Qatar Airways plane's 'rainbow trail' capture in spectacular photographs

Photographer captures images of plabe with rainbow tail

Planes do some pretty surreal-looking things in Michael Marston's photographs: paint rainbow trails across the sky, soar within incinerating distance of the sun, fly so close to the moon you can see the craters in its face.

Planes do some pretty surreal-looking things in Michael Marston's photographs: paint rainbow trails across the sky, soar within incinerating distance of the sun, fly so close to the moon you can see the craters in its face. 

And yet none of the Brisbane-based photographer's pictures are Photoshopped or otherwise heavily edited. In an era of fake views on Instagram, other social media and occasionally even in prestigious photography competitions, Marston prides himself on producing undoctored images. 

"In this day and age, it's nice to see something real."

A professional photographer under the names ePixel Images and ePixel Aerospace, Marston started taking pictures and videos of planes some 15 years ago because he wanted to capture his partner Tracey, a Qantas flight attendant, taking to the skies in her airborne office. 

"I had an idea to photograph her plane and it became a bit of an obsession." 

Using high-end Canon equipment, he is able to capture things indiscernible to the naked eye, although weather conditions, being in the right place at the right time and understanding the rotation of the moon around the Earth and the Earth around the sun are also important. 

When everything comes together, the results can be truly spectacular. 

Conditions were close to perfect, he says, when he captured a Qatar Airways 777 flight from Doha to Auckland leaving a rainbow-coloured trail across an otherwise pure blue sky over Brisbane in June.

The linear clouds etched across the skies by high-altitude planes, contrails consist mostly of ice crystals (the term is short for condensation trail). They're exhaust fumes essentially but, when the light hits them the right way, they look, as Marston puts it, "quite pretty".  


They're also pretty rare in this part of the world - Marston has only seen four or five in his last two years of plane spotting. 

Other favourite shots include one of a Qantas 737 "flying through the half moon" and another of a Singapore Airlines 777 apparently rocketing past the moon into deep outer space. 

It was three years before he got his first shot of a plane flying across the moon and, while his social media feeds are now full of such images, his quest continues. 

"In the meantime, I discovered some pretty unusual displays put on by aircraft at different altitudes…

"It appeals because it's difficult to do. Anyone can go to an airport and take pictures of planes taking off and landing, so I try to capture them in unusual situations you don't see everyday. The challenge is to try to capture something that no one else has got… It takes me away from my professional career but keeps me sharp."

He still gets excited when he comes across unusual phenomena he's sure will make for great shots. Capturing the rainbow contrails on the Qatar flight "was exciting - absolutely. 

"I had my neighbours looking up from their deck, but they couldn't see much with their naked eyes - the plane would have been at about 31,000 feet. I'm sure they were thinking "what the..?"

He didn't care though. 

"Contrails look so spectacular sometimes, I'm not sure I could ever capture anything better than that."

Out in the field, people often approach him to ask what he's doing.

"They find it a bit odd to see someone standing on their own in the middle of nowhere looking at the sky."

He's had a few "interesting moments" with security guards thinking he's "up to no good" but, once he explains, they're usually keen to hear more about it. 

"One of the best things about [aerospace photography] is that a surprising number of people find it interesting." 

It's a pursuit that demands patience though. Marston's profile picture on Facebook is of a cartoon Snoopy in aviation glasses shouting "curse you Red Baron!" - an image he says captures his sentiments on many shoots perfectly. 

"I get a bit frustrated. I say "too left, too right, too high, too low, too bad". That just about sums up what I get like."

Marston consults the International Space Station for information on where an aircraft is likely to be in relation to the sun and moon at a given point in time but there are never any guarantees a shot will come out as hoped. 

"You can put all the effort in and end up with nothing. It's a bit like fishing. I like the challenge but get a bit upset when I can't get something when I really want it!" 

You can see more of Marston's work on his Facebook and Instagram pages.

See also: Incredible contrail made by Boeing 787 – is it part of a global conspiracy?

See also: Sky high: The reason why planes fly at 35,000 feet