Sunday, October 30, 2016

A day in the life of LAX


Photographer travels around the world for two years to take stunning portraits of planes flying out of international airports

Every child is captivated by their first trip to the airport, where they can peer out the big glass windows and watch as planes take off from the tarmac and into the sky.

That joy for watching jets cut through the clouds never left Mike Kelley, who just spent two years photographing planes at more than a dozen different airports around the world.

But what makes Kelley's shots even more incredible is the final product: A sky littered with aircraft, each frozen in different moments of takeoff or landing, all in one photograph.

It all began with an experiment that instantly became viral, and suddenly landed Kelley's name in museums and bookstores across the globe.

Kelley's original image of an entire day's worth of planes taking off at LAX, a photo he dubbed Wake Sensation, captured the nation's attention and earned the title of one of the best images of 2014.

But the photographer, who was working by day taking pictures of houses, hotels and resorts in Los Angeles, had just meant for the picture to be a proof-of-concept to see if the idea had any merit to it, he told Daily Mail Online.

'One day I was just out there with a friend of mine and after an hour of taking pictures I looked at the back of the camera and I'd scroll through and see all the pictures flashing up and thought, this could be a really good idea.'

'I got horribly sunburned, didn't go to the bathroom - a stroke of inspiration hit me out there.' 

After a few months passed, Kelley came up with his master plan. He would go around the world, photographing planes at 15 airports, and make an entire series of 'airportraits', as he called them. 

It was the perfect change in routine for the photographer, who had been taking pictures of architecture in Los Angeles for five years straight.

'Honestly, I needed a break,' he told Daily Mail Online. 'I needed something that would give me a break from architecture but also take me out of my comfort zone and help my career.'

Kelley wrote down 15 airports he wanted to visit on the back of a napkin and booked his first ticket 'without really thinking'.

The Ipswich, Massachusetts native hit most of his spots in the summer of 2015, visiting Sao Paulo in Brazil, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Tokyo, Sydney and Auckland, New Zealand in the same successive trip.

Some were picked on the basis that Kelley knew they had big airports, while others were selected for more personal reasons.

Kelley had studied abroad in Auckland and wanted to go back, and had never been to Australia.

It was his girlfriend who made sure Kelley went to Heathrow International Airport, and he visited Dubai on a separate trip.

There were other airports he visited where Kelley just wasn't able to get the image he wanted, including Boston's Logan Airport - where the wind always blew in the wrong direction and the weather was never right.

And Kelley's first trip to Tokyo was a complete bust due to the fact he arrived at a time when the summer heat was so intense and the smog so thick one couldn't even seen their own hand in front of them.

Kelley had dreamed of photographing Mt Fuji in the background of Haneda airport, but after a week he still hadn't captured the right picture.

But the photographer was determined, and when Kelley saw that he had the perfect weather window in Japan one day in March 2016 he bought a $700 round-trip ticket 24 hours in advance to give the shot a second chance.

Kelley got into Tokyo at 11pm and was on a boat charter he had arranged through Google translate just four hours later.

There, rocking in the middle of the Tokyo Bay in nearly freezing temperatures at 6.30am, Kelley got his picture.

Kelley also needed to make a repeat trip to London after it nearly rained for 17 days straight during his first attempt in the spring of 2016.

The photographer returned to Heathrow in September 2016, where he happened to capture a perfect week of weather as he took pictures of the morning rush of international arrivals, the planes all bathed in golden sunlight.

As Tokyo and London proved, there were many factors that went into capturing the perfect shot, more than Kelley ever imagined when spent that first 'deceptively easy' day at LAX. 

Unlike California, most of the countries' weather was constantly changing throughout the day. This would change the 'exposure and shadow' on the planes, making it harder to paste them all together in one cohesive image.

Wind could also ruin nearly a day's worth of work. If it changed directions in the middle of the day, the planes would have to change runways.

This was all in addition to the fact that not every airport was as accessible as LAX.

There were some cities where Kelley had to spend days scouting for the perfect unobstructed spot to take his shots, and others where he needed to get help from employees - especially in Dubai, where planespotting is illegal.

Then came what Kelley is quick to admit was the worst part of the project, the post-production.

Kelley had loved sitting outside for hours to watch and photograph the planes, not to mention traveling the world, meeting all kinds of people and finding himself in crazy situations.

Now he had to narrow down 15,000 pictures of planes for each shot and create something beautiful. But the sheer mass of photos he had at his fingertips also allowed Kelley to be inventive. 

Unlike California, most of the countries' weather was constantly changing throughout the day. This would change the 'exposure and shadow' on the planes, making it harder to paste them all together in one cohesive image.

Wind could also ruin nearly a day's worth of work. If it changed directions in the middle of the day, the planes would have to change runways.

This was all in addition to the fact that not every airport was as accessible as LAX.

There were some cities where Kelley had to spend days scouting for the perfect unobstructed spot to take his shots, and others where he needed to get help from employees - especially in Dubai, where planespotting is illegal.

Then came what Kelley is quick to admit was the worst part of the project, the post-production.

Kelley had loved sitting outside for hours to watch and photograph the planes, not to mention traveling the world, meeting all kinds of people and finding himself in crazy situations.

Now he had to narrow down 15,000 pictures of planes for each shot and create something beautiful. But the sheer mass of photos he had at his fingertips also allowed Kelley to be inventive. 


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