A lot of people are afraid to go outside their “limits,” but we found an artist who went out of his comfort zone and excelled at it. Mike Kelly, an LA-based architectural photographer, started taking photos of takeoffs and landings in airports worldwide a couple of years back.

The result? A mesmerizing series of photos called “Airportraits.” A lot of these images are taken over a number of hours at various airport tarmacs (18 to be exact), and then compiled to create visually appealing and unique photos that depict how busy airports are on the daily.

In an interview with Bored Panda, the artist discussed what moved him to do the project, saying the inspiration was kind of simple. “After the first LAX ‘Wake Turbulence’ image (shown above) I knew that I had to do more, owing to how successful that original shot was,” he recalled.

“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.”

Photographers and travel enthusiasts alike easily grew fond of the artist and his style. While it may seem easy, taking shots and compiling them to make one photo, the actual process is quite arduous. In an interview with Andy’s Travel Blog, he explained the dichotomy of how he makes the images:

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.

On his blog he wrote, that he is very happy with how the Airportraits project ended up. “It was absolutely one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on from a logistics standpoint, but the whole thing was a giant adventure – one I’d not hesitate to go on again,” he said.

Check out this stunning behind the scenes video, which is both humorous and gorgeous:

Here are more incredible photos from this series:

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All images are shot and owned by Mike Kelley. You can find out more about the artist on his website and social media accounts:

Website: mpkelley.com
Facebook: /michaelkelleyphotography
Twitter: @mpkelleydotcom
Instagram: @mpkelleydotcom
Youtube: mikekelley

h/t: Mike Kelley’s blog, Bored Panda, Fstoppers, Resource, Andy’s Travel Blog

Thanks for reading!