Beauty is not something usually associated with plane travel and airports, but photographer Mike Kelley has managed to change that.
The LA-based architectural photographer spends hours at airports around the world taking pictures of planes taking off and landing, then photoshopping them together to create “Airportraits.”
According to Kelley, “Every day, tens of thousands of aircraft take to the sky, connecting cities, moving people, goods, and ideas, fuelling globalization and trade. In a world where travel and shipping are considered mundane and even a nuisance, ‘Airportraits’ seeks to visualise a linear and nearly invisible phenomenon that is often taken for granted.”
'I guess I'm just a boy who never grew up. I've always been super interested in aviation, infrastructure, industry, and that sort of thing. Every weekend I go watch planes for fun at LAX, so it was only natural for me to start bringing a camera and putting ideas together in my head.'
His first 'Airportrait' was created in 2014, at LAX. When he put it on Reddit to see if his idea of compositing multiple take-offs had any legs, he was shocked at how popular it became.
'I put it on the internet as kind of a 'hey, check this little thing out that I did, it's kind of cool' and it just went very viral.'
Kelley spends at least three days at each airport to get enough material. He then spends weeks in post production for each image.
Finding the right spot can be tricky, as he needs to make sure that the sun is behind him for the duration of his shoot.
'It was really important that I not only capture the planes, but the spirit of each location. In Amsterdam I wanted to capture the lowlands and canals, and in Germany I tried to capture iconic things like the autobahn. Sydney, the beaches.'
'Planespotting is actually illegal in Dubai, so I had to go through the proper channels and contact someone who worked at the airport who'd allow me to set up on the tarmac. Easier said than done! Same with Auckland.'
'Surprisingly, I wasn't questioned at any airport when I photographed from public land, and I definitely used some, shall I say, interesting locations.'
'Since planes usually take off into the wind, this means waiting for a day that has steady winds in the direction that worked best with my chosen spot. If the winds switched halfway through the day, the entire day would be a wash. Similarly, if the weather changed dramatically throughout the day, it also made it exponentially harder to composite the images together as the colour, lighting, and exposure on all parts of the scene changed with cloud cover and sun.'
It took him three trips to London to get the images he wanted, since the weather and wind changed so often.
For each plane that you see in the final images, Kelley actually had 10 to 15 shots, tracking it as it passed through his frame, then choosing the one that best fit his final image.
'It was very tedious!' he said. 'After I had all my planes in place, it was a matter of matching the brightness, colour, and doing global adjustments like colour grading and contrast. Some of the Photoshop files have hundreds of layers to make this possible.'
Kelley says the project has made him 'much, much better at booking airfare -- I'm like a guru at this point.'
Joking aside, he adds that 'It hasn't caused a new profound vision of how I see the world, it's just made me fall in love with travel and aviation even more than before.'
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