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How to Take Photos Out of a Plane Window (10 Expert Tips)

how to take photos out of a plane window

Everyone loves to capture plane-window photos; they’re perfect for social media, they tell a great story, plus they capture the excitement of traveling to an amazing photographic destination.

But taking photos out of a plane window isn’t as simple as pointing your camera and tapping the shutter. Instead, if you want to create beautiful, sharp, well-exposed shots, you must use the right settings, wait for the right moment, and create a compelling composition.

It’s all in this article: The 10 tips and techniques you absolutely must know for amazing out-the-window results. That way, the next time you’re flying 30,000 feet above the ground, you’re ready to immortalize the experience!

Let’s dive right in.

1. Ask for a window seat

How to photograph out a plane window

Securing a window seat is your first step to capturing breathtaking views from the sky. It might seem obvious, but if you want to capture stunning photos from a plane window, it’s important to make sure that you have window access!

The process begins the moment you book your flight. Many airlines allow you to select your seat during this initial stage. If you can’t choose a seat right away, don’t worry. Check-in time often presents another opportunity to snag that coveted window spot.

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the case that, despite your best efforts, you might find yourself assigned an aisle seat. If that happens, don’t hesitate to ask the gate staff for a seat change. They’re often more accommodating than you might expect, especially if you’re willing to give up a “better” seat in order to get that window spot. Of course, it’s not always guaranteed, but your chances of getting a window seat increase significantly if you try all of these steps!

By the way, it’s also a good idea to consider where you’ll be positioned on the plane. If you’re seated in the middle of the plane, for instance, the wing might restrict your view and limit your photographic opportunities. Opting for a seat closer to the plane’s tail, or in front of the wings, can provide a clearer and more expansive canvas for your aerial shots!

2. Keep the lens away from the window

When you’re shooting out the window, it’s tempting to put your camera’s lens right up against the glass. After all, in addition to cutting down on unwanted reflections, this approach steadies the camera, right?

Not quite. While pressing the lens on the glass can help with reflections, it actually causes your camera to shake more, not less. Unfortunately, planes vibrate as they fly, and when the plane window touches a part of your lens, it’ll transmit those vibrations straight to the camera sensor (which will produce lots of image blur).

The better strategy is to keep your camera held slightly back. Tuck in your elbows, and if your lens or camera offers image stabilization, make sure the technology is active. To reduce reflections, attach a hood to the lens and position your setup as close to the window as you can get it without any contact.

how to take a photo out of a plane window

(If you don’t have a lens hood, you can cup your free hand around the end of the lens or you can cover your camera with a shirt or jacket.)

While avoiding contact between the lens and the window will reduce camera shake, it won’t eliminate it entirely. But if your shutter speed is fast enough, this won’t matter; the split-second shutter will capture a sharp shot before the shake has time to cause problems. So boost your shutter speed if you can (and don’t be afraid to increase your ISO to ensure you capture a balanced exposure).

3. Use a camera with a high dynamic range

Capturing the vast expanse of the sky and the intricate details of clouds requires a camera capable of handling a wide range of light and dark tones. This is where the dynamic range comes into play. Cameras with a high dynamic range do a great job of rendering deep shadows and bright highlights – and as a result, you can photograph stunning scenes with rich details in both the brightest and darkest areas.

So what kind of camera should you use? Full-frame cameras tend to offer the best dynamic range capabilities, making them ideal for plane-window photography, but not everyone has access to a full-frame camera, and that’s perfectly okay. APS-C cameras have a smaller sensor, but they can also do a great job of rendering highlights and shadows!

How to photograph out a plane window

Finally, if you opt for the convenience of a smartphone camera, activating the HDR (High Dynamic Range) setting is a must. This feature works by capturing multiple images at different exposures and blending them into one, resulting in photographs that better balance light and shadow.

4. Keep your setup relatively compact

How to photograph out a plane window

While planes can vary in size, you generally won’t have a whole lot of room in your seating area, especially if you’re on a shorter flight. Bulky DSLRs and large zoom lenses are not only challenging to maneuver in such tight quarters but can also be a source of irritation for you and your fellow passengers, and that’s why I always recommend keeping your plane camera setup relatively small. At the end of the day, a compact setup isn’t just about convenience – though working with a smaller camera and lens is a lot easier! – it’s about being considerate and ensuring you can quickly and easily capture the moments that matter without causing frustration to others.

Mirrorless cameras have become a favorite among travel photographers for this reason. Their compact size, combined with high-quality imaging capabilities, makes them ideal for capturing stunning aerial shots. As for lenses, I often use a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens when shooting out the plane window; it’s lightweight, offers excellent image quality, and its fixed focal length encourages creative compositions. Plus, the 50mm field of view allows for a variety of shots, from detailed landscapes to nuanced interior scenes!

5. 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 instead of the subject outside, which is generally not what you want.

So if your camera has the option, switch to its manual focusing mode. Then slowly adjust the focus point until you get your main subject tack-sharp.

It can help to take a test shot, then zoom in on your camera LCD. That way, you can check the focus and make adjustments accordingly.

how to take a photo out of a plane window

If your setup doesn’t offer a manual focusing option, try putting your camera right up against the glass and focusing on your subject. (If your lens is close enough, the glass shouldn’t pose much of a problem.) Then lock the focus, and bring your camera back into position. While shifting the camera will technically cause the plane of focus to shift, as long as your subject is reasonably far from the plane window, this won’t make a huge difference, and you’ll still end up with a sharp shot!

(Pro tip: If you use the focus-lock method shared above but you keep capturing out-of-focus shots, try narrowing your aperture to f/8 or so. The resulting deep depth of field should help compensate for the focusing error.)

6. Make sure to shoot early and late in the flight

In my experience, the handful of minutes just after takeoff is the best time to shoot through the plane window. Why? A couple of reasons.

First, once you’ve been flying for a while, the windows tend to ice up or collect condensation, which will decrease image sharpness and make it tough to focus. When the plane has been on the ground for an extended period, however, the condensation and ice evaporate, giving you a clear(ish) window to work through.

how to take a photo out of a plane window

Second, when you’re just taking off, you’ll see a huge 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 delicate and even cute), and you can shoot beautiful buildings (if the airport is reasonably close to a city).

But as the plane gains altitude, you’ll get too high to capture lots of interesting subjects, and you’ll struggle to create a compelling composition.

Of course, you can often find interesting subjects again when the plane starts to land, though you may still have condensation and/or ice to contend with. Why not maximize your time behind the lens and be ready to shoot both during both takeoff and as the plane comes back down to earth?

7. Wait for the plane to bank

Once the plane is relatively high in the sky, it can be pretty difficult to take shots of the landscape far below. You may need to position your camera at a steep angle, which can increase the likelihood of reflections and will limit your compositional options.

Fortunately, planes don’t just sit in the sky; every so often, they bank, which – when in the right direction – will give you an opportunity to capture the ground.

how to take a photo out of a plane window

This banking generally happens soon after takeoff and just before landing, and it doesn’t last long, so you need to be ready. Carefully set and lock the exposure, and make sure to lock your focus, too (it’s fine to tilt your camera so you can focus on the ground).

Then, when the bank begins, start photographing with abandon. (Your camera’s burst mode can be helpful.) Don’t stop shooting until the bank is finished!

8. Turn off your flash

Planes tend to be dark (especially if you’re flying at night), so you might be tempted to turn on your flash. (Alternatively, your camera may sense the limited ambient light and activate the flash automatically.)

Regardless, make sure to manually switch your flash off.

how to take a photo out of a plane window

For one, a flash certainly won’t illuminate the area outside the plane window; no flash is strong enough to have an impact beyond 20 feet or so. And a flash will cause plenty of unpleasant glare and create blinding window reflections, so you won’t be able to see out the window and your shots will be ruined.

If your shots are turning out dark, you have a few options. You can widen your lens aperture, you can boost your ISO, you can add positive exposure compensation, or you can lower your shutter speed. If you’re on a long flight, you might also simply consider waiting until things get lighter!

9. Include points of interest in your compositions

How to photograph out a plane window

Scenes outside plane windows can often seem quite spectacular to the eye, but when you try to capture the beauty, you end up with images that are just…boring.

This is because great photos generally need an anchor point – something that catches 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 draws the eye. This can be anything: a cloud formation, another plane, a coastline, or even a setting sun.

Then compose your image while keeping that point of interest in mind. Consider using helpful composition guidelines, such as the rule of thirds, the golden spiral, or plain old symmetry, to position your point of interest. And adjust your framing – while looking through the camera viewfinder, if possible – until you get a great result!

10. Photograph the plane interior

how to take a photo out of a plane window

While the allure of the world outside your window can be mesmerizing, the plane’s interior can make for great shots, too. By subtly zooming out, you can frame the majestic views outside with the plane window itself, creating a compelling frame-within-a-frame effect. (This technique not only adds depth to your images but also helps tell the story of your journey!)

It can also be fun to incorporate elements like tray tables, your outstretched hand, and even other passengers. These shots, combining the interior’s coziness with the vastness outside, are absolutely breathtaking, plus they do a great job of emphasizing the wonder that is flight!

And once you’ve captured some nice interior-exterior shots, I encourage you to capture a few shots that feature only the interior; you can get super-cool results, especially at night, when everyone is sleeping and the passengers are illuminated by twinkling lights from inside the cabin.

How to take photos out of a plane window: final words

Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to capture plenty of stunning out-the-window shots on your next flight! From the serene beauty of cloudscapes to the intricate patterns of the landscape below, there’s a wealth of photographic opportunities waiting to be captured – all it takes is a bit of effort on your part!

Securing a window seat, choosing the right equipment, and exploring both the exterior vistas and the interior ambiance are a great way to make the most of this experience. Whether you’re armed with a full-frame camera or a smartphone, the sky is literally the limit for what you can capture.

So remember the tips I’ve shared. Practice setting up your camera in advance. And have fun!

Where will you be flying next? What images do you plan to take? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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