More on the looking out of the window of airliners theme today. This time the subject is other airliners. If you don’t stare out of the window much, you might not be aware just how much other traffic is out there. Actually, there is quite a lot. At various times you might see other jets passing in the opposite direction, pacing you at a distance and crossing your path. Sometimes they seem very close. With some of the apps that are available now, if you have wifi on-board, you can even be prepared for some of them showing up.
Here I shall highlight a quality warning. The attached shots are not great. They illustrate a point but nothing more. There have been quite a few occasions when we passed very close to another aircraft. However, those were not times I had a camera handy. even if I had, the chances of getting a good shot are not great. Even when you are close, you are really not that close. It just seems a lot closer than normal – which it is. However, you are still well separated. Therefore, to get a shot, you need a medium length lens at least.
Sadly, aircraft windows are not designed for optical perfection. Moreover, since they are pressurized and scratches are a source of fatigue which you certainly do not want, the manufacturers put a nice perspex sheet between you and the window. They certainly are not optically perfect. Now you are shooting with quite a long lens through two layers of less than perfect material. This is not a good recipe for quality shots. There we go. I have made plenty of excuses.
You are now going to get a small aircraft if you are lucky and a small blur if you are not. If it is pulling a contrail, you might do better since they can make some nice shapes. However, chances are you won’t get much at all.
My frequent flights mean I get to spend some time looking down. Often when flying across the country, the skies are remarkably clear. There may be a lot of haze obscuring a clear view to the distance but the amount of cloud is usually not much. Then, when there is some, it tends to be thick cloud cover below. No real shape and texture. Consequently, when I see some cool looking clouds, I get a bit more excited.
These are a few of the clouds that I have recently had a chance to shoot as we passed by. If you are not a cloud person, they are very dull. If you are, you can spend ages looking at the different shapes and shadows. I hope you are a cloud person. If not, maybe my next post will be more up your street.
Southwest Airlines and I are quite well acquainted. I am on one of their 737s on a rather regular basis. These days I am making the trip back and forth to the west coast a lot. Coming back from there usually means me arriving back into Chicago towards the end of the day. At this time of year, that can be around the time of sunset. I tend to sit on the side of the plane that gives you a nice view of the sunset as we are getting close to home.
I don’t always have my camera with me (although I always have the camera in my phone) and the combination of light and clouds is not always ideal. However, sometimes it just seems to work and give me something I am happy to remember. These images aren’t something that is ever going to be a big deal to anyone else but they are nice for me. No-one is going to want a wing and engine in the way either! Since you can’t change position, the view is a variation on the same theme all the time. That isn’t the point. I just have to remember to look backwards sometimes to see what is going on.
Some work commitments meant I was unable to get out of Sacramento on Friday evening as I had originally planned. Instead I had to come home on the Saturday morning. A direct flight was available at 6:30am which, while it meant an early start, did mean I had a good chunk of the day left when I got home. It was still dark when we took off and headed east. The route home takes you just south of Lake Tahoe.
As we flew by, the sun had still not come up on the lake. One of the features of being at altitude is that you get sunrise before the ground below you. However, we did have some pre-dawn light on the lake and I managed to get some shots of it. It wouldn’t have been too long before the hardier skiers were out and about no doubt!
One of the things about flying across the country a lot is that you get to see a variety of scenery. Sometimes there are wide open spaces with not much to see. Other times there are mountains and valleys. The unfortunate thing is that it is rather hard to get good photographs. First there is the limitation of shooting through windows. I always aim to be on the side of the plane away from the sun –partly out of comfort and partly for photography reasons – but having a window that is not optically perfect and then a piece of protective Perspex inside that means that reflections and distortions are a problem. Since the windows are not uniform, you can end up with some parts of the image sharp and others not. The autofocus can also struggle sometimes.
Even after all of that, you still have a problem with exposure. You are quite a long way away from whatever you are shooting (shooting straight down is impractical given the window angles and how bad the optical properties become if angling across the window) so you have a lot of atmosphere to deal with and haze becomes a problem. A certain amount of compensation is possible in post processing but it is always annoying that the shot does not look like the image you thought you saw at the time.
However, sometimes you just have to suck it up since you are seeing something that you otherwise would never see. One thing that struck me on a recent flight was the patterns on the ground. The fields had been harvested relatively recently and the harvesting had left different fields with different effects making some great patterns on the ground. You would see these but, since you are moving along at a fair old clip, you had a short while to see what you wanted and make the shot before you had passed the point of the best composition.
If only these would look as good as they did to me when I was there. Oh well, hopefully you will get some idea of what I was impressed by, even if the shots themselves are not impressive.
A recent flight home meant an arrival into Midway a while after the sun had set. I had been taking some pictures out of the window as we headed back across the country and decided to try my luck after dark. I had thought about trying out some auto ISO shots as I described in a previous post. However, since I was shooting night scenes, the camera does its best to try and make things look properly exposed and this is not what you need. Instead, I had to manually set the ISO to a higher number and then drop the exposure compensation to between -2 and -3.
The shots came out okay but they weren’t terribly interesting. However, as we got lower, I decided to go for something a bit more interesting and slowed the shutter speed down dramatically. I braced the camera against the window frame and decided to see what sort of light trails I could get. The exposures were a couple of seconds or more so this is rather tricky. While the background is blurred deliberately, I had the top of the engine and the winglet in for reference. Avoiding blurring them was more hit and miss.
I tried a bunch of shots and was pleased with the number that came out well. However, the effect only seems to work in a couple of situations. One is a turn. This puts more ground lights in the frame and turns everything into a nice curve. The other is when you are very low at which point everything is moving past you close and fast. I might try this again before too long but will have to ponder what might improve things. One technique issue I was pleased with was remembering to turn off image stabilization. With long exposures, it causes the image to wander so, when bracing, it actually makes things worse. Unlike me to remember that first time out but sometimes I do get lucky!