Highways in the sky: Photographer produces incredible pictures of light trails as planes blaze through the night

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Brianne Cronan asked 6 months ago

Highways in the sky: Photographer produces incredible pictures of light trails as planes blaze through the night

  • Kevin Cooley shot these images with exposures lasting upwards of four minutes
  • He travelled across the U.S. to visit airports to capture the trails of light left by planes in the night sky

By Published: 09:13 EDT, 15 April 2013 | Updated: 11:21 EDT, 15 April 2013

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An inventive photographer captured this collection of stunning images that show highways in the night sky.Kevin Cooley used a long-exposure lens to take these images of the light trails left by aircraft in the skies over the U.S.His long-exposure technique does not just capture the trail of light left behind the planes as they pass over head, but also the eerie stillness of the landscapes they illuminate. Highway in the sky: A plane's contrails and lights are frozen in time in this long-exposure picture by Kevin Cooley Highway in the sky: A plane’s contrails and lights are frozen in time in this long-exposure picture by Kevin Cooley Blazing a trail: This plane's light trail shines so bright it appears like a meteorite burning through the atmosphere Blazing a trail: This plane’s light trail shines so bright it appears like a meteorite burning through the atmosphere The lights of several aircraft are seen in a trail lighting up the inky black night The lights of several aircraft are seen in a trail lighting up the inky black night Frozen in time: The shutter was left open for long periods upwards of five minutes to capture the images Frozen in time: The shutter was left open for long periods upwards of five minutes to capture the images Such long exposures meant the pictures could pick up even the faintest glimmers of reflected light Such long exposures meant the pictures could pick up even the faintest glimmers of reflected light Into the distance: Cooley's work is featured in some of America's most important public art collections Into the distance: Cooley’s work is featured in some of America’s most important public art collections Prolific: He has also had work published in The New Yorker, Marie Claire and Harper's Prolific: He has also had work published in The New Yorker, Marie Claire and Harper’s Project: Cooley travelled to airports across the U.S. to capture these incredible images Project: Cooley travelled to airports across the U.S. to capture these incredible images Special equipment: They were shot using a specialist Linhof Technikardan 45s large format camera through a 135mm Schneider Apo-Symmar lens Special equipment: They were shot using a specialist Linhof Technikardan 45s large format camera through a 135mm Schneider Apo-Symmar lens Based in Brooklyn, New York, Cooley’s works sit in renowned collections including at the SolomonR Guggenheim Museum and the Schwartz Art Collection at Harvard Business School. His works have been frequently published in upmarket magazines including The New Yorker, Marie Claire and Harper’s, and he has also taken from commissions from high-profile clients including Architectural Record, Bomb Magazine, GQ, Newsweek Japan and the New York Times Magazine. RELATED ARTICLES


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Cooley’s carefully composed pictures describe the world almost like a painting, contrasting darkness with man-made light sources in the context of beautiful landscape backdrops, critics have said. For these images he visited major airports around America, including LAX in Los Angeles, JFK and EWR in New York, and ETC in North Carolina, reported. They were shot using a specialist Linhof Technikardan 45s large format camera through a 135mm Schneider Apo-Symmar lens. By setting the aperture to f.22 and leaving the shutter open for long periods upwards of four to five minutes for each shot, Cooley was able to capture the trails left by aircraft lights as they buzzed overhead. By setting the aperture to f.22 and leaving the shutter open for long periods upwards of four to five minutes for each shot, Cooley was able to capture the trails left by aircraft lights as they buzzed overhead By setting the aperture to f.22 and leaving the shutter open for long periods upwards of four to five minutes for each shot, JetBlack Cooley was able to capture the trails left by aircraft lights as they buzzed overhead In this incredible picture the lights from the planes that have flown overhead hang in the sky like the threads of some luminous spider's web In this incredible picture the lights from the planes that have flown overhead hang in the sky like the threads of some luminous spider’s web Critics say: Cooley's carefully composed pictures describe the world almost like a painting, contrasting darkness with manmade light sources in the context of beautiful landscape backdrops Critics say: Cooley’s carefully composed pictures describe the world almost like a painting, contrasting darkness with manmade light sources in the context of beautiful landscape backdrops 'In the case of this series, many minutes or even hours add up to construct a single image punctuated by the paths of commercial airplanes traversing the night skies,' Cooley said in a statement ‘In the case of this series, many minutes or even hours add up to construct a single image punctuated by the paths of commercial airplanes traversing the night skies,’ Cooley said in a statement 'These white streaks, the only aspect of the planes visible in the photographs, are created by the landing and navigation lighting on every plane,' he added ‘These white streaks, the only aspect of the planes visible in the photographs, are created by the landing and navigation lighting on every plane,’ he addedIn a statement accommpanying the project, Cooley said: ‘Photography is by nature an exploration of time. The blink of an eye may be frozen by the shutter. ‘Or in the case of this series, many minutes or even hours add up to construct a single image punctuated by the paths of commercial airplanes traversing the night skies. ‘These white streaks, the only aspect of the planes visible in the photographs, are created by the landing and navigation lighting on every plane. ‘Each line represents the amount of time it takes a commercial flight to pass through the frame.’More of Cooley’s work can be seen on .
The special techniques Cooley used to capture the light trails also emphasises the brightness of all the other lights in the frame, as seen here The special techniques Cooley used to capture the light trails also emphasises the brightness of all the other lights in the frame, as seen here Light trails cut a swathe above the sky over two shipping containers in this image from the set Light trails cut a swathe above the sky over two shipping containers in this image from the set Thanks to Cooley's long-exposure technique, even dark suburbs like this appear brightly lit in his images Thanks to Cooley’s long-exposure technique, even dark suburbs like this appear brightly lit in his images The light from this trail is reflected and broken up in the waters of a lake below The light from this trail is reflected and broken up in the waters of a lake below

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