Aerial Photography From a Commercial Plane
(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)
Photographing from a commercial airplane is both difficult and irresistible. The views can be astounding. I'm amazed that people close their windows. There are a few obvious, and perhaps not so obvious things, that can make a difference in making the best of a challenging situation, to take advantage of the view, and occasionally make some fine photographs.
Unless seeking a specific view, try to book a seat on the opposite side of the plane from the sun, usually in the northern hemisphere this means facing north.
Book early and try to get a seat well in front of the wing to avoid jet exhaust. If that is not possible for increasing far and late bookings, try as far back in the plane as you can get.
Dress for minimizing internal reflections with a dark, non-patterned shirt.
Bring a rubber lens shade with sufficient flexibility to press against the acrylic plane window without it squishing and blocking your view.
Making the Photographs
Do what you can to buff the inner window of smudges. A laptop screen cleaning kit seems to present no problem for the airlines and can help. The elbow cloth of your shirt can also be a quick help.
Always use fast shutter speeds for normal plane motion, but particularly in turbulence. Higher ISO with the noise they can bring is better than blurs.
I usually opt for my 28-70mm lens as that is slightly too wide to avoid the wing in many cases, but long enough to simplify a bit without too much added apparent motion from a long lens. There are times when I wish I could go a bit longer though, so I keep a longer lens handy when I can.
Use an app like Flight Aware to download the path of your flight, save the flight log and map to know where you were and when to match the time of the photograph to the log in order to identify your subject. This can be particularly satisfying when really bizarre things are seen and you become determined to find out what on earth they are.
Biscayne National Seashore. 2009.