for a compelling macro subject.

Reflections—Especially when it is getting darker outside, internal reflections from the cabin (overhead lights, no smoking signs, your bright-colored clothing, and your neighbor’s seat back TV) wreak havoc on photographs due to fact that the multiple sheets of Plexiglas reflect back toward you and your lens. Get ready to fight them or use them to your benefit. The closer you can get the lens, the fewer reflections you might get, except for…

Vibrations—Internal engine vibration and external turbulence combine to make steady shooting difficult, if not impossible, on longer exposures. Keep the lens from touching the Plexiglas, if possible, to avoid transmitting those vibrations from the window directly into the camera. Turbulence happens.

(Clockwise from top left) FUJIFILM X-T3; 90mm f/2; 1/3200; f/4; ISO 160. FUJIFILM X-T1; 18-55mm f/2.8-4 at 18mm; 1/125; f/2.8; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T3; 14mm f/2.8; 1/105; f/5.6; ISO 160. Olympus E-PL6; 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 at 42mm; 1/320; f/10; ISO 200.

The Gear

Camera—As you’ll see from the image captions, I’ve shot with a variety of cameras over the years, primarily Nikon and FUJIFILM brands, yet any camera will work. Smartphone cameras, point-and-shoots, mirrorless, DSLR, medium format… well, maybe not large format.

Lens—I find that anything from ultra-wide to moderate telephoto works great for airliner window photography. Wide-angle lenses can capture expansive scenes, but you might see more of those reflections I just mentioned. Moderate telephotos (90mm, 135mm) reach out to get some semi-distant details, but longer telephotos sometimes lose the battle of vibration and turbulence—even with fast shutter speeds and image stabilization. In addition, long lenses can be difficult to manage in the super-small accommodations of modern airliners.

Filters—Unless you absolutely love rainbows, leave the polarizer in your bag; you will get weird rainbow artifacts from the Plexiglas. UV filters, ND filters, color filters, and others can certainly be experimented with.

(Left to right) FUJIFILM X-T1; 90mm f/4; 1/2400; f/4; ISO 200. Nikon D70 with 50mm f/1.4; 1/250; f/8; ISO 200; FUJIFILM X-T2; 35mm f/1.4; 1/2700; f/4; ISO 200.

Accessories—One useful accessory for the airliner window is a large rubber lens hood. Press it against the window and it might cut down on reflections while not transmitting all the vibration back toward the camera. It might also keep you from scratching the window with your lens and messing up the window for the next photographer-passenger. Larger hoods or lens skirts have been used with success, as well. Even with larger hoods, you may still get reflections, especially at night. The best solution is to cover the entire window, but you might want to stay relatively discreet, and flight attendants might question seeing a tent placed over the window at Seat 24A.

Tripod—Tripods are usually too cumbersome to erect at your seat, but you could always try a monopod or tabletop tripod on the seat-back tray (bad vibration) or armrest (vibration as well). Remember, any support touching the aircraft will transmit the vibrations of the aircraft to your camera, but for long exposures, you could always give it a try. You have nothing to lose but room on your memory card!

(Left to right) Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 44mm; 1/1000; f/5.6; ISO 200. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 48mm; 1/350; f/5.6; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T2; Nikon 50mm f/1.2; 1/3500; f/4; ISO 200.

Camera Settings

Shutter speed—With the speed of jet travel and the movement from vibration and turbulence, the faster the shutter, the better. Exceptions can be made for low-light motion blur, streaking, and experimenting.

Aperture—There is nothing wrong with shooting at your sharpest mid-range apertures. However, even the world’s sharpest lens gets less sharp when shooting through non-optical-quality Plexiglas. So, knowing that you won’t be super-sharp out of the box, you can certainly open up your lens to grab a faster shutter speed.

ISO—This setting should always be as low as possible. But, depending on the lighting conditions, you might need to increase ISO to preserve shutter speed in the hopes of avoiding motion blur or blur from camera/airplane shake.

Focus—Your friendly autofocus system should be able to lock onto the sharp edge of a wing, or a clearly defined cloud or landscape feature, but be ready to take over manually if the camera struggles.

Time lapse—Use your camera or smartphone to make a cool time lapse of a portion of the flight.

(Left to right) Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 38mm; 1/1500; f/5.6; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T1; 35mm f/1.4; 1/2200; f/5.6; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T3; Nikon 50mm f/1.2; 1/170; f/5.6; ISO 160.


Wing—Some purists prefer aerial photos that do not include a wing in the frame but, as an aviator myself, I know that without the airfoil there would be no heavier-than-air flight. This appreciation leads me to see the wing, not as an eyesore, but as an artistic sculpture. It is often the subject of my photographs or intentionally included in the frame. Of course, an unobstructed view of the Earth’s beauty is always nice. Look at the surface of the wing for reflections and shadow. One thing to note: If the wing is in your frame, pay attention to its configuration. During takeoff and landing, the wing is in the “dirty” configuration with slats, flaps, and spoilers (landing) extended. In cruise mode, the wing is “clean.” Both can make for compelling photographic subjects.

Nikon D200; 70-200 f/2.8 at 82mm; 1/40; f/3.2; ISO 200

Clouds—Photographically, clouds are sometimes taken for granted, or perhaps seen as a nuisance that blocks the landscape, but the right type of clouds in the right lighting can be stunning. Clouds make wonderful photo subjects.

Water—Seascapes from the air can be stunning, as well.

Cities—Day or night, big cities can look amazing from the air. Depending on the weather and the amount of haze, I find that cranking the contrast on a black-and-white version of the image brings out the texture of urban areas.

Plains—Flat areas of the planet aren’t always begging to be photographed. However, look for lonely roads traversing a plain, patterns of crop circles, or other items of interest on the flat ground.

(Clockwise from top left) FUJIFILM X-T2; Nikon 50mm f/1.2; 1/3200; f/5.6; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T3; 35mm f/1.4; 1/7000; f/5.6; ISO 160. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 31mm; 1/750; f/5.6; ISO 200. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 24mm; 1/30; f/2.8; ISO 100.

Mountains—The perspective of seeing mountains from above, to me, is just as striking as seeing them from the ground, if not more so.

Shadows—Depending on the time of day, shadows can be long or short. Look for them and get ready to crank the contrast in post-processing to emphasize the tonal range. The airplane in which you are sitting casts its own shadow on sunny days. At altitude, you won’t see it, but on approach to landing, the shadow races across the ground to intercept the aircraft. At takeoff, it races away. Look for it. Photograph it.

(Left to right) Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 31mm; 1/1500; f/5.6; ISO 200. FUJIFILM X-T3; 35mm f/1.4; 1/50; f/2.8; ISO 250. Nikon D300; 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 at 18mm; 8.0 sec; f/3.5; ISO 200.

Moon—Always a favorite subject of mine. It is best captured before it gets too dark outside, due to the movement of the aircraft and the need to preserve a fairly fast shutter. As part of your preparation, it helps to pay attention to the moon’s phases and various rising and setting times. A big gibbous or a full moon might allow you to keep shooting long after sunset.

Sun—Do NOT look through an optical viewfinder at the sun, nor point a camera at it for more than a moment, due to the risk of harming your sensor. Yet the sun, and its flare on the Plexiglas, can be a great subject or compositional element in the frame.

Sunballs—The sunball is a shadow cast by the airplane into a cloud. It usually looks like a very blurry outline of the aircraft surrounded by a rainbow-tinted halo. Keep an eye out for it when on the down-sun side and flying just above the cloud tops. You might see sun dogs, too!

Vapor—When the wing is generating a lot of lift (usually when dirty for takeoff or landing) or during dynamic maneuvering, depending on the atmospherics, a reaction called Bernoulli’s Principle dictates that the drop in air pressure on the top of the wing or at the wingtip results in a corresponding drop in air temperature, known as Boyle’s Law, and instant condensation. Depending on the part of the wing where this occurs, it might make a good photo subject—or a cool “special effect” for a video.

(Clockwise from top left) Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 23mm; 1/350; f/8; ISO 100. FUJIFILM X-T2; 35mm f/1.4; 1/950; f/4; ISO 200. Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 17mm; 1/350; f/8; ISO 200. Nikon D200; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 19mm; 1/250; f/8; ISO 100.

Air to air—Closing speeds of jet aircraft at cruising altitudes can reach almost twice the speed of sound, so if you catch opposite-direction air traffic with your camera, you’re either really prepared, or really lucky. Crossing traffic streaks by, as well, but occasionally you will settle in behind another airliner heading in the same general direction, which might stream a contrail. Keep your eyes peeled for these transient subjects.

Nikon D200; 70-200mm f/2.8 at 98mm; 1/160; f/11; ISO 100

Compositional Considerations

Wing—If the wing is out your window, you need to figure out where it is going to live in your frame. Is the wing the subject? Will the airfoil dominate the image or distract? Sometimes more wing is better than a sliver of wing. Will you avoid it all together? If you are forward of the wing, don’t be afraid to get the leading edge of the surface and/or the engines in your frame. If you are over the wing, start thinking creatively. And, if you are aft, decide how much wing you want in the frame.

Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 30mm; 1/2000; f/8; ISO 200

Horizon—Careless non-level horizons are one of my photographic pet peeves. In the air, however, sometimes there are multiple horizons. The Earth is always a fixed horizon, if you can see the horizon. The cloud bases are usually parallel to the Earth, but there are exceptions. And, lastly, the aircraft might be cruising at a nose-up pitch, or banking, or changing angle of attack, depending on the phase of flight. My rule is that I try to keep the Earth’s horizon level (or correct the image in post-processing) unless the aircraft is in a dynamic phase of flight, or I am feeling especially creative. Sometimes leveling the Earth’s horizon puts the wing at an awkward angle. You’ll have to be flexible at times.

Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 17mm; 1/90; f/9.5; ISO 200

Window—There is no harm in including the window frame in your image and making it a part of the composition. Don’t forget this framing device! Again, it all depends on what your compositional goals are.

Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8 at 26mm; 1/8000; f/5.6; ISO 200


Remember, an airliner is not public property. You are a paying guest of the airline and subject to their rules and regulations, as well as international laws, and the regulations of your nation’s governmental aviation authority. You cannot do whatever the heck you want whenever the heck you want—regardless of whether you are creating art. Follow the instructions of your cabin crew, obey the overhead placards, and don’t be a menace. If a flight attendant asks you not to take photographs out the window, you must follow those instructions. Also, as painful as it is to say this, be conscious of your neighbor’s desire to sleep or catch up on all the TV shows they don’t have time to watch at home because of the time they spend looking out the window at their front yard.

Nikon D300; 17-55mm f/2.8; 1/20; f/5.6; ISO 200

What are your tips and tricks, successes and failures, and tall tales of photographing from airplane windows? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

Be sure to check back on B&H Explora for more of Adventure Week—and don't forget to follow B&H on Twitter @BHPhotoVideo for up-to-the-minute #adventureweek news.


This is a wonderful article, Todd. I stumbled upon it because I was writing a blog post about using the geotags on iPhones to figure out where you are when you shoot photos from an airplane. You offer some valuable planning advice that works for all types of cameras. Thanks for writing it. 

Hi Caroline,

That is a great message to wake up to. Thank you, very much, for the kind words on the article!

I am very glad you enjoyed the piece.

Thank you for reading!



Excellent Article!  Thanks, I thought I was the only one looking out the window with a camera in hand. 

A long time ago I was a navigator in a large aircraft that shall remain nameless and was able to take photos from the cockpit and other areas of the aircraft that would not be available to to most people.  At the time I wasn't a very good photographer but did manage to catch some really nice air to air of plane in close vertical and horizontal proximity.   All shot on film.   

All your recommendations are great but the key is to just take a lot of photos.  Also, night photography is not that hard in these days of advanced electronics.  An ASA, sorry ISO, of 6400 solves a lot of problems when combined with Photoshop. There's less turbulence and a smoother ride after the sun goes down.  Perhaps the nicest photo I ever took was NYC at about 2AM from 30,000 ft during the winter.  Aircraft was steady as a rock and the lights of Manhattan were clear. 

Again, thanks for the article.  You brought back a lot of great memories.  Now if they'd let me bring a sextant aboard for a night navigation leg I'd be all set.  Keep those window shades up and in the locked position.

Hi Stuart,

Thanks for your service as I assume you were wearing a flight suit when navigating those planes! I have only used a sextant on the seas, but was so advanced that I used to fly the CH-46D with a Garmin GPS V strapped to my knee board so that I didn’t have to be TACAN only!

Thanks also for the kind words on the article. Thanks for reading, see you in the air, and fly safe!



I have taken window shots for years.  The best shot I got was at night of the Aurora Borialis.  I used to try and use a “real” camera, but my current iPhone does a pretty good job and is much easier to use.  I have done the stereo trick as another commenter suggested, and they turned out very well.  I usually carry a black handkerchief with me to wrap around the camera/lens to block out the internal glare.  

Hey Larry,

Great tip there!

I hear what you are saying regarding an iPhone, but I have also found that smaller mirrorless bodies are great for the task...much better than a bulky DSLR!

Thanks for sharing your experiences and stopping by!



Nice shots. I too am guilty of gawking out the window at length and taking shots. Some quite good, despite reflections, scunge or scrapes on the plastic windows, and hulking wings. Weird more people don't look out anymore, but I won't let that stop me.

Hi Rick,

As a pilot, I know how important wings are to the magic of flight, so I never hesitate to include them in my shots. Actually, they are their own form of sculpture!

Keep on shooting and keep enjoying the view!

Thanks for the compliment and thanks for reading!



I've been doing this for years, but not seen too many others talk about it or post photos.  I thought I was the only one out here that's crazy about looking about airline windows.  I have one of the National Mall DC that I planned out, I wish I could show you.  "But, I want " another view of it in the evening with the lights just coming on,  I saw it while arriving in DC years ago, but didn't have a camera.  My flights haven't come in from the same direction since, Sad.   If you have page or someplace to post, I'd like show/post a couple?  FYI; The Rocky Mountains are stunning and coming into Portland, Mt Hood and Rainier are at your window.  Thanks again for your article, And Keep the Windows Open !!! 

Hi Dale,

Nope, there are other crazies out there.

Another one in the club is Adobe's Julieanne Kost who did a book "Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography and Creative Thinking." Its a great read with some great photos!

Unfortunately, we don't allow photo sharing on Explora, but if you post it to the web somewhere, let us know. Even if the system blocks the link, I can see it on the backside.

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading, Dale. Fly safe!



You can also take advantage of the aircraft's lateral movement to create stereo pairs. Take a photo, wait a moment or two, then take another. The time between photos will vary depending the height above the ground or cloudscape, so it's best to bracket a few frames and the decide what stereo depth works best in post processing. 

Hey Gary,

Cool idea! Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading!

I'll give it a try sometime.



Some of my best aircraft shots are running 4K video while watching for lightning in cloud-cloud or cloud to ground. Its too fast to capture in photo mode, but looking at each frame in the video you can extract great 8MB images of awesome lightning with glowing clouds. I have a superb night shot of Vancouver with the bay reflecting a deep sunset and a big lightning bolt splitting the sky. Only from a plane could i get that shot.

Hey Nicholas,

Awesome stuff! Thanks for the tip!

If the passing clouds are interesting, I have done some cool time-lapse with my smartphone.

Yes, airplanes give an amazing viewpoint. Its so crazy to see how many people spend the entire flights with their shades drawn and noses buried in electronic devices. Flying is still magical for me, but, I guess, not magical for everyone.

Thanks for reading!



Same as Andy G, got a nice picture of a sunrise over the mountains and the outer wing of the plane leaving Bosman at sun rise on my cell phone.

Nice, Lawrence!

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your experience!



Thanks for the interesting images Todd! I have tried many times to take worthwhile images from airplane windows, not too successfully. One image though turned out well, an early morning sunrise on a flight to SeaTac. Made a very abstract, colorful image.

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the kind words on my images. I will assume that "interesting" was a compliment! :)

Keep on shooting out of the windows. In the days of digital, it is all free!

Thanks for reading!



I love the window seat, and taking photo's as I fly!  I've only used my phone up to this point, but now I want to try my DSLR on my next flight!  In 2005 I was landing in Miami just as Hurricane Wilma was moving in, I regret not taking a picture of it at the time (I was too scared to get yelled at by the flight attendants :)) However that defined swirl of clouds is forever etched in my mind and would love to have had it captured!  Thank you for the great article!

Hi Jennifer!

Definitely break out the big guns for better photos! Like I mentioned, sometimes you can't get the photo because of one reason or is sometimes better just to remember it in your mind's eye!

Thanks for reading!

I used to have the luxury of shooting from the flight deck of an aircraft with 23 windows up front, although not all of them were suitable for shooting through. Now, in the back of an airliner, my biggest challenges are with the window—reflections and smudges/scratches. I use Pocket Earth to track the aircraft’s position enroute and to identify locations on the ground and occasionally to set the correct time zone for the photo.

Hey Edward!

My guesses, without looking at the internet: C-130? B-29? B-50? Stratocruiser? :)

Thanks for the hot tip on Pocket Earth. I will check it out!

Not a "Pro Tip"...but it should be....Todd's Pro Tip: I set my camera's clock to UTC so that I never have to worry about changing time zones.

Thanks for stopping by!

Very good article. I really like shooting through the window of an airplane. This article made me more comfortable shooting. Thanks.

Thanks for the kind words, fernando!

Make some art from cruising altitude!

Windowless aluminum tubes in the sky?  Perhaps less windows but there will be those who may tip over the edge with a rage of claustrophobia. For some people just knowing the windows are there even though they don’t use them can give them a bit of comfort. Great repeated article.  

Hi Roger,

Not window-less aluminum, but probably window-less carbon fiber tubes or flying wings!

When the 787 was launched, Boeing promoted the fact that it had larger windows because of its carbon fiber fuselage. I found that ironic as windows on airliners are so rarely used these'd think they'd make them smaller and I bet no one, but us, would notice.

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for stopping by!

Such a lovely and passionate article full of knowledge!

I got so frustraded in my last trip, with Emirates, Rio-Dubai-Tokyo, when the flight att. were always asking to close the windows... why one would ask for a window seat, cross the atlantic, Africa, Middle east and Asia and never look down to every different part of the World? Such a waist! I cant barely take my eyes or mind out off it! I love getting the high views from anywhere I can, be it a mountain, a friends apartment with a different view, or and airplane.

cant wait to my next flight, and looking forward to get one of those lens skirts, also great for any window situariam!

Hi Guilherme,

Thank you for the kind words! I very much appreciate the feedback.

I agree. While I do understand the need for passengers to sleep on long flights, I encourage travelers to bring eye masks for any flight where I am in a window seat because it might not be very dark in the aircraft!

And, don't give me a look of annoyance because glare from my window seat is preventing you from binge-watching your favorite show for the second time. :)

Fly safe and get great photos! Thanks for reading Explora!


I thought I'd sign up just to reply to this article (I was looking for tips on portraits!). Lots of well written tips, perhaps I can add my own however. I'm an airline pilot and a keen photographer and am lucky enough to combine the two in my day to day life. My LR catalogue says I've probably taken 20,000 or more images from the flight deck, many ones I am proud of, but plenty which are terrible, learning the quirks of aeroplane photography.

I'm lucky enough to have large windows up the front, not made of 3-4 layers of bad plexiglass. They are however very thick! This point also applies to multiple layers of glass too, but less so. Long lenses really do not work. Above 70mm you'll see a degradation of your image quality. A 200mm lens? Unless you're 100% perpendicular to the glass, you will get some form of refraction and it will give a "double vision" look to  your image. If you want a good ground shot, sorry, you're probably going to have to wait for a turn, if you angle the lens down it'll look rubbish.

Secondly, and you touch on this, forget shooting at f/8 for the perfect sharpness, the glass will degrade your image anyway. What I do recommend is shooting wide open! Aeroplane windows are filthy, covered in grime, pollution, de-icing fluid, everything. They're probably scratched too, covered in ice, basically they're horrible. Shooting at your fastest setting will allow you to reduce the DoF (if focusing to infinity, another must do if you want a landscape shot, not a wing shot for example) to remove these potential artefacts from your image. I've shot the same image at both f/1.4 and f/8, the latter being unusable.

Shutter speed isn't too much of an issue, beyond what you can physically shoot without a tripod. The ground is 6+ miles away from you in the cruise, you might be doing 500+mph, but you wont see movement in your shot. Up to 1 second or so, you're safe.

Another point is light. Travelling West, a sunrise or sunset can last hours. I've seen 2 hour sunsets! Equally, East will give you short sunrises and sunsets, just half an hour between the dead of night and the sun being up. Make the most of the sunsets though, the colours are wild! With so much less pollution, less air and less particulates, the colours are brighter, more vibrant and so much more vivid. Sunsets aren't just orange, they're deep blood red, fading to orange, then green, before transiting to blue. Daytime changes through altitude, so as the earth casts a shadow on itself, the ground can be in total darkness, streetlights turn on, cars use their lights, but in the air you can still be in the day time. It's unique and throws out so many "rules" that we use for photography and natural light on the ground.

Though when the sun does set, and it's dark, it's darker than you could ever imagine. Flying transatlantic, the skies are so black that the milky way should be able to be seen with your naked eye. A good camera and lens you can easily capture it. If you're flying West to East, sit on the left of the aircraft, East to West, the right. Why? You'll be sitting on the northern side of the aircraft and if you're lucky, over the atlantic in the winter, you may get to see the aurora! The further east/west you fly, the more chance too, as you'll fly further north.

The best bit of kit I've purchased was, without a doubt, the rubber lens hood, not the ones you've mentioned in my case, but I'm sure they'd work great. Cutting out reflections is difficult. There are loads of bright pin-point lights in an aeroplane (even more in the cockpit I promise!) and they can ruin your shot. Especially at night, block out as much as you can, and you'll be rewarded by some of the best shots you could imagine.

It's not an easy type of photography, but it's a view that is so unique, you'd be mad not to take your camera in the flight with you!

Hi Ian,

Fantastic stuff! I am glad you stumbled upon my article to add these great tips! In my previous life, I used to ride in the front (former Naval Aviator—helos) so count me as jealous that you get the good views still and I am riding in steerage!

Thank you for stopping by and for adding your expertise and thoughts! I hope folks filter down to the comments here to get the gold!

I’d love to share a great shot IMO, I slowed the shutter speed when focused on the aero foil of the wing. This allowed the vapour to show pouring in a torrent off the wing.

Todd. Nice to know I’m not the only one who still loves to look out the window even at age 62. Looking at the wide expanses of one ground, wondering why there is a “road to nowhere” down there! You’ve sparked a renewed interest in taking pictures from the air. 

Thank you, Robert! I very much appreciate the kind feedback!

Keep that window shade up!

Thank you, great photos & tips.  In addition to general planning based on routes, the Flyover Country app provides a wealth of information and route tracking.

Thanks for the kind words and app suggestion! I will check it out!

Great story and pics, Todd.  Thanks.  I prefer the window seat for exactly the same reasons as you.  These days, there's usually nothing going on *in* the plane that I want/need to see.  I've got several images like some of yours.  One of the best ones, I got flying home from Europe after a motorcycle trip in the Alps.  We were flying along and I looked out, and there was another plane--a United jet--flying along side.  I'm guessing it was a mile or more away, but I could pretty clearly see the tail markings.  Got some good shots of it, as we flew over Greenland, which had virtually no snow on it!

Hi Henry,

Thank you for the kind words! Keep getting window seats and keep shooting outside! We need to band together to prevent the end of airliners with windows!

Some of my best vacation pics are from the air!!  The black & white tip for cities is interesting & will def try it.  My tiny digital camera is a beast!!  Building thunder clouds & sunsets are my favorites so far.  Is flyover country the only app available?  Thank you!  

Hey Kay,

Thanks for the comments! Just do an internet search for "flight tracker" and you will likely find a bunch!

Good luck!

Great article. I really enjoyed reading it. Very informative and in depth. And the pictures exemplified your knowledge. Thank you

Thanks, Back! I appreciate the kind words and thank you for stopping by to read it!

Hi Todd,

I've done some photography from airplanes. Flying from Columbia, SC (CAE) to Cedar Rapids, IA (CID), the airplane banked towards Lake Murray and I took some photos of the lake. Of course, there is not a direct flight from CAE to CID since there is a stop at Chicago O'Hare (ORD). I took some photos of the Chicago rail yards flying in. I don't remember which connecting segment features the blinking neon tubes, but I got lucky with getting some tubes illuminated. I used a disposable film camera for that trip. I don't recall flying back home from Cedar Rapids with my Canon A-1; I was just anxious to get home for a few days.

Not to be disrespectful, but what this have to do with the article?