Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Located on Level 3 of Singapore Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 building, the T1 Viewing Gallery is an easily accessible location for plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts alike. Out of all the viewing galleries at Changi Airport, the one at Terminal 1 is truly, in our opinion, the only one worth spotting at. There are a couple of reasons why we say this, but mainly it is due to the designs of the Viewing Galleries at Terminals 2 to 4. The Viewing Galleries at Terminals 2 to 4 are not at the outermost walls of the terminal buildings. In fact, they are built on the inside, overlooking the transit & departure areas of the respective terminals, and past that, is another window which gives you the outside view. This means you’ll have to shoot through 2 layers of tinted glass, circumvent pillars and stickers on the windows just to get your photo, making any image produced heavy distorted and soft. This is not the case for Terminal 1’s viewing gallery. There, the gallery is located directly overlooking the central aprons of Terminal 1, with C gates on the left and D gates on the right. You could get clear shots of aircraft parked at gates D32, D34 & D35. For planes park at C13 & C15, you can’t get the front of the plane as the aerobridges will be blocking the planes. There is only a single layer of glass at the T1 Viewing Gallery, making it a lot easier to take photos at this location. Below are some tips from our experiences of plane spotting at Terminal 1 Viewing Gallery, which should prove beneficial to any budding or experienced plane spotters.
LENS TO USE:
For taking planes taxiing to the gates, pushing back, or even at the gates themselves, a 24-70mm lens would be more than sufficient. A telephoto zoom such as a 70-200mm could be helpful for photos of planes taxiing by North Cross.
Mornings: Changi Airport Terminal 1 Viewing Gallery faces northwards, giving spotters a wide view of the central apron at Terminal 1. Hence, morning light is backlit for planes parked at the ‘D’ gates on the right side, but almost proper lit for planes at ‘C’ gates on the left. This same rule applies for planes taxiing into both C & D gates. I would recommend trying some morning backlit shots, as the mood and setting can be quite visually stunning.
Mid-day: Top lit for all gates. Harsh light and shadows on the planes as well.
Late Afternoon: From 4 pm onwards, the light starts to shift westwards (left) of the Central Apron, giving perfect lighting conditions for the planes parked at gates D32, 34, 36, as well as planes taxiing into the above-mentioned gates. Golden hour lighting would be quite stunning, assuming weather conditions permit.
Night: Well there is no sunlight at this time, however, Changi Airport does use orange ramp lights which will need some color balancing in post-editing. So do take note.
FIGHTING GLASS DISTORTIONS:
Glass distortions can be quite a pain, and mostly occur when you shoot at an angle to the glass panel, causing details to be blurry. This is even more evident when shooting with a wide-open aperture. To reduce the effects of glass distortion, set a high aperture value of F8.0 or more. If the plane is just parked at the gate, you could afford to lower your shutter speed to compensate for the higher aperture values.
COLOUR BALANCE IS KEY:
The terminal 1 Viewing Gallery has a layer of glass separating you from the aircraft. This layer of glass has a slightly “greenish” and tint to it. It is highly recommended that you adjust your white balance in camera or temperature/tint values in post-editing to compensate for the green tint, otherwise all your images will have a strong green colouration to them, distorting the actual colours of the aircraft.
BLACK SHEETS OR LENS SKIRTS:
Another issue with shooting through glass comes from reflections, be it in the day or at night. Your surroundings will be reflected on the glass, and when you snap a photo without blocking those out, the reflections will appear in your final images. A cost-effective and simple solution would be to bring some sheets of black paper to block out the reflections on the glass, by putting the camera on a tripod and using one hand to hold the paper. A more costly but more efficient method would be the Lens Skirt. It’s a foldable lens hood that can help block out most reflections while keeping your hands free to hold or pan the camera. Check out their website (https://lenskirt.com) for more details.
FIGHTING HEAT HAZE:
One nasty thing about shooting in a hot equatorial country is the heat. While the Viewing Gallery is indoors and air-conditioned, the tarmac outside is not. Strong sunlight will heat up the tarmac, generating heat haze. Also, planes parked at the gates will generate heat exhaust from their APUs, adding to the heat haze. It is very very very difficult to correct heat haze. But one way to compensate for the heat haze is to lower your shutter speed down and do panning photos of aircraft taxiing by the Gallery. This could minimize the impact of heat haze and giving you a more usable photo.
LONG EXPOSURE GALORE:
Lastly, one of the best shots to be taken at Terminal 1 Viewing Gallery are long exposure shots at night, specifically for planes parked at Gates D32 & D34. Ground vehicles moving around the aircraft at night will produce beautiful light streaks in the images, and its really worth a try.