20 Tips to Making Stunning Landscapes from Planes
Ashok Dilwali shares fun and easy ways to capturing those beautiful vistas that you witness in an airplane journey.
The maps carefully crafted by nature become more apparent from an aerial perspective. You can capture peaks covered with snow and fluffy clouds resting on mountains. All you need to do is keep a few simple things in mind.
1. Take the Earliest Possible Flight
Haze and clouds develop very quickly as the day progresses. Early flights are inconvenient but very rewarding for aerial photography buffs. So make that extra effort and wake up early if you want to capture the unseen beauty of nature.
2. Choose a Comparatively New Airline…
…as its aircraft might be new and have less scratches on the windows. One sees nothing through Air India planes! If the windowpane is really bad, then you may even see inverted images! Their maintenance is so classic that the windows remind me of the ground glass viewfinders that I used with field cameras for donkey’s years. Indigo has the best maintenance and the cleanest windows.
3. Ascertain Which Side
Figure out which side will offer better mountain views and then request for a window seat. Do not take a seat facing east on an early morning flight, unless you want to compete with Andy Warhol! Opt for a web check-in or reach the counter early.
4. Opt for the Front or the Tail End
Select a window seat which is either at the tail end or the beginning, in order to avoid the aircraft’s wing from obstructing your view. There is no point in having a football field between you and the mountains.
5. Do Not Ask If You Can Take Pictures
For God’s sake, don’t do this, as the staff are sure to prohibit it. Our aviation rules were probably made when the Wright Brothers were perfecting their flying skills. So, keep the camera hidden in your lap. You won’t have to get up to access overhead storage.
6. Use Manual Focus
Sometimes, you do not have a choice and are faced with scratched windowpanes. At such times, switch to manual focus, as autofocus will keep hunting. If you are using a compact, simply switch to the Landscape mode or set it to focus at infinity.
7. Choose a Fast Shutterspeed…
…such as 1/500sec or more to avoid camera shake. It would be best to shoot in the Shutter Priority mode, with ISO adjustments made to accomodate fast shutterspeeds.
8. Anticipate the Composition
Be fully prepared to shoot at a very short notice, and anticipate the arrival of the best composition. Learn from the advice of Lao Tzu, “Be prepared, do not prepare.”
9. Exchange Seats if Need Be
If you find the view to be better on the other side of the plane, you can always request your fellow passengers to exchange seats.They are generally cooperative unless you run into some Indian politician who won’t let go of his seat.
10. Point the Camera at the Scene
Do not point the lens too high up or too low, as this would involve shooting through the window at an angle. I try to keep the camera aimed directly at the chosen composition.
11. Know the Right Focal Length
A kit lens such as the 24–105mm is generally good enough for my full frame camera, hough carrying a 70–200mm can be useful for close-ups as well. I would advise carrying two bodies as you will not have time to change lenses.
12. Use a Lens Hood
The most common mistake that people make is to put the camera’s lens right up against the glass of the window in the hope that this will cut down on reflections and steady the shot. This usually ends up in camera shake. A better idea is to use a lens hood and get as close as you can without touching the window. Alternatively, cup your free hand over the lens.
13. Be Prepared for the Plane to Bank
It is difficult to make pictures of the scene going on below you, but opportunities present themselves when the plane banks after taking off, and before landing. The key is to be ready and to shoot quickly.
14. Look for Points of Interest
Keep an eye out for striking formations. These could be mountains, clouds, lakes, ponds, forests with hills and so on. Even dramatic sunrises and sunsets are quite possible to capture, with the right amount of planning and some luck. You could even try capturing the play of light and shadow as clouds move over landscapes.
15. Vary the ISO Values
Throughout my life, I have shot only on 25 or 100 ASA, but digital is a delight as even at ISO 800, you can easily get great image quality and detail.
16. Experiment with White Balance
Presets such as Cloudy, Shade and Tungsten can help you enliven the most bleak of skies and landscapes.
17. Get Friendly with the Staff
If you manage to establish a rapport with the staff, you can request the pilot to let you make a couple of shots from the cockpit. If he is not in a terrible mood, he might just allow you.
18. Ways to Explore Mountain Photography
In India, only two flights are suitable for photographing mountains—New Delhi to Srinagar and New Delhi to Leh. One of the other great flights to photograph mountains in this subcontinent is the Everest flight in Nepal. However, passengers are allowed to stand in the cockpit only for three minutes.
19. Postprocess for More Contrast
It is common to lose some contrast when flying at high altitudes. But you can always adjust this in postprocessing software. All you need to ensure while shooting is that highlights are not blowing out. My last piece of advice would be to someone with extremely deep pockets. I am an avid landscape photographer and the view of mountains that I get from airplanes is unparalled. However, my only regret is that there are not enough air routes that offer such views. I hope someone starts an airline from Manali and gives people the chance to view the perenially snowcapped peaks of Lahaul, Spiti and Zanskar!