Into The Moon 2017 ©Gary Chung

Aircraft in the Sky, as Captured by Gary Chung
Every photo that Gary Chung takes features an airplane. It got us thinking: what does this aviation photographer think is most important when taking pictures of airplanes in flight?
We stumbled upon a photograph, showing an airplane flying above skyscrapers of Manhattan. So how was the photographer able to capture the plane flying at high speed? How did this artist press his shutter at that exact moment when the plane was right in between towering buildings? We looked at the artist’s other photographs and read his writings on his working process. Be it cities, the moon, or clouds, the photographer had to be incredibly patient and had to have thorough plans for the ideal moment, not to mention all the rehearsals he had to do for the appearance of aircraft.
No matter how big an airplane is, it is but a tiny object when the sky is the canvas. The sky, the moon, and the city in the backdrop combine with the plane to create a major landscape and huge white space.

Gary Chung riding a chartered helicopter to shoot an airplane flying above downtown Manhattan ©Gary Chung

Manhattan viewed from above ©Gary Chung

“I think shooting airplanes has given me a new life. I fell in love with photography again after discovering the subject that I liked. I got to find out what I really liked, and I used photography to express that love. I love the joy of capturing airplanes in flight.”
Photographer Gary Chung

ACROSS 2017 ©Gary Chung

White Space Created by Tiny Object in Landscape
Q. Why have you decided to take pictures of aircraft in flight?
A. I used to shoot advertisements. And then I began working with an airliner and started taking pictures of airplanes at Gimpo International Airport. I figured an airplane was the largest subject I could shoot. I traveled to places like Japan and Hong Kong to continue on with the work. And then I decided I wanted to do something unique with airplanes. I fell in love with airplane photos that had the perfect harmony with space. I started traveling around the world for those.

Q. You don’t see these photos every day.
A. Yes, exactly. And I also wanted to convey a message of hope and anticipation by capturing an airplane on a takeoff. I’ve visited airports all around the world and taken pictures of many different types of aircraft. I’ve been able to carve out my own niche that way.

Q. What’s the most important thing for you when you shoot those planes?
A. Everyone can snap pictures with smartphones today. I want to be able to produce photos with my own, distinctive angles. I keep track of GPS flight data, always trying to find the moment when the aircraft has that perfect harmony with its surroundings. I have to stay prepared if I want to make sure I can be at my best the moment I snap the picture.

Fata Morgana In New York ©Gary Chung

Fata Morgana In New York ©Gary Chung

Q. You have to be really meticulous with your planning.
A. There are different things I have to keep in mind, depending on how I’m taking pictures. In addition to information on planes taking off from and landing at a particular airport, I also have to research areas within 3km, 5km and 7km radius. I also must be mindful of any security restrictions. I use Google Street View to explore different places, and check for any observatory deck or means of transportation around airports. Even if some place looks good, it won’t mean anything if nothing flies by it. I have to make sure I know exactly where an airplane will pass and check to see if my mathematical calculation is correct.

Q. What are some photos you’ve taken using those steps?

ACROSS 2017 ©Gary Chung

A. The ‘Across’ series features the moments when two planes cross paths. In Korea, I board a Gimpo-Jeju flight and take pictures of planes flying into Incheon or Gimpo, based on my calculation. I run analysis on planes that my aircraft will meet from the moment it takes off and the moment in lands.
Internationally, I study routes for European and American flights. And I do an estimation of the moments that planes will take off from airports situated along the way. I try to predict how the plane I am going to come across in the air will look, and then decide where I am going to sit.

Into The Moon ©Gary Chung

Q. Planes in your photos often come out tiny. Does their model matter much?
A. Since I consider balance with space important, I have to think about proportions depending on aircraft models. And to take pictures of some special planes, I keep track of rare types and those about to be retired.

Q. How are planes different from one another?
A. They all vary in sizes, depending on airports. That’s precisely why I have to be on top of flight schedules. And if I identify a special plane at a particular airport, I go for it over anything else.

Boeing 747-400, no longer flying Gimpo-Jeju route / City Burns ©Gary Chung

City Burns ©Gary Chung

March ©Gary Chung

Q. There can be so many variables with aviation photography, though.
A. If you get one good photo, that’s a stroke of luck. With 10 good photos, you can build a portfolio. A hundred good photos can craft a story for the photographer. Once I identify a place to shoot an airplane from, I visit that place about 10 times (spring, summer, autumn, winter, morning, afternoon, evening, snowy or rainy day, cloudy day), and I’ve spent three years trying to visit 10 different places a total of 100 times. I’ve developed my own ways of shooting, and a wide range of practical training has allowed me to capture great photos even in a different country. I proved that with my shooting in New York.

ACROSS 2019 ©Gary Chung

“To capture an airplane in perfect harmony with the moon, I study the altitude of the plane and the map, as well as the distance between my camera and the aircraft, and the angle at which my camera is aiming the moon. If I am successful, I don’t take another picture from the same spot. I create an entirely new series of photos.”
For Cities and Traveling
Q. You must have traveled to so many different places. Which city has stayed with you the most?
A. New York really sticks out for me. I went there recently just to take airplane photos, and did a lot of planning in advance. And I will never forget the exhilaration I felt when my calculation worked exactly as intended in such a meticulously-planned city that is Manhattan.

New York seen from a helicopter ©Gary Chung

Q. You chartered a helicopter in New York. How was that experience different from shooting from the ground?
A. If I had shot up from the ground, I was worried that, because of the eye level, I would only remind people of the traumatic experience of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I decided I might as well be above New York skyscrapers, and chartered a helicopter. From such an elevated place, I was able to get a panoramic view of Manhattan. That was probably the biggest difference.

Fata Morgana In New York ©Gary Chung

Q. How are New York and Seoul different as places to shoot airplanes from?
A. In Korea, I usually have to be the top of a tall building to find a moment that produces harmony with the backdrop. And since Manhattan is a planned city, streets and avenues are neatly lined up. It’s easier to do my calculation.

Q. Have you been particularly happy with any place?
A. In Milan, I rode a motorcycle into different corners of the Alps. I was really happy to have captured planes taking off from a small airport. I remember how planes cutting across the Alps looked and felt so different than others.

A Walk in the Clouds ©Gary Chung

Q. What sort of tips can you offer on taking pictures of airplanes with smartphones?
A. Because of optical limitations of smartphone lenses, it’s difficult to take photos in the telescopic range. You should try searching for observation decks at different airports around the world, so that you won’t be too far from airplanes.


February 2023 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Cooperation: Gary Chung

Where to stay?

  • February 2023
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
  • Cooperation: Gary Chung
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