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Aerial Photography on a Budget
by Theresa A. Husarik

I love to sit by the window on an airplane. The views can be incredible, as they were on a recent trip over Alaska, and you can see the landscape as you can't see it from the ground. Sunrise, sunset, and storm clouds take on an other-wordly feel as you glide enveloped in them. It is very tempting to point your camera out the window and shoot because the scene is so magnificent, (and haven't we all done this!!) but there are a number of gremlins that will cause your picture to look quite different from what you remember having seen. The oohs and ahhs you experienced are no longer apparant. The ahs stayed on the plane and all you're left with are the ew's (as in "ew, yuck! Why did I shoot that?"). Here are some hints that I found to help in getting the shot without having to hire a pilot and private plane.

  1. If you have an autofocus camera, switch the focus to manual. I found my camera kept trying to focus on the window glass which was too close and wouldn't allow the shutter to be released.
  2. Since your subject is several thousand feet away, and you'll be focusing on the infinity setting, large apertures can be used and you'll still get the whole scene in focus. This will render as fast a shutter speed as the light will allow. Even though in the plane you are traveling at a very high rate of speed, the ground below is so far away that moderately fast shutter speeds will be able to stop the movement.
  3. Watch what is happening in the viewfinder. Watch for things which will interfere with your picture such as scratches, snow or mist on the window, or the "rainbow effect" caused by the coating on the windows. You can control the intensity of the "rainbow effect" by moving your camera slightly, using a polarizer (see tipe #4), or sometimes even eliminate it with a CC30R filter (see tip #7). The colors can, however, sometimes give an interesting effect.
  4. Use a polarizer to help cut down on the glare, and reduce the haze in the atmosphere.
  5. Try to shoot with the camera lens flat against the window (using a lens hood to protect your lens) instead of at an angle. This will further reduce glare and "rainbow effect".
  6. Remember when booking your flight that you need the window seat. Also, you will need to convince your traveling companion that you should have the window because this is a rare opportunity to expand your photographic experience. Yea, that's it.
  7. Use a red Color Correction filter (CC30R) to reduce the bluish hue you'll get from shooting through the window.
So, next time you're traveling by plane during the daytime, see if you can capture some of the beautiful landscapes from this unique viewpoint.
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