How I take pictures at airports and on airplanes

Reader Alan asked the following question on the Ask Lucky page of the blog, and while my answer doesn’t have any earth shattering information, I figured I’d share my approach and am curious to see how others approach it.

Hi Lucky, I have traveled around 140k miles last year and had 150+ hotel nights. Each time I visit a lounge, a hotel room, a restaurant, or a cabin, I took several photos of the settings, dishes, spas, gyms, and the details. My question is, per your experience, how do you take photos in these place without making others feeling uncomfortable(in first class cabin view especially). And what’s your techniques/gadgets when taking the shots? Thanks!

Interestingly I’ve never had a serious issue with taking pictures while traveling. Yes, I’ve had the occasional situation where an employee on a power trip tells me pictures aren’t allowed, but that’s about the extent of it. I’ve never had an issue with a fellow passenger or hotel guest. While I realize not everyone agrees with my approach to taking pictures at airports and on airplanes, here’s my general approach:

I use a point and shoot camera

I used to have a “professional” camera, and in the meantime have downgraded to a point and shoot camera. Not only does it save space in my carry on, but I find you freak less people out when using a camera that doesn’t look “professional.”

I use an iPhone for more “risky” pictures

I don’t really take pictures I consider “risky,” but if I’m taking a picture of an area with lots of people I’ll usually just use my iPhone. It’s possible to be more subtle that way, and most of the time people don’t even know you’re taking a picture.

I try to avoid taking head on pictures of people

Do you have a reasonable expectation to privacy at an airport? I dunno. But I still do my best to avoid taking head on pictures of people whenever possible. That being said if people do happen to end up in my pictures I won’t blur out faces because pictures end up looking super weird then. That being said that’s kind of impossible in gate areas, for example, where some peoples’ faces will end up being in the picture no matter where you take the picture from.

I don’t usually tell the crew why I’m taking pictures

I know some people like to take pictures of crew members. I don’t usually do that, though I do love taking cabin pictures. My general approach if it’s a new plane or product is to comment to the flight attendant in passing that it’s my first time in that specific configuration, and then ask if it’s okay to take pictures. I only do that if I plan on taking lots of pictures of the seat. Otherwise I just don’t say anything, and haven’t really had an issue.

For those of you that take pictures on planes, what’s your approach?

Filed Under: Advice
  1. Which P&S camera do you use? I have a Canon DSLR which I’m trying to semi-replace with a P&S.

  2. Yes I think staying awzy from head shots is good advice and respects the privacy of others……certainly up front I don’t expect someone aiming a camera at my face……….

  3. Completely agree, I’m similar in my approach to photography at the airport and on the plane. I leave the DSLR in my bag on the planes, and also have an S95 for photos. For photos of things that aren’t moving where the light is not awful, a P&S is more than good enough.

  4. I travel around 100k long-haul, based out of Europe.
    I generally use the iPhone’s camera for most photos on planes & lounges, and I do avoid capturing people.
    For some photos like NH F on the 77W recently I used my M43 mirrorless camera.
    For most people a high-end compact like the Sony RX100 would be great, much better quality than most P&S, but not cheap. A DSLR is just too big for plane & airport snapshots, IMO.

  5. I try and board first so the cabin is pretty much empty and tidy 😉 On my Thai A380 in First I took a video of the BIG bathroom complete with seating area.

  6. I’ve been asked by the crew what I’m doing and was completely honest. Although I think the better answer might be yours…to just say that I’m just interested in this configuration. I think in most cases they’re asking because they don’t want the other passengers to be uncomfortable.

    It’s tough to be sneaky in a busy lounge. I’ve skipped busy lounges and planes so that I wasn’t getting anyone’s faces. If it’s just a few people it’ll be easy to blur them out later but more than a few would look silly.

  7. >I use an iPhone for more “risky” pictures

    For folks who don’t want to risk getting spotted by the viewfinder in the Camera app and are okay with jailbreaking their iPhones, there is a tweak available that lets you take a photo simply by double-tapping on the Camera icon. It takes a little bit of practice to get decent pictures without being able to pre-focus or composing your shot, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. The tweak is called QuickShoot, and it’s free (at least for now).

  8. My ~$275 Panasonic P&S takes better pictures than my DSLR in my opinion.

    I can’t add on a massive (or wireless) flash, interchange lenses, and I don’t have a thing around the lens that blocks sun (whatever they’re called)… so I realize that I’m limited in what I can do, but as far as the pictures it takes, I find them to be better quality than my ~$700 Canon DSLR–admittedly not a “Cadillac” model.

  9. As a professional photographer, I agree with Lucky’s wisdom of using a point and shoot camera in some situations. As a matter of fact, I chose my Canon partly due to an article on “Best Point and Shoot Cameras for Bloggers” I read somewhere. The gist of it was that people are often freaked out by big cameras, but the Canon rarely had people thinking that you were a pro. Now if they could just cram all the benefits of a Canon 5D in to a P&S!

    A few years ago I had to do some quick photography for a client of a theater’s lobby. They were working for a competing theater chain and needed to show the client what others were doing. If I had taken my big camera they would surely have asked me to stop taking pictures. Instead, I put on my best Hawaiian shirt, a baseball cap, and took my point and shoot. While I was shooting I kept saying “Wow, we don’t have anything like this in Iowa!” No one said a word!

    Justin- Not to get too geeky, but super expensive pro cameras do have benefits. I can do things in post production that are impossible with current point and shoots. Most people who aren’t getting paid to do a shoot really wouldn’t want to go that route.

  10. The first I flew TK, I wanted to snap the picture of entering the aircraft and right away, the FA put her hand out to say STOP!..but too late I snapped the picture anyway..Then inside, the FA’s serving the food were more than happy to pose for me serving. On domestic carriers, I always do it discreetly as I don’t want to take chances with a snippy FA and get myself kicked off the aircraft, as their license to kill has no boundaries. Overall though, intl carriers are definitely more welcoming to snapping photos on the plane some of our sourpuss FA’s here.

  11. Glad you posted this, because I’ve always wondered about it. I try to be super discreet about taking photos, because I’m really neurotic.

    Whether in lounges or in a premium cabin, I feel like if crew/staff see me taking photos, they’ll assume that I don’t really “belong” there and am taking photos so I can remember the one time in my life I’m in a fancy cabin or lounge. I feel like it would affect how they treat me…so I try to just act kind of blase about everything. This is probably totally paranoid on my part.

  12. I have never had problem taking photos on board of the planes, in hotels, at airports or lounges.

    I use iPhone only when I absolutely feel I am making people uncomfortable or too lazy to take out the camera, it has never been a privacy issue for me.

    Regarding choosing between P&S or DSLR, I choose P&S (mine is not exactly small, G12) for shooting inside the planes because of DSLR’s bulkiness in tight space and lack of macro features of my DSLR lens not because of privacy.

  13. Once I was asked by a CX cabinet manager to erase pictures as she said there were passengers were suspicious they were taken in the pictures. I told here I was snapping the cabinet and she wanted to check my i-phone. It didn’t turn out as dramatic as Mathew. I thought it must be difficult for her to ask me to do so. For what it worth, she did make it up by taking good care of me.

  14. The first time I flew first class it was on a Cathay Pacific flight from JFK to Hong Kong. I asked the FA to take photos of me resting in bed with my PJs. No problem.

  15. I want to know is airport photography of planes allowed in qatar as in coming off one plane i started my trip on and getting onto the connecting flight to my next destination as long as the plane is at an airbridge as opposed to a bus gate.i know the a350’s use the air bridge but if connecting to the a320 it is unknown what is going on.

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