From The Window Seat

Rereading a story I shared in the Shutter Sisters book Expressive Photography, I was reminded of the exact moment I fell in love with photographing views from an airplane window.

"On a recent flight from New York back to Los Angeles I found myself easing into the idea of a long, lazy flight home. I chose to stow my laptop, hold my camera in my lap (just in case) and gaze out the window, resting and reflecting. With no expectations or agenda, I literally watched as the world went by and periodically snapped pictures of the mysterious and multifaceted skyscapes from my window seat. I let the view play its tricks on me as I felt sometimes lost in space, hovering over stormy seas or looking down on an enormous patchwork quilt of colors and textures. Hours passed and I drifted in and out of a sleepy daze. As the clouds continued to shape shift, the sun used a soft palette as a subtle yet deliberate stage light illuminating the sky as our plane followed along and floated above the last miraculous act of evening. I watched unblinking, transfixed as the last light of day sparkled then disappeared at the final curtain call."

Since that dreamy flight, I’ve made it a point to ingest and enjoy the sky each time I fly. Lucky for me, I’ve never flown more often in my entire life, which has made it that much easier for me to indulge my creative cravings and follow my photographic bliss.

A lot has changed over the last few years. The camera that has become a constant travel companion is my iPhone and, although I do often carry my DSLR onboard, the convenience and ease of my mobile phone makes the process equally, if not more enjoyable, depending on my mood.

I discovered the true visual rapture of window seat shooting through the eye of a Lensbaby Super Wide lens. The name says it all. Without even adjusting the distance between myself and my window—which is usually not much more than a foot—I could include everything I wanted that was in front of me in my viewfinder: window, wing and sky. The dreamlike quality of the Lensbaby helped me to capture not only what my eyes saw, but also what my head and heart felt, which are exactly the kinds of images I long to create with every click of my shutter.

Since then, I’ve found another effective wide-angle alternative, but it’s for my iPhone. The olloclip wide-angle lens or fisheye lens (the olloclip comes with both) are great options when you want to leave the DSLR stowed in the overhead bin. You get the same opportunity to frame the vastness of the horizon even when your mobile camera is right against the window. It also can allow for compositional creativity because you have all kinds of options in the way you frame the scene.

Keep in mind, the best camera (or lens) is the one that’s with you, and if you don’t have a wide-angle lens, believe me, you can still capture awesome and inspiring images of the sky. Because the horizon is constantly changing with weather and time of day, no two flights are ever alike, which means no two shots from the window seat are ever the same. This adds to the magic and mystery of each shoot.

Where you’re seated also changes your perspective. Whether you’re over the wing, in the last row or in first class, take advantage of all that can be seen from your seat: looking up, looking down, looking back or looking out. Each view opens up a world of creative potential. And, with that, I leave you with another excerpt from my story:

"There is an intangible quality that comes with expansive space and breathing room. A view itself is not emotional on its own. It’s our mind’s eye that translates a mere landscape into something that stirs the soul. When my heart wanders amidst an image of an impossibly endless horizon—be it of mountains, seas, or sky, I can’t help but believe that anything is possible."

The next time your head is literally in the clouds, I hope you believe it, too.

Ideas For The Window Seat

  • Use the window as a frame within your frame
  • Crop the window out completely
  • Leave only one corner curve of the window in for interest
  • Look for interesting reflections in the window
  • Let the wing fill the frame
  • Include only a hint of the wing
  • Use the wing to divide the frame
  • Look for the sun’s glare on the wing
  • Shoot mostly sky
  • Shoot mostly land
  • Keep the horizon line straight
  • Tilt the horizon line
  • Shoot straight down into cloud cover
  • Shoot into the sun
  • Shoot out of focus on purpose

SHUTTER SISTERS is a collaborative photo blog ( and thriving community of women, passionate about photography. Photographer, author, teacher Tracey Clark ( is the founder of Shutter Sisters and the author of Elevate the Everyday: A Photographic Guide to Picturing Motherhood (Focal Press).

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