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Plane Window Landscapes: A Graphical Effect with Iridescent Colours

A window seat on the plane can be the perfect shooting spot, especially if your view is not obstructed by the plane wings. Here’s how you can make your shot unique with the help of just one polarising filter. (Reported by: Chikako Yagi, Digital Camera Magazine)

Rainbow-coloured island and clouds from high angle

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 28mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/6.3, 1/800 sec, EV-0.3)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto/ With PL filter

I shot the image above in backlight as my plane from Tokyo's Haneda Airport descended into Hachijo-jima Island. My lens had a polarising filter (PL filter) attached, and I put it close to the plane windows and turned it until the rainbow colours appeared. This made the resulting image look graphical.

Key equipment/settings
- Polarising filter
- A zoom lens (to easily handle the frequently-changing scenery)
- Shutter speed: Around 1/800 second (Needs to be fast to prevent blurring caused by plane movement)

How I got the shot

Diagram of photographer shooting from window seat

I was lucky to be able to get a window seat that was located in front of the plane wings. As the island became visible and the plane prepared for landing, I brought my lens as close as possible to the window and framed the image to capture only the clouds, sea and island.  

Tip: Turn the PL filter to adjust the effects
Turning the PL filter changes the amount of reflected light blocked by the filter, which also changes the look of the rainbow effect.

How does it happen?
Most plane cabin windows are made of a specially-treated acrylic that reduces UV light and provides some degree of shade. When you shoot a reflective surface (such as the sea or clouds) through such windows in backlight using a PL filter, the reflected light interacts with the special acrylic and the PL filter, adding an iridescent, rainbow-coloured tint to the scene. 

No PL filter

Normal shot of island and clouds

Without a PL filter, there is nothing in the way to interact with the light reflected from the window and sea. The resulting shot is the same as what your eyes see.

You just need reflective surfaces outside!

Tokyo Bay area with rainbow coloured tint

The shot above shows the urban buildings of Tokyo near Haneda Airport. Using a PL filter will turn clouds, water surfaces and any reflective surface outside rainbow-coloured, resulting in a surreal-looking effect.


Tip: Want a better shot? Do your homework beforehand
During a flight, the lighting direction and the scenery outside will keep changing, so it helps to check on the flight route and sun position beforehand. At the very least, you will know which side of the plane to sit on for the best lighting and view!


Here are some other artistic effects that you can try with just your camera:
Slow Shutter Art: Creating Surreal, Spinning Radial Blurs
How to Create Dreamy, Colourful Portraits with Foreground Bokeh

Interested in aerial photography? Check out these tips and interviews with aerial photographers:
Aerial Photography: 2 Tips for Conquering the Wind
The Allure of Aerial Photography: Capturing Unpredictable Landscapes Under Challenging Conditions
Shooting from a Bird’s Eye View


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Chikako Yagi

Chikako Yagi

Chikako Yagi was twenty when she started teaching herself photography using a film SLR camera. She left regular employment to become a full-time landscape photographer in 2016. An apprentice of renown photographers such as Kiyoshi Tatsuno and Tomotaro Ema, she is a member of the Shizensou Club, which was founded by the former and is one of Japan’s most famous landscape photographers’ clubs. In 2013, she was selected as one of the Top 10 Photographers of Tokyo Camera Club.

Instagram: @chikako_yagi