Stunning photos of planes will change the way you see air travel

Los Angeles International 25L and 25R (Wake Turbulence)Courtesy of Mike KelleyLos Angeles International 25L and 25R (Wake Turbulence).

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.”

Originally an architectural photographer, Kelley has always been fascinated by aviation.

Auckland International 23L

'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.

LAX day night 1

'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.'

Amsterdam Schiphol 24 (Kaagbaan)

Kelley spends at least three days at each airport to get enough material. He then spends weeks in post production for each image.

Flughafen Mùˆnchen 08R (Decision Height)

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.

Sydney Kingsford Smith 34L

He also tries to find spots that incorporate local flavour.

Zurich Airport 28 and 16 (Visual Separation)

'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.'

Amsterdam Schiphol 18R (Polderbaan)

Some airports proved more difficult than others.

Sao Paulo Guarulhos 09L (Minimum Climb Gradient 6.2 Degrees)

'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.'

Dubai International 30R (Sharjah)

'Surprisingly, I wasn't questioned at any airport when I photographed from public land, and I definitely used some, shall I say, interesting locations.'

Once he's found a spot, he needs to make sure that sunlight, wind, and weather are cooperating.

Los Angeles International 24L (No Turn Before Shoreline)

'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.

London Heathrow 09L (100, 50, 40)

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.

Frankfurt am Main 25L (Missed Approach)

'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.'

London Heathrow 27L (Planespotting)

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.'

Flughafen Mùˆnchen 08R

'I've now got a much greater understanding of just how connected we all are.'

Frankfurt am Main 07C (Wingtip Vortices)

To see more of Kelley's work, or to purchase prints, click here.

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