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Private plane photography (03/09/2006)
By Tom Hirsch
It seems like every vacation spot has an airport or heliport that offers rides so visitors can get a better view of the area and its special points of interest. Some provide brief excursions that circle the locality a time or two, then return to give other sightseers a look-see. Others offer full or partial day trips to provide vacationers with a more extensive impression of the area. Don't neglect these opportunities. They're fun, and the pilot or an attendant will provide some very interesting and enlightening information.

One of my most memorable experiences took place on such an outing while I was on vacation on the island of Oahu. I took an eight-hour air tour of the other islands, which was a great experience in itself, but when we flew over the beautiful rain forest on Kauai, I had the view of a lifetime. This island is regarded as one of the wettest spots on earth, and as we flew over one of the deep canyons formed by imposing mountains, I saw a circular rainbow poised over the valley below. The rainbow did not consist of an arc as we are used to, but formed a full 360 degree circle.

As we flew over the rainbow, very turbulent weather caused a problem. The plane vibrated so violently that it was impossible to hold the camera steady during the brief period of time that the phenomenon was in view, so I didn't get any pictures. But the impression is forever imbedded in my memory, and I'll be prepared to take pictures next time.

When taking a sightseeing flight, ask the pilot if it would be possible for you to get a seat by a window that opens. This would avoid the problems of dirty windows, tinted panes, and non-smooth glass or other material that will cause distorted images. Be sure to ask before taking off because in the air it's impossible to open a window. It's not always possible for a window to be opened, but if you ask, the pilot might at least be more likely to see that the windows are clean.

A tinted window isn't a major problem because this can be corrected in printing. When you get your pictures, if the tint is objectionable and the results are worth it, point out the color disparity to the photofinisher and ask for reprints, or make the appropriate corrections on your own photo-enhancing program in your computer. Nothing can be done about the window distortion.

On a plane in which windows cannot be opened, you'll encounter reflections from the window, and, of course, vibration. To solve, or at least reduce, both problems, hold the camera close to the window without touching it, and avoid touching any part of the plane with your upper body. Hold the camera slightly away from your face, and keep your elbows away from your body. Grip the camera with just enough pressure to keep it from falling. The camera should feel like it's floating in your hands.

Remember that many autofocus cameras focus on windows rather than through them, so use the manual-focus mode or infinity lock if your camera has this feature.

When you're lucky enough to get an open window, wear the camera strap around your neck at all times, and keep a firm grip on the camera. You won't want to stick the camera very far out the window because the wind pressure will buffet the camera around quite a bit. In fact, a strong gust could possibly rip the camera from your grasp.

If the site that you'll be flying over is in or near a city, you could have the additional problem of haze caused by industrial pollution and vehicular exhaust. To lessen the effect, try to choose a calm, clear day. A Sunday morning is best because most factories are closed, and fewer vehicles are on the roads.

Not every flight will provide you with anything like a circular rainbow, but you will have a visual perspective that you won't get from the ground. 


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