74,545 miles, 25 flights, 93 days of travel. Mike Kelley's passion and dedication to his "AIRPORTRAITS" project is astounding, as are the results. Take some time to admire the beauty and variety of planes as they traverse airports across the world.
Mike Kelley is an architectural photographer first and foremost, but that doesn't stop him from pursuing his love of aviation. In fact, his expertise in architectural photography suits him well to the genre: the ability to composite and blend scenes with varying lighting and elements is what lends the images in "AIRPORTRAITS" their surreal and fascinating characters: they're composites in time, not in space; every plane occupied that particular space in the sky, and to see the sum of all those that did is arresting.
The series began with "Wake Turbulence" in 2014. On a day plane-spotting, Kelley decided simply to composite multiple takeoffs to reflect the massive traffic that passes through LAX, and given the initial image's viral success, proceeding with a full series seemed like a foregone conclusion. After choosing a set of airports based on their notability and traffic density, he set out a round-the-world trip to put together more images.Kelley notes that the time to put together each composite varied greatly depending on environmental factors that affected both the wait time and post work. Much of the time, this meant a great deal of scouting — days in some cases — ensuring that the essence of the location was captured along with the planes themselves. This was further complicated by the technical aspect of keeping the sun to his back the entire time to create proper lighting. One the proper location was found, it was a waiting game, as the weather, prevailing winds, and sun all needed to be working in unison with one another to ensure that planes were taking off in the same direction (planes typically take off into the wind) and that lighting was relatively consistent from plane to plane. Such waiting games often meant multiple trips to the same location — three to London and two to Tokyo, in fact.
Once the shots were captured, the post-processing portion entailed files on the order of 12-16 GB with hundreds of layers. Striving to keep the images realistic, Kelley chose from multiple frames of the same plane, using whichever shot best suited that particular plane to the composite. From there, the task became matching exposure and color, as well as global adjustments. Despite the mountains of work before, during, and after these captures, I think it's pretty clear the final results were worth it. The composites are striking, and their visual notability underscore the sheer complexity and density that is characteristic of global airports.