Photoessay: More from the air (and some tips)

_Q116_L1020291 copySomewhere over Scotland

Today’s photoessay is a series of images that is both a continuation of the dreamscape series and the result of spending far too much time on an aeroplane in the last few months – think of it as the fruit of doing a little homework before departure. Of course, shooting from a chartered helicopter is nice, but also not something undertaken without a client or access to a central bank’s vault – preferably from a country that’s still solvent.


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Hong Kong, new Macau bridge

Aerial photography through a window can bit a bit of potluck, but there are a couple of things you can do to maximise your chances:

  1. Clean the window – seems obvious…
  2. Up the shutter speed – moving aircraft are moving a lot faster than you think. We’re talking 1/5x-1/10x here.
  3. Avoid focal lengths that are too wide or too long; either way tends to resolve the imperfections in the window itself, or dirt on it. 24-85 is about the limit, realistically.
  4. You only get one chance at a shot, so I would suggest going a little wider and leaving yourself some room to trim if you’re not confident of perfect framing. It’s much harder to get the horizon flat than you might think, especially if the aircraft is banking or changing altitude.
  5. Avoid shooting at very shallow angles of incidence to the glass – this magnifies variations in thickness and both distortion and color filtration effects; perpendicular is best
  6. Shooting from a position behind the engines almost never works, because the hot air creates a difference in refractive index of the air, which in turn results in blurring.
  7. Fairly serious color correction is going to be required in post, mostly in the blue channel. This is partially due to the window itself,f and partly due to atmospheric attenuation (and related to the reason why the sky itself looks blue).

Don’t worry if your hit rate is low; but do keep shooting! MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Canon 5DSR and 40 STM, Nikon D810 and 85/1.8 G and processed with Photoshop Workflow II. You can also look over my shoulder at the way I postprocess in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

_Q116_L1020221 copyPort Dickson, Malaysia


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London from Gravesend

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Hong Kong

_5R01632 copyEnglish coastline

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_5R01636 copyFellow travellers to destinations unknown

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South China Sea

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Genting Highlands, Malaysia

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Off the coast of Vietnam

_8B26877 copySouth China Sea

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Just outside Hong Kong I

_8B26867 copyJust outside Hong Kong II

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The journey is the destination even if you can’t see the end


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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Hello Ming, I just recently subscribed to the weekly workflow, episode 3. Have you covered processing an image from an airplane yet? If not is that something you’d be interested in doing? Like you i spend a lot of time on airplanes and shooting out of the window it would be great to watch you work through one or more of these types of images.

  2. outstanding images. Do you recommend the use of a polarizer to minimize reflections?

    • Actually, no – I hardly ever use them, especially not in the air because they tend to interact badly with the perspex windows – you see all of the stress lines etc. in the window…

  3. scott Devitte says:

    787 Dreamliner has nice big windows and a window dimmer you can control- variable ND haha.

    • Not flown in one of those yet, but sounds good. How neutral is the ND’s color, though? 😉

      In any case, you want more light, not less. 😛

  4. How do you minimize reflections?

  5. They are all wonderful but “Somewhere over Scotland” is magical! N.B. You have probably sold more Leica Qs than their entire salesforce! Remind them about the commission! 😉

  6. Samuel Jessop says:

    More great photos, and I am drawn to those from the 5DSR and EF 40/2.8 yet again. Like those of a train station last year too, you’ve captured the essence of transit very well indeed.

    Also nice to see my own part of London from the perspective of someone visiting too.

  7. Stunning shots! Especially like the one of Hong Kong, that’s just amazing!

  8. Fantastic set, Ming! I especially love the shot of the Macau bridge.

  9. Well done, Sir. I use Zeiss ZF.2 lenses for aerials. The clarity helps cut through the haze, the micro-contrast helps bring out the detail and the hard stop at infinity makes things easier. Maybe I’d be better off with a Q or some Quattros.

    • The ZF2s do well too – I prefer MF lenses for aerial work actually because you can set infinity and leave it there, and not worry about the AF system getting confused by the number of reflections. Wider lenses work better because of motion and shutter speeds, of course – which is probably why the Q appears to be so strong.

  10. John Nicholson says:

    I particularly like the “semi-astract” images more than the “views”. My personal tip would be to find a camera with a specific “through window” setting. I discovered this by chance on my humble Leica C and have had amazingly satisfying results.

  11. Also, you can stitch panoramas of large landscape elements. Shoot bursts, and the plane motion will scan for you.

  12. Peter Boender says:

    Some more tips:
    1. Wear black clothes.
    2. Shoot really close to window, without letting lens touch it (to prevent airframe vibration).
    3. Put a light baffle around lens, against window, e.g. (black) scarf, sweater, blanket to prevent stray and reflecting light from cabin.
    4. Make use of bigger windows…. 😉

    A nice set Ming. More soon!

  13. Superb pic over Scotland. Thanks for the tips too. Any tips for aerial sunrise or sunset shots?

  14. Great stuff! +1 on all the color correcting, I learned that when editing my shots landing in NYC

  15. Nice set Ming! Sadly any position ahead the engines on long haul usually means you need enough miles, luck or fork out a lot of cash.

    I’ve found that even with 28mm you have to be careful with odd distortion, reflection from the windows and odd streaks of light.


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