Photographer Pierre T. Lambert got very lucky on a flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea recently. While flying near the arctic circle, he decided to just… try taking a photo out of his airplane window. To his surprise, his camera captured the glowing Aurora Borealis that was invisible to the naked eye.
The experience happened on the 14-hour flight from Chicago to Seoul, which follows a flight path that swings upwards near the arctic circle. Ahead of the flight, Lambert was hoping that maybe he could capture something cool—maybe the Milky Way—out the plane’s window. But as he looked out the window a few hours into the flight, all looked dark.
“At one point, maybe two hours into the lfight, I thought ‘hey, let’s check what’s out there,'” recalls Lambert. “I saw one or two stars and some clouds.”
But he figured, why not give it a shot. So he put his Sony a7R III and 16-36mm f/2.8 G-Master lens against the plane window, cranked his ISO up to its maximum setting (102,400), and shot a 1.6-second exposure. To his shock and surprise, this is what popped up on the LCD:
He couldn’t believe it. The outside looked almost pitch black to the naked eye, so he genuinely thought he must be dreaming. This had to be noise, right? Wrong.
“I lowered the ISO, increased the shutter speed, and took another photo,” continues Lambert. “[That’s when] I realized that I was not hallucinating. I really had the Northern Lights happening right outside my window!”
Like any good photographer, he freaked out for a second, dialed in the right settings, and then started shooting and shooting and shooting. He settled on 1.6 seconds, f/2.8 and ISO 20,000 for the rest of his photos, tried to shield his camera from any reflections coming from inside the cabin, and shot until he had enough photos to put together the timelapse in the video above.
Here are a couple of stills he posted to his Instagram after he landed:
As far as we can tell, there are two key takeaways from Lambert’s experience. First, always always always get a window seat; we’ve seen this one proven valuable time and again. And second, just because your eyes can’t see something, doesn’t mean your camera won’t either; sometimes it’s worth just… giving it a shot. You never know what you’ll capture.
Check out the full video up top to see Lambert’s timelapse of the aurora and enjoy his awe-struck reaction to this experience. And if you want to see more of his work, be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel or give him a follow on Instagram.