Five Hours of Airplane Landings Captured in Thirty Seconds

Check out this curious 25-second time-lapse/composite video that shows every airplane that landed at San Diego International Airport on Black Friday a week ago between 10:30am and 3pm. The giant planes whiz by overhead as if they’re part of a fighter jet squadron heading off to battle — not something you’d expect to see with commercial planes at an airport. It was created by photography and film professor Cy Kuckenbaker.

He came up with the idea after seeing this composite photo that we shared a while back, created by Ho-Yeol Ryu at Hannover Airport:

Here’s what Kuckenbaker tells us about how his project came about and how it was created:

I moved to a new neighborhood in San Diego a little over a year ago that put me close to the San Diego Int. Airport. Since then I have become increasingly interested in the rhythms of the airport and the airplanes themselves. San Diego has an unusual flight path that brings the planes in low right over the center of the city and they have to drop rapidly behind a hill to make the runway. When I saw a composite still image on PetaPixel of every airplane that took off in a day from a European airport I started to wonder if I could do something similar with video.

The concept is simple: shoot the individual planes flying across a pure blue sky, then chroma key the blue out as if it’s a green or blue screen leaving only the plane behind. Then put them all together on a video timeline. I did some tests and discovered that it didn’t work well if there were trees in the edges of the frame so scouting good locations took the most time. I watched the weather for a cloudless day then sat in a park and shot every plane that flew over. I locked the camera (Canon 7D with a EF-S 17-55 f/2.8) on a tripod and shot the planes with 1080p video at 24fps with an exposure I’d tested the day before (50/s, f/13, ISO 100) that would keep the sky deep blue with no blowout for a good chroma key.

To give the video a sense of temporal change as the planes fly by I did an 8 hour time-lapse under a bridge nearby shot at the same angle and composited it over the planes. Without it there’s no sense of time passing. I used an intervalometer to shoot about 800 images with the same exposure as the video. Once I had it posted as a regular video clip, I keyed the sky out of it as well. I put everything together in Adobe Premiere, which challenged my system since I needed 40 video tracks to stack all the airplane clips together. The last piece was to put a new sky back in — a still image with depth and clouds that’s panned using key frames in Premiere.

Here are three images showing the individual components that went into making the video:

The tiny plane trailing all the larger jets at the very end is a pretty funny touch.

P.S. We shared a different time-lapse video a month ago that made approaching jets look like wobbly toys in the sky. You should take a look at that one too if you liked this one.

Image credits: Video and photographs by Cy Kuckenbaker and used with permission

  • Samcornwell

    Let me be the first to say that this is absolutely fantastic! Amazing video, Cy!

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I find the Bridge time-lapse part almost pointless – I didn’t even notice that it was a timelapse since my eyes were fixed on the planes. anyway, great stuff ^_^

  • António Costa Amaral

    i want one with toasters! :)

  • cezar

    very nice… i am inspired to do the same… lol… but not airplanes… :)

  • Jonathan Maniago

    This reminds me of those old scrolling shooters in the arcade which featured war planes. Just think of the little sucker in the rear as the player leaving a trail of destruction behind it.

  • james

    Cool! Worth noting the Hanover composite was a fake, some of those airlines don’t even fly there i.e. Quantas for one.

  • caltek

    I really did LOL when I saw the end of the video. Don’t know why but it made me laugh. Almost like a “wait for me” moment. Cool video.

  • Justin W.

    Can’t imagine the render time on that! Would probably take several days!

  • Cy

    Thanks for watching the vid everyone – and thanks to PetaPixel for the posting! Yes, the renders were not much fun – I will confess. Took days to get it through without a crash.

  • Rob

    Ok, so it was only 22 seconds, not 30, but why let a little technicality like that get in the way of things right? Right?

  • John Cepelak

    If you look at films of bombers on missions during WWII, you actually do see planes flying in formations like this.

  • Zach Sutton Photography

    This is awesome!

  • Paul Conrad

    Reminded me of an old cartoon of ants stealing the food from a picnic and the last ant scurries by with a little crumb.

  • Seb Harris

    Ho-Yoel Ryu’s photo that inspired Kuckenbaker for this idea is amazing!

  • Ivars Bezdechi

    Michael, the Hannover pix is a Photoshopped fake. If you look closely, there is a Southwest Airlines plane in the middle picture next to the Lufthansa plane. Southwest Airlines does not fly to Hannover, Germany.

  • Bua

    Kool bananas indeed.

  • Bua

    LOL@use of crash…. ;)

  • Aizaz Leghari

    Wonderful job:) there is a masking error on 12:00 – 13:00 second.. how did you manage to composite it btw? did you keyed out every single plane? amazing work:) I loved the last part.. great composition:)

  • simon

    Fake, I’m pretty pretty sure Southwest doesn’t fly to Hanover

  • jimmyo

    Yep, I noticed the same the first time I saw this a while back. None of these planes would be there either, and I’m sure there are many more: United Express, New Zealand prop plane and the small private plane with the American tail number in the upper right.

  • Richard Ussery

    caltek That is exactly what I thought when I saw the end.:Wait for me” LOL That is amazing work though.

  • josh

    I don’t understand why the artist didn’t use a real time lapse of clouds, rather than a still image being panned. A time lapse video of clouds would have been more effective at conveying the real passage of time, especially if it was shot over the same period as the planes. Compressing 5 hours into 22 seconds, the clouds would appear to be moving a LOT faster than the panned image. This creates incongruity between the clouds and the sunlight on the bridge. But the concept of visualizing the density of air traffic is pretty cool.

  • Charles Nyangiti

    Michael Zhang genius

  • Adina

    Coolest. freaking. video. EVER!

  • Guest

    Now that’s “Filling The Final”…..G’nome Sayin????

  • Conky10

    Now that’s “Filling The Final”…..G’nome Sayin????


    Neat! Love the last plane, so tiny. :)

  • secularkashmir

    G R E A T and M I ND B O G L I N G

  • R-Photographer

    Great work! Very cool idea!

  • Gregory R. Norfleet

    Nice job.

  • Lasse Trevland

    Nah, It’s just the behind the scenes drug-runners doing their business after everyone else is done for the day.

  • Nikkia L. Kim

    My son just could not stop laughing at this! He said do it again!!! LOL!

  • pentaxfan

    Made me think of the Mass Exodous due the Zombie Apocylipse

  • Curtis Ludlow

    Cool concept and execution. Nice work :)

  • Kim Kelly – Liv Life

    Very, very cool!! My husband was flying one of those planes!!!

  • Charlie

    What’s up with the error on the upper left at 0:12? One of the smaller planes’ upper section dissapears. How did that happen?

  • mpedersen

    Little glitch with a plane partially disappearing in frame at 0:13…darnit my eye caught it right away on the first run through. Still quite enjoyable to watch!

  • TomCat84

    I was confused when I first watched the video. I was born and raised in San Diego, and while that bridge is in town, it’s not under the flight path- it’s farther north, maybe a quarter mile or so. Good thing I read the rest of the article.

  • Eddie Rodriguez

    Wish someone would have mentioned the deafening sound… owww

  • Matt

    I forgot to lower the volume T____T My brain exploded X))

  • abdul

    wala ka pala eh

  • Tim Mielke

    Both the video and picture idea are great! I am teaching on doing creative multiplicity pictures in an advanced camera class. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Chris Berger

    Wow, looks like Southwest Airlines has THAT market buttoned down!

  • RightViewMirror

    Southwest being another.