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04-16-2017, 09:30 PM   #1

Join Date: Jun 2012
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Need advices on photograph city’s light from airplane

I have never had a good result trying to take night time city light from airplane. Besides getting way way under exposed images, I also have problem with reflection from inside airplane. Can someone give me trips / technique / advice?

Available gears: K3, DA15, DA21, FA50 f2.8, DFA100wr
I think I will have the 50 and 100 with me, good / bad idea?

What ISO, shutter speed setting is good?
Should I try to mount camera on something like mini-tripod, etc, or handheld?
Ways to deal with reflection?
Please share with me your story and images taken from commercial airplane.

Fly end of this month, Thank you in advance

04-16-2017, 09:48 PM - 1 Like   #2
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I have not done any with digital and not w/ heightened concerns about photo's from airplanes, but I used to fly a lot on business and my experience using slide film (high speed pro Ektachrome Tungsten iso 320) will be directly applicable.

-- With iso 320 I was using 50 mm f/1.8 lens wide open at 1/15 sec (35 mm film).
-- To kill reflections I cut a hole in black thick paper board (10 3/4" x 14") and stick lens through the hole.

The hole can be the filter diameter--so only the lens end is passing through it. The board intercepts/blocks interior lights, thus there was no cabin light reflecting off the window.

With dslr at iso 1600 and SR--the results should be/could be spectacular. But I suggest you not let the lens (or the paper board) touch the window/surrounding wall (and no mono-pod or tripod)--so vibrations are only from plane to you to camera.

I would think the 21, 50, 100 mm and then see what develops.

You cannot use camera metering for this--you start with a close guess and then check the result. I would suggest: iso 1600, 1/30s, f/2.8 as a start, or (as I had no trouble w/ 1/15 s and film camera) if your technique is good you likely can start with 1/15s and f/4.

Actually as digital is worse than film on highlights, and since the DR of the lights is likely not too large, I think I would start out with the above shutter speed and f/stop, but use iso 400. Once you have done this critically review the results on your computer, and you will know more for the next time.

Of course pick your seat so the wing is where you want it in the pictures--if over the wing you cannot get city lights below--I would always pick well behind it. And if there is sunset/sunrise--accordingly get the best side of the plane.

Last edited by dms; 04-16-2017 at 10:45 PM.
04-17-2017, 05:46 AM - 1 Like   #3
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1. Bring some kind of napkin or cloth to clean the window -- they are rarely cleaned to optical perfection.

2. Reflections: I've never tried the black card ring to reduce reflections but I have used my jacket pulled over my head or bunched around the lens and camera to reduce reflections. Also, one can use the safety card or in-flight magazine to block reflections but it's awkward to hold everything and get a steady picture. Reflections are lowest if the camera is pointing perpendicular to the plane. Shooting forward or backward gets reflections from lights elsewhere in the cabin that are harder to block.

3. Seating: Tricky! During take-off and landing, seats behind the wing look down through extremely turbulent hot jet exhaust. During the middle of the flight, these seats have the most expansive view unless one is sitting at the very front of the plane (first/business class). The hardest part is picking the correct side of the plane which depends on the airport's location relative to the city and prevailing winds on the day of the flight which determine which runway and direction they'll use.

4. Focal length: 21 and 50 are your best bets unless you think you'll get a sprawling city view during take-off or landing. It's especially hard to get a good picture with UWA due to reflections, the edge of the window, wing, and distortion ripples in the aircraft window. Telephoto rarely gets a good picture due to vibration, atmospheric distortion, and optical imperfections in the aircraft window (but telephoto can get some great "snapshots" of iconic objects but they won't be sharp).

5. Mounting: As dms said, don't use a tripod or brace the camera against the aircraft because there's too much vibration, shock, and motion. Let SR do it's job and take lots of images to maximize the chance of getting a clean shot between the bumps and vibrations of flight. Also, the wingtip and belly navigation lights can be bright so taking lots of shots increases the chance of getting one without these lights.

Good luck and enjoy the flight!
04-17-2017, 06:31 AM - 2 Likes   #4

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Use manual mode and manual focus. Raw mode if you know how to use processing software. Prefocus at infinity or a touch short of infinity.

For an idea of settings, the photo below was with the FA 43, 1/90 shutter, f2.0, ISO 3200.

Buy a collapsible rubber hood that screws in like a filter. They are inexpensive. You can press the hood against the glass to block interior reflections. Flexible rubber lets you aim the camera while maintaining the seal. Keep the lens close to the window to hide dirt.

The ideal time to snap shots is during a sharp turn towards your side of the plane. That lets you aim downwards yet shoot perpendicularly through the glass. You might even be able to see the ground if you are stuck seated above the wing. Pay attention to what the plane does during takeoff and landing.

04-17-2017, 09:45 AM - 1 Like   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by photoptimist Quote
1. Bring some kind of napkin or cloth to clean the window -- they are rarely cleaned to optical perfection.
Depending on the plane, you could also just end up with a scratched window, or one with condensation/ice between the panes.

I also second the suggestion of the collapsible rubber hood. In this case it is preferable to get the widest one possible, because you are trying to block ambient light/reflections, not the sun shining directly onto the lens.
04-17-2017, 01:56 PM   #6
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For best results... rent a Huey and hang out (harness optional) of the open side door.
04-17-2017, 04:53 PM   #7

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Very helpful, Thank you very much
Based on many comments, I will try 21 and 50 mm + a rubber hood this time. Hope I will get something nice this time. Now that I look back at my old photos, I use 100mm most of the time.
I already booked my seats online just a few seat in front of the wing. On a 21mm I am expecting to get the font part of the jet engines + a bit of wing in frame. (just hope that the airline don't want my seat for their employee, lol )
I found an online tutorial of a guy get night star shot from an airplane, will try that as well. May be I will need something bigger than a rubber hood. I guess DIY black paper or something :/

Last edited by pakinjapan; 04-17-2017 at 05:08 PM.
04-18-2017, 10:07 PM   #8
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I would bring the 100mm as well, unless it would be physically too big for the space in between the seat and the window.


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