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Getting Good Photos on Canvas From the Air

by Eric Von Lehmden | May 12, 2014

Going on a trip? Flying commercial air? Have a friend with an airplane? There are various ways to get into the air, but the challenges of good photos on canvas from the air are all pretty common to "slipping the surly bonds of earth."...I read that somewhere.

lake mead from the airLake Mead and Hoover Dam from the air

Challenges of Producing Great Photos on Canvas From the Air

The first challenge is getting the composition right. The human mind, seeing the world from a different perspective, wants to capture and share that different perspective. Much like sweeping landscapes, it is often difficult to recreate what you see from the air. In landscape photography, we provide depth with a foreground and often some connecting terrain to the panorama. So don't think of your photos from the air as landscape photography. Instead think of it "perspective photography". The shape of the earth below, the pattern of nature, and man made things are all more interesting when you view them from the air. Just remember that the higher you are, the smaller the detail of what you are photographing is.

Zooming In

There are a couple of recommendations that I have to get interesting photos on canvas from the air. If you are flying on a commercial airline you are fairly limited with your angle of view. So you can use a zoom lens, but you won’t always be able to point it at the ground. Plus when you use the zoom you can crop out that wing that is usually in the photo (unless you got a good seat). Big tip here…Be ready during take off and landing! Why? Because that is when a plane is more likely to bank left or right and will give you a more straight shot down toward the ground. This can happen quickly so you have to be ready. I can’t promise there will always be something interesting below you when that happens, but in the bigger cities you are usually over some type of industrial complex or housing that could look very interesting as a photo on canvas from the air. Moral of the story…be ready.

farm land from the airFarmland from the air. Taken with iPhone 4

Going Wide

Getting a wide angle in the shot from the air can be challenging. You may want to see the ground below and the horizon, but you end up with airplane parts in the picture. Sometimes this can be part of the theme of the picture and help the photographer to add depth or create a sense of foreground. In light aircraft this is a more intimate setting. In airliners, you have a smaller window, and often the parts do not emanate from your foreground but from off angle. When you are sitting near the rear of the aircraft, and the wing will often come into view when shooting with a wide angle. It shows up coming into the side of your composition. While the view may be unique, like an "in" joke, sometimes you had to be there to "get it". So you may need to do a little contorting and shoot behind the wing (if you are sitting in the back of a plane). You can still get amazing photos on canvas with the wide angle showing the vastness from above.

Did I mention it helps to get a window seat? Some photographer intolerant people tend to find it annoying if you want to lean across their lap to take a picture.

Arizona from the airWide view of canyon over Arizona...not the Grand Canyon

More Troubleshooting for Getting the Best Photos on Canvas From the Air

Most aircraft do not use glass for windows. This causes problems in two ways. First, they are made from plexiglass or other acrylics, and therefore they scratch easily. Second, they can discolor. Usually this is the luck of the draw. Some minor aberrations can be removed in post processing, but a window scratched up from frost removal can make it more of a challenge to get a good picture. When you are flying commercially just try to get your lens as close up to the glass as possible so you don’t see any reflections. By focusing so far away from the window you should take away any of those scratches and you photo should be pretty dang clear.

Lake Mead from the air

Now, if your mission is to go flying and get pictures from the air in a light aircraft, say real estate photography, choose a high wing aircraft where the windows are in the shadow of the wing. There is less likelihood of the scratches being visible. Also watch for reflections from inside. And do not shoot through the prop.

Another effect is the atmosphere and lots of it. This haze, the reflection of light off of atmospheric moisture, dust particles, etc., can reduce contrast and make for a lackluster picture. One strong helper is a good haze or polarizing filter. If you have been a landscape or outside photographer for a while you might already be familiar with the polarizing filter. Whether circular or linear, these devices can be rotated to block polarized light, darkening skies, reducing much of the reflected light off of water or haze that tends to be polarized from the sun angle. But there is a strong caveat here. Most windscreens, side windows and "portholes" in aircraft are made from pressure treated materials, in order to give them more strength per unit weight. As such, they get "roller effect." When you use a polarizing screen, you may well bring into view a very annoying effect that looks like broad crosshatching on the window. Caused by small variations in thickness, this will ruin an otherwise good shot. Sometimes you can rotate the polarizer and reduce the effect, but you may also reduce the haze filtering at the same time. This can also occur when shooting through your car window. If you are using a polarizer. Again, my tip would be to get your camera lens as close to the window as possible to reduce those roll lines that might be seen.

Now you are ready to get some amazing photos on canvas from the air…we can’t wait to see what you come up with.

To get more inspiration for amazing photos on canvas from the air check out Eric's Pinterest board "From the Air".

cloud formation from the airClouds are always a favorite subject for me to photograph while flying.


last sunset from the airTaken with an iPhone 4...this last bit of light on the horizon is one of my faves...even with the grain.


Arizona from the air


Nevada from the airOn clear days when you can see the ground it is great to see the amazing characteristics of the land.


Photography, fine art printing and decorating news and advice

Tips-n-Tricks #408

If you are photographing a subject who is pressed for time (ie bride and groom, or businessman) choose a location where you can get multiple looks or backgrounds without having to pick up and move all your equipment. By thinking through your options you don't waste time and you can get several different looks while keeping everyone happy and on time.

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