Paul Grayson | High Flight

High Flight

February 04, 2013  •  Leave a Comment


Musing about Flight

I regularly try to emulate my guru, Thom Hogan ( see ), by capturing in-flight images through the generally scuffed and dirty windows of aircraft. I have always loved flying and the spiritual uplift that the view of our wondrous home from 10,000 feet provides. Here's the same thing, said better, by an American, volunteer Spitfire pilot in the RAF, John Gillespie Magee Jr, who died on a training flight in 1941:


High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark or even eagle flew…

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


That said, let's discuss an image that I caught as we took off from San Francisco :


San Mateo Original


The subject is the San Mateo bridge crossing the Bay and the lens was the rather long Nikon 70-200 VR zoom, which is excellent for achieving "reach" (getting closer to the subject by magnification) but very bad for easy framing from a tourist-class window seat. The wise Thom Hogan uses a high quality compact camera on these occasions.

Clearly, there is something badly wrong with the color and the lack of definition of the scene. The colour is largely due to my egregious White Balance error, i.e. I forgot to reset the camera from the the previous evening's night-time interior "Incandescent" light setting. So, I forgot my own DSLR "Lesson number one" of resetting the camera for the circumstances of the day when I set out. I think "Lesson number one" would better be "Reset the camera to generic settings when I have finished for the day"? The saving grace is, as always, shooting in "Raw", which allowed me to recover the original data, no matter that I was careless at the moment of image capture. Here is the result of remedial processing in Nikon Capture NX2:


San Mateo Developed


Correction Process

What did this involve? First, the correction to daylight White Balance, application of "Landscape" Picture Control, straightening the horizon and  and cropping to remove distracting clouds in the upper right. This delivered a basically workable image and improved the aesthetic, so as to focus the eye on the horizontal emphases of the mountains and the bridge.

To bring out the detail, rather than using Brightness/Contrast, I chose Levels and Curves, moving the left and right sliders up to near the central bell curve of the White Balance graph. I did experiment with a little Brightness and Contrast, until I was satisfied with the clarity of the image, particularly the bridge, added some blue color saturation to the sky and finished by sharpening.

I still see color imperfection and a trace of the aircraft porthole in the bottom left  of the image, but "nothing is perfect but God", as Moslems like to point out, always leaving a tiny part of a building incomplete, so as to not presume to challenge the Creator's perfection.

Looking Deeper

When I could finally enjoy the image, I was curious to enlarge the dot on the right of the horizon. If it were an imperfection, such as dust on the camera sensor, or dirt on the aircraft window, I would have deleted it using the Auto Retouch tool. However it turned out that the large Nikon D800 sensor had allowed me to see more clearly what it was at a high magnification. Here it is:


San Mateo EnlargementSan Mateo Enlargement


Since it turns out to be an incoming fellow flier, I have left it in the image. In the original image, there is also a trace of its following incoming flight just above the central ridge of the mountains, invisible at normal magnification. It is fun to "pixel peep" and discover what is going on beyond the range of the human eye. What a blessing to have such marvelous optical instruments to use. 

I hope that this may be helpful to you.


Copyright Paul Grayson 2013


No comments posted.

January February (4) March (1) April May (1) June July August September October (1) November December
January (3) February (3) March (5) April (2) May June (1) July August September October November December
January (4) February (4) March (3) April May June July August September October November December
January (4) February March April May June July August September October November December