Final Approach: Planespotter Mike Kelley merged an entire day’s worth of planes into one spectacular shot

Steve Hogarty
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Wake Turbulence, shot at LAX (Source: Mike Kelley)

At any given moment there are between 6,000 and 10,000 aeroplanes in the sky, carrying an airborne population of anything up to one million passengers.

That’s the equivalent of the entire city of Glasgow zooming around inside the clouds, suspended in a hazy blue purgatory and forever chasing an unreachable horizon. The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International, sees on average 2,400 take offs and landings each day. One of the beating hearts of international travel, this integral hub pumps a roaring stream of air traffic into a vast and invisible circulatory system of flight paths.

Planespotter and photographer Mike Kelley set out to capture this unseen side of aviation, producing AirPortraits, a series of photographs that merge an entire day’s worth of planes into a single image. The pictures capture not just the number of planes that pass through our skies, but the sheer variety too, as aircraft from every corner of the planet appear to converge at once upon these busy little strips of tarmac.

Planespotting, shot at Heathrow (Source: Mike Kelley)

Kelley has photographed at airports across the world, from Heathrow and Tokyo to New Zealand and Dubai, where planespotting is illegal. His first piece, and the picture that inspired the rest of the series, was made up of hundreds of pictures taken at LAX.

“I’ve always been a fan of aviation,” says Kelley, “and I find the infrastructure, design, and architecture of aviation absolutely fascinating. I wanted to create a photo that showed not only that aviation and flight are beautiful things, but also showed the international flavour and culture that defines Los Angeles.

“It’s really fascinating to look at all the planes heading in different directions, ferrying people all over the world, all originating from this city.”

Mike Kelley’s photography, and the rest of this series, can be seen and purchased at his website. Visit

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