Pan American World Airways may have declared bankruptcy in 1991, but that didn’t stop photographer Michael Kelley and aviation prop fanatic Anthony Toth from taking flight on an authentically decorated Boeing 747-200 in 2014. Together, they assembled all the bits and pieces of Pan Am memorabilia they could find, hired over a dozen models and eight camera assistants, and tackled an incredibly ambitious period-piece photo shoot inside the mock-plane:
What sold the shoot as a good idea before it even began was undoubtedly the source material. Pan Am had a terrific panache for design and style, blending curvy minimalism of the ’60s and ’70s with bright solid colors and trendy designs.
The biggest problem, Kelley stresses, was lighting. Because the set was so small and boarded up, without enough electrical wiring inside, the only way to light the thing decently was to blast in 1,000-watt un-diffused Profoto beams from the outside. The goal wasn’t just light, but that flat, broad, obviously artificial light that illuminated magazine pages decades ago.
You can see the difference here. In the before, he wasn’t using the Profotos through the window, and in the after shot, he was:
In total, Kelley was using eight lights, including Profotos, speedlights, and Einsteins—all while shooting at ISO 400, 1/10 exposure, and an f/8 aperture.
And sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Cramped space meant they had to remove rows of seats just to make room for the tripod to try and get a wide shot and allow in as much light as possible.
The upper luxury lounge was even harder to light, because the windows were so low that shooting light in just fell across the floor. Running out of scrim, Kelley lined the windows with paper towels and aimed each light straight at a highlight–a face or object on set, which you can see here:
To their credit, the level of detail, from clothes to hair to the little Pan Am logos on the napkins and silverware, are all impressively authentic.
“Every little detail was completely, 100 percent authentic to how it would have been when this plane was flying.” – Michael Kelley
“When Pan Am went away, I decided that I really wanted to sort of preserve some of its heritage and some of the incredible things that Pan Am had done for the American aviation industry.” – Anthony Toth