Our connecting flight to New York went off without a hitch, and we spent our two hours at JFK on Delta’s roof-deck lounge that overlooks the international flights terminal. This is always enjoyable for me as I love to point out planes and track their destinations (If you don’t know this, I’m a little bit of a commercial aviation nerd). At 16h00 we began boarding the plane, an Airbus A333, that would be carrying the two of us and 291 of our newest acquaintances across the Atlantic Ocean. I watched TV and Dani enjoyed a movie as pasta and chicken dinners were served, shortly after which the cabin lights were turned off and many went to sleep. We flew into the darkness of the night, 39,000 feet over the ocean and 25 miles in front of, and behind, the nearest trans-Atlantic flight, flying through the sky like ants marching between colonies.
Shortly after Dani shut her iPad off and reclined the chair to sleep, I was staring out the window at the stars. Now that the majority of the cabin was asleep I was able to see in much greater detail than beforehand, immediately recognizing the Milky Way sprawling out across the sky. I usually sit on the left side of European bound flights, in hopes of catching the northern lights from my window seat, but at the time of booking all that were available in our class were souther facing seats. I didn’t think of this then, but it gave me the most incredible view of the Milky Way. As a photographer I typically spend time under it, aiming the camera up to capture the height of its beauty. Being six miles up in the air gave me an unparalleled view, and I instantly knew I needed to try and photograph it. The funny part of this is that the cards were epically stacked against me; photographing the Milky Way from a tripod on the surface of the earth can be exceptionally hard in itself, and here I was moving at nearly 600 miles an hour in an airplane that even in its smoothest moments is still somewhat bouncy. Keeping a camera still and the shutter open long enough to absorb any amount of usable Milky Way light was going to be a heck of a problem. Needless to say that after 50+ test shots, I was finally able to capture a non-blurry image, the camera held solely in my hands and pressed against the window, while I did my best to hold my jacket over my head and block out the ambient pollution from reading lights and a few scattered TV screens still on in the cabin.
For those photography folks that read this, I will include some spec details on the image below. A ‘normal’ photo I take of the Milky Way is done on a tripod, usually at f/2.8, ISO3200 or so, and a shutter time of 30 seconds with my 14mm, or 20” with my 24mm lens, adjusted accordingly to ensure the sky doesn't move too much to blur the stars in the photo. It takes a few tries to get focus on point, but those settings usually return a great image. The photo I took on this flight was handheld (no tripod), at f/2.8, ISO12800, and a shutter time of a whopping 8 seconds. I did this while holding my breath and trying not to move in the slightest, and I guess it finally paid off. The image itself isn’t perfect, but the science and situation behind it make it truly spectacular to me.
Once I’d accomplished making this photograph to the best of my abilities I put my headphones in, turned on some quiet music, and fell fast asleep. If there’s one thing I’m good at in this world it’s sleeping on airplanes, and I had five more hours in-flight to make use of that talent.