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Photos From 30,000 Feet

Ask for a window seat, then leave the irritations of air travel behind as you explore the "heavenly" world of aerial photography

Text And Photography By Kevin Crosslin

I've never been particularly fond of commercial airline flights—flight delays, cramped seats, turbulence, crying babies, questionable food and less-than-spectacular movies, to name just a few reasons why.



Several hours into a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles, in a symbolic attempt to escape no less than all of the above mentioned annoyances, I opened the sliding plastic window shade only to find myself pulled out of the jet and into another world!

I had attempted to photograph through jet windows before. Although the results were never that good, using image-editing programs like Photoshop has taught me that the computer can bring out details in film that are practically invisible to the naked eye.

We were certainly somewhere over Arizona and the bad weather was now hundreds of miles behind us. Enormous white cloud formations rose up from the desert landscape, and through the breaks, I could actually see the multi-colored rock of the Grand Canyon. I did happen to have a Canon EOS Elan IIe in my bag loaded with Kodak E100, and it was such a heavenly view that I decided to try to capture it on film.

I knew from previous attempts at in-flight photography that simply pushing a camera lens up against the window of an airplane can cause problems with reflections.

To try to eliminate some of the inevitable stray light, I dug a black T-shirt out of my carry-on and draped it over my head and left arm. Looking through the viewfinder as I adjusted the makeshift hood, I became aware of where the unwanted light was coming from and could position myself for the cleanest shot. I set the camera to automatic mode, as I didn't have a third hand to fumble with manual settings.

Back on solid ground, my hope then was that the magic from that flight followed my film into the processing lab. When I first put the slides on the lightbox, I must admit I was less than thrilled. I knew I had some pretty good shots, but they did lack much of the intensity I saw up there in the clouds. It was time for a different kind of magic.

Somewhere hidden in those slides was the treasure of that experience. I scanned the best shots on a Nikon LS-2000 film scanner. Next came the fun part. With some basic color and exposure correction techniques, the images began to reveal their secret beauty. Here's how I did it.

To see more images from this series, visit Kevin Crosslin's Website at www.cavestar.com

1 BUILD A HISTOGRAM. This is the original scan from the LS-2000 with factory settings. It looks like the original slide, dull and washed out with a blue cast. Choosing Levels will graphically display where the image is lacking information (highlighted in yellow).

2 ADJUST THE CONTRAST. By moving the Levels controls in toward the edges of the information, it's possible to compensate for what's lacking in the scan. Already the image is starting to reveal hidden details and colors that were invisible in the original image.

3 COLOR CORRECT AND ENHANCE. Bringing out the rich colors of the sky and canyon is accomplished with Hue/Saturation. I shifted the Hue toward the red, boosted the Saturation, and increased the Lightness just a touch. Now the sky is really beginning to show some depth and the canyon becomes a little more defined.

4 ISOLATE THE CANYON. The sky and clouds are starting to look good, but the canyon is still a bit washed out. To work on just that area, I used the Lasso tool to select the area where the canyon is visible through the clouds and then feathered the selection by 40 pixels.

5 BRING OUT THE DETAILS. With this feathered selection I applied Levels again to increase the contrast even more. The red rock of the canyon walls and the details of the light and shadows begin to really stand out.

6 APPLY FINAL TOUCHES. The last step is another overall adjustment. I applied Curves after deselecting the previous feathered selection. Curves is similar to Levels but allows even more control over contrast. By defining several points and experimenting, I was able to find a setting that gave me the whitest clouds and darkest shadows without blowing out the delicate colors of the canyon rock.



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