A week ago on Monday, Jan and I flew to Salt Lake City to see Elif and Mina. The first leg of the flight, Providence to Baltimore was about an hour. By a sheer coincidence, the exit gate for us was next to the connecting flight gate to Salt Lake City.
The wait was short and we boarded first along with other passengers who needed special aid. This time I chose to sit in the window seat so that I could take photographs. I have done this quite a few times using infrared cameras and I wanted to try recording the earth once more, this time in color. The clear weather was on my side making both the flight smooth and my photographing easier.
Aerial photography, especially at 30,000′ is very different from shooting landscapes. First of all, there are two layers of airplane window glass of dubious optical quality and cleanliness. Add to this the speed at which the plane is flying, the weather conditions, and unexpected bumps the engagement with the subject becomes a very different experience altogether.
Upon take off, the city and highways provide ample material to photograph. There is not much time to think and compose, one has to rely on one’s instincts. At these lower altitudes, things go by much faster requiring faster shutter speeds and reaction. As the altitude increases the clouds may enter the scene sometimes adding quality elements to the photographs and at others become a pure obstruction. But, be on the alert, a partially revealed scene below may offer interesting photographs.
The camera angle, the exposure settings, lens zoom all need to be carefully controlled. With quick changing light, it is best to use some kind of automation. Either aperture or shutter-speed priority would work so long as the shutter speed does not fall below, say 1/250 seconds. I used aperture priority, auto ISO, and shutter speed not to go below 1/250 seconds. Of course, depending on the changing conditions some amount of exposure compensation is unavoidable. (Also, see the comment by Haluk below.)
The tricky part is the white balance with changing light conditions, clouds coming in and out of the view, ground color shifting. I relied on auto white balance and then tweaked it based on my mental images. The color may not be exactly accurate but “they looked right to me!” You may also notice the wide crop ratio of 1:2 rather than the camera image having 3:2. The wide crop in this case and in the previous instances allowed me to retain the feeling of looking at a wide vista while eliminating the parts that could not be left out when photographing.
You may have noticed in some of the photographs the appearance of looking directly down. A few of them were lucky moments when the plane banked and gave me a very good view of what is down below. In the other frames, I used Lightroom to yield a corrected view. That gave the land a better presentation of its features. Yet, others remained mostly the way I took them except for some cropping to get the window frame out or to remove the extreme rotation of the camera angle. (Thank you Bill for noticing this and commenting on it. Truth be told, this paragraph was in the post. But, thanks to my hosting company’s poor service my site crashed as I tried to save the post causing me to lose a good deal of content.)
These are not meant to be highly accurate reconnaissance photographs but photographs I want to share with you. The detail may be lacking, the colors may not be exactly correct (although I believe darn close to it!) but remember the two layers of dirty airplane window glass, all the clouds that are going in and out. I prefer that you enjoy the colors, shapes, texture, lines, mood, and the feeling encoded in the images. Come to think of it, that is the way to look at and read photographs.
I hope you enjoy traveling with me from Baltimore to Salt Lake City. Let’s fly!