Start your Photo-tour at take-off

April 24, 2018  •  2 Comments

Iceland by air.Iceland by airFlying over the highlands of Iceland with Icelandair's latest Boeing 737 MAX.

Many of you have taken photos from the windows of an airplane when heading for the next photo adventure, just to let your friends and followers on Instagram or Facebook get a glimpse of your upcoming adventure. Some of the photos might turn out bad but there might be many keepers that you capture while flying over interesting landscapes on the way to your destination. It does not have to be difficult to improve your photos from the air, it is like any other photography a question of the right equipment and conditions of the subject you are photographing.

I (Páll Jökull) had the oportunity to be one of the hosts of a celebratory flight by Icelandair when they were introducing their brand new Boeing 737 MAX on April 14th. Guests on board the celebratory flight were provided with an in-air tutorial to learn how to take the best aerial photographs from the newly designed windows for better viewing. My photography tips helped passengers to get the perfect shot using the aircraft’s new LED lighting system to light the photo and the better-designed cabin windows to help frame it.

Capturing a good photo from the Boeing 737 MAX is a combination of the light available and the composition of what you see out there, landscape/sky, and will be made easier with the new redesigned windows“ said Páll Jökull.


Here are the 10 tips that may help you capture a better photo from up to 32.000 feet.


Iceland By Air, mountains in the northern part of Iceland.Iceland By Air_20180414_A654618Flying over the northern highlands of Iceland, heading to Akureyri.


10 Iceland by air photo-tips

Play with colours, lights and shadows to add depth to your photo. 

Clouds can make an interesting pattern on the ground. The contrasts of a snow covered landscape against rivers or lakes can make a good photo. The Black sand beaches or a rocky coastline against the surf and the waves of the blue Atlantic. As the ground is slowly changing colour from the brown and yellow autumn and winter tones you might find green colours popping out, for example on moss covered lava fields.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8747Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8747Austurdalur valley cutts into the highlands of north Iceland.

Use the rule of thirds

Carefully balance the space between the sky and the ground: 1/3 sky versus 2/3 ground works well. When you are in the air and can only see the sky and/or clouds, you can use the wing and engine as a prominent part of the photo, indicating that you are travelling to (or from) Iceland on an adventure trip.

Iceland_by_airIceland_by_air_20180414_DSC9008Approaching Reykjavik from the north. This is Hvalfjörður fjord on the left and Kjalarnes peninsula in the center.

Including part of the aircraft wing in the shot can make the landscape really stand out. 

The window of the aircraft also nicely frames the landscape. When you are photographing the landscape below, the wing will automatically point diagonally upwards in the photo, creating a connection between the plane and the ground. Also you should find out which seat gives you the best view without too much obstruction from the wings if you don't want them to be a major part of the photos.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC9108Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC9108Coming in for landing at Reykjavik airport. The Hallgrímskirkja church stands proud on top of the hill in the center of Reykjavik.

Use aperture priority or manual mode to get the best results at sunrise or sunset.

The golden hour before and after sunset or sunrise can be rather long in Iceland, especially in the winter because of the low angle of the sun. The sunset light can linger on for up to two hours of beautiful golden, pink, red and purple colours until the dark blue colour of the night takes over. In general it is better to sit on the opposite side of the sunset or sunrise. On this flight we had a cloudy sky as you can see.


Low light requires higher ISO

When shooting in low light conditions use a higher ISO setting (ISO 800 or higher) to maintain a high shutter speed that counterweights possible camera shake.

Iceland By Air_20180414_A654631Iceland By Air_20180414_A654631Dark clouds covering the mountaintops of Tröllaskagi peninsula on the west side of Eyjafjörður in north iceland.

Reduce glare from the window

When shooting through a window of a plane there can be a glare from the interior lights that you may notice in your photos. You can reduce that by holding the camera lens close to the window or even covering it with your other hand or putting your jacket over your head and camera so the reflection does not reach into the lens. This is particularly difficult at night when it is dark outside and the lights are on in the cabin, for example when trying to photograph northern lights. On the new Boeing 737 MAX we might see some changes in this with the newly designed windows and interior lighting.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8721Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8721Take-off from Reykjavik airport. Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8721Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8721Take-off from Reykjavik airport.

Take-off and landing

When you come in for landing you will only have a few minutes to capture the landscape (countryside or city) in close-up as the plane comes in for landing, so you should be prepared for a few quick shots as the plane descends and you get closer to the airport.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8834Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8834Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland is next to the fjord Eyjafjörður.

Northern lights require a tripod

Photographing northern lights from a window of a plane requires the use of a tripod, as you would use on the ground. By setting the camera to ISO 2000-4000 and using f/2.8 og lower with 5-10 sec shutter speed you should be able to capture some northern lights. Try to set the camera lens up to the window to minimise glare reflecting the light of the window. A small portable tripod like Gorilla pod can be useful in these situations.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8914Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8914Eyjafjörður to the north. Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8922Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC8922The newly designed windows of the Boeing 737 MAX.

Left is right!

One last tip: In general it is better to sit on the left side of the plane if you plan to photograph through the window. It is easier for your posture and for framing the shot so you don‘t have to twist your body to get the shot. If you are flying from North America to Iceland in the winter, the left side is best to capture the Northern lights. Sometimes the view is better on the right side of the plane and you can research the flight path using Flight Aware and Google Earth to find out where to sit for the best view.

Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC9230Iceland_by_air_20180414_DSC9230The Boeing 737 MAX on the ground in Reykjavik.

One last tip

When you are photographing from the airplane you should of course keep your seat belt fastened when the cabin crew tells you to as during landing and take-of.

Good luck and happy shooting!



I choose window seat almost every flight. These are wonderful tips and excellent photography examples. Thanks Páll!
Nice well written article with helpful ideas and suggestions. Thank you!
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