The romanticism of flying isn’t lost on commercial flights unless you willingly let it become routine. I fly several times a year and still find each opportunity to take to the skies an exciting adventure. Sure, I find myself reading, listening to music, working, and sleeping at times, but I’m intentional about dedicating a few critical moments on each leg of my trip to simply enjoying the view.
How often do we have the opportunity to appreciate natural beauty from a vantage most people take for granted? There’s something about staring out the window, reflecting on the landscapes below, that reconnects you with a curiosity about the world — a child-like wonderment. The only requirement, obviously, is a window seat. Some airlines are now charging a fee for seat selection prior to arrival at the airport — something to consider when booking your next flight.
Time of day and flight path can also help or hinder your chances of a memorable view. Morning and evening flights will treat you to spectacular views of the sun illuminating the clouds and the horizon. Keep this in mind as you select seats. You’ll need to be on correct side of the plane to catch these shots. But don’t be surprised if you’re on the receiving end of a glaring look from other passengers when you lift the window shade. Try to position your phone as close to the window as possible to avoid glare or reflections, while avoiding any scratches or smudges in front of your lens.
Once the flight is underway, consider your focus. What inspires you? Are you setting out to capture abstract views of clouds and sunlight? Or does something more clearly identifiable captivate you? Being aware of your general flight path can help you identify bodies of water, certain landmarks, mountains, and cityscapes. Unless you’re using a DSLR camera, which is typically frowned upon during most commercial flights, zoom capabilities will be quite limited with any smart phone. The optical zoom should be avoided in most situations, as you’ll expose your photo to digital noise and loss of quality.
Identifying landmarks and geographic features can be a fun challenge. If you’re not certain what you’ve spotted, many airlines provide location information via in-flight entertainment platforms through a seatback display or through your mobile device browser. If wi-fi isn’t offered on your flight, you can access GPS coordinates using the Compass app on the iPhone or iPad (even in airplane mode). Jot down the location and any comments, then use your favorite maps app or search engine once network service is available.
Utilizing filters on apps like Instagram, Facebook, or Photoshop can help you bring out key features in your image. Adjusting contrast, exposure, saturation, sharpness, and other features can add an artistic flare to any image, but aware there can be too much of a good thing. Some prefer a ‘no filter’ approach, letting the photo speak for itself, so you shouldn’t feel pressured into altering the image for the sake of it. A simple crop can eliminate features that may become a distraction (window frames, glares, wing tips).
Now you’re ready to share these awesome scenes with your friends, family, and the world! Some photos need no explanation, but I’m among those who believe captions are critical for social media sharing. Be sure to use relevant hashtags to increase your reach by allowing others to discover your journey. Many airlines utilize unique hashtags for in-flight photos or their airline magazine, which also could land your image on the pages of their publication.
Perhaps the most important pro-tip for in-flight photography is to have fun. Remember why you’re doing this. I snap shots at 30,000 feet for personal enjoyment and an opportunity to challenge my creative side. Don’t beat yourself up over imperfect images. Learn from your mistakes — practice does make perfect! At the end of the day, you’re using a mobile phone on a commercial flight, so certain limitations are inherent. Don’t forget that.
What tips do you have? Did I miss something in this list? Be sure to post your best practices in the comments below.
Be sure to check out more of my “Aviation Geek” photos and other images from travels on my Instagram page. Check it out here.