I’ve featured the work of Mike Kelley a few times on the blog.  In addition to being an award-winning architectural photographer, Mike is also an aviation geek.  A couple of years ago he released an image called Wake Turbulence that shook up the aviation and planespotting communities (awful pun, sorry).  Assembled after an entire day of shooting out at LAX, it captures the beauty and complexity of air travel in a very unique way.

[all images used with permission]

mike kelley

Wake Turbulence

Wake Turbulence went mega-viral (as Mike writes about over at Fstoppers), which gave Mike a great idea.  I’m proud to share Mike’s new series…


In the Airportraits series, Mike takes the Wake Turbulence concept on the road and visits airports all around the world to explore the art of air travel, in the process creating some of the most amazing images I’ve ever seen.  Here are a few of my favorites, but I strongly encourage you to go check out the gallery at www.mpkelley.com/projects.

Mike Kelley

Frankfurt am Main 25L (Missed Approach by Lufthansa a380)

Mike Kelley

Zurich Airport Runways 28 and 16

Mike Kelley

Frankfurt am Main, 07C

Mike Kelley

Munich Airport 08R Takeoffs

Mike Kelley

LAX 24L – No Turn Before Shoreline

Mike Kelley

Sao Paulo Guarulhos 09L

Mike Kelley

London Heathrow 09L (100, 50, 40)

You really need to check out the rest of the gallery, the images are absolutely amazing, here’s the link one more time.

Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions exclusively for Andy’s Travel Blog.

What was your inspiration behind the Airportrait series?

“The inspiration was somewhat simple – after the first LAX ‘Wake Turbulence’ image I knew that I had to do more, owing to how successful that original shot was. I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, and I knew the idea had legs, so it was sort of something that had to be done. There are a ton of amazing airports, airlines, and airplanes out there that I had to photograph, so the plan was set in motion to try and capture as many as possible. Since I’m obsessed with airplanes, travel, and seeing new places, it was also a great excuse to get me out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

How many trips did it take in order to create all of these images?

“I completed the bulk of photography in one RTW  trip over the summer of 2015. Despite doing this huge trip, there were still a few airports I couldn’t photograph due to weather or the wrong time of year. It actually took multiple trips to photograph Tokyo’s Haneda and London Heathrow, because those were just very complicated in terms of logistics and weather. I’d say a better metric is that it took 25 flights which totaled just over 75,000 miles of travel – almost three times around the world! The LAX-DXB routes were especially long, and again, three trips to London and two trips to Tokyo pad this total a little bit.”

Can you describe the process of taking and blending everything together?  What equipment did you use?

“The process is both simple and very complicated. For most of the images, it starts with finding the right spot. This is really the hardest part of it all, as I’d often spend at least a full day or two just walking around airport perimeters with a camera in hand taking a look at all the different vantage points available. Once you’ve found the right spot, it’s a matter of waiting for the wind and the weather to cooperate. Ideally, I’d get a consistent wind blowing from one direction so that the takeoff and landing pattern doesn’t change halfway through the day, which would ruin the image entirely. In addition, I want a day of mostly cloudy weather or mostly sunny weather – as again, a dramatic change in weather would make it very hard to seamlessly composite everything together.

Once I’ve got the spot found and a good weather day, it’s just a matter of making sure the camera stays in the same place throughout the entire day. As each plane takes off, I’d get 10-15 shots as it crossed the frame. By the end of the day I’d have hundreds if not thousands of images from each location, and it was then just a simple matter of stacking all the pictures together in photoshop and masking out each individual plane. As you can imagine this is quite time consuming! From there, it’s a matter of then color correcting and fixing the brightness on each plane because as the sun transits the sky, obviously it gets brighter or darker or warmer or cooler depending on the time of day. This, too, can be pretty tedious.
Lastly, everything is color corrected and adjusted on a global level to help all of the compositing blend together seamlessly.”
For the photographers out there, what equipment did you use?
“I used a combination of a Pentax 645Z and 35-85mm lens, a Canon 5d Mark III, a Canon 5dsr, and all sorts of Canon lenses. Everything from tilt shift to standard zooms to telephotos depending on the location.”
Lastly, Mike put together a video of his travels as well.  I hope you enjoy Airportraits as much as I did, and feel free to check out more of his architectural work at www.mpkelley.com!

Which was your favorite image from the new series?

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