How to take a great photo from an aircraft window

Have you ever wondered how to take a decent photo from the window of an airliner? British Airways has the answer.

The airline called in an expert to give advice to all those amateur photographers whose perfect shot from an aircraft window is never quite right – and it could simply be because they are in the wrong seat.

Top aerial photographer Jason Hawkes took a flight from London City Airport to Edinburgh to document his journey in photographs and share some tips with his fellow travellers.

Jason usually photographs from helicopters rather than jet aircraft. He started by choosing his seat carefully to ensure the perfect view from the Embraer 190 aircraft. He chose window seats in row three in the front of the cabin to capture the perfect take-off shot over Canary Wharf and the approach over the North Sea into Edinburgh.

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London’s O2 Arena – better known as ‘The Dome’. Top: The Shard, London’s tallest building. Photos: Jason Hawkes. Click on image for bigger version. For Shard image click here

The result was a collection of picture perfect images of some of the most iconic landmarks of the two capital cities, including the dome of the O2 Arena and the 95-storey Shard building in London and the extinct Arthur’s Seat volcano, the commercial Calton Hill district and the Scottish Parliament buildings in Edinburgh.

Jason said, “I’ve spent the last 25 years of my working life hanging out of the sides of helicopters shooting aerial views all over the world. In a helicopter your first thoughts are safety, both for yourself and the pilot, and of course also for those below you on the ground.

“It was a very different experience altogether shooting from a British Airways aircraft, certainly the first time I’ve been offered such good coffee whilst I’ve been working!

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On approach to Edinburgh Airport with Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volocano centre shot

“In the helicopter the doors are either taken right off or open, but in a standard aircraft the first thing you’ll have to deal with are reflections and glare from the window. So here are my top tips:

  • On this aircraft type row three worked best for me, I chose to sit in 3A for the outbound leg from City Airport and 3D for the return. Try and ensure you sit towards the front or the back of the aircraft to get an unobstructed view.
  • To try and shoot without reflections, the most basic tip of all is to ensure your lens is as close to the window as possible without actually touching it.
  • I always try and shoot in one of the ‘golden hours’, either the hour just after sunrise or the hour just before sunset, to get lovely warm light and long shadows to accentuate both the urban and natural forms of the landscape
  • If you are shooting images on take-off and landing, and have various lenses, I found anything between a 24mm and 70mm works best.
  • If you can, set your camera or phone camera onto a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second or higher this will ensure you get sharp images even if the aircraft is vibrating.
  • If you have a DSLR you could also try using a polariser filter. A circular polariser filter only allows light rays that are traveling in one direction to enter the lens. It’s a great tool but is a little tricky to use if the aircraft is banking round, as you have turn the filter to get the desired effect.
  • You could also try a lens skirt or large rubber lens hood, which are both great for blocking out window glare.

“This is a really technical tip but one I would give in whatever situation you are working. Set your camera to shoot in both RAW and jpeg. You’ll have to grade the RAW file yourself to get the most out of it, but it’s really worth the effort and gives you a huge amount of control over the final image that you could never get from a jpeg.

“The standard iOS camera app for iPhone doesn’t support capturing RAW photos, so you’ll need to download a third-party app, such as Adobe Lightroom CC.”

photo tips

Jason Hawkes Photographer

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