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New Smithsonian exhibit showcases 'Jet as Art'

Jeffrey Milstein / Smithsonian Institution

"AirCraft: The Jet as Art" opens Nov. 25 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

"AirCraft: The Jet as Art," an exhibition featuring 33 super-sized, high-resolution images of aircraft, opens Nov. 25 at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The images, many as large as 6 feet by 6 feet, are courtesy of photographer, graphic designer, architect and licensed pilot Jeffrey Milstein, who captured many of the images by standing at the end of a runway at Los Angeles International Airport and photographing planes from underneath as they came in to land.  

Jeffrey Milstein / Smithsonian Institution

Jeffrey Milstein / Smithsonian Institution

Jeffrey Milstein / Smithsonian Institution

“It’s like shooting a moving duck,” Milstein told msnbc.com. “The planes are moving so fast, and I have only a hundredth of a second to get my shot. I have to keep the camera moving with the plane and then fire the shot exactly at the top dead center. It took a lot of practice.”

At times, it also took some negotiation.

“One of the problems if you’re hanging around an airport with a camera a lot of times is that the authorities get a bit antsy,” said Milstein. “Especially since 9/11. When I first started going out to the airport, the police would sometimes converge on me with up to six cars at once. Now they know me because I’ve been out there so much.”

Milstein’s practice and perseverance have paid off.  Using a high-end professional camera that Milstein said costs “as much as an SUV,” the photographer was able to get images that reveal the mechanics, rivets and other details of an airplane’s underbelly. “With Photoshop, I remove the sky background so that the airplanes become just floating objects. As far as the colors, I don’t fake anything, but I might clarify to increase the contrast or bring out the detail,” said Milstein.

“There are a lot of amateurs out there photographing planes,” said exhibition curator Carolyn Russo, a museum specialist and photographer. “But what Milstein ends up with are really crisp, clean, beautiful color images that transform the planes into art and are unlike any other photographs of aircraft. We’ve compared them to an array of pinned butterflies.”

Jeffrey Milstein / Smithsonian Institution

Among the images on display, Milstein has a few favorites, including a red Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, an American Airlines Boeing 777-200 that’s “just silver, and just really beautiful,” the helicopters and some of the planes he’s photographed from the side that sport pictures, such as Alaska Airline’s Boeing 737-400 Salmon-Thirty-Salmon plane.

"AirCraft: The Jet as Art" will remain on display until Nov. 25, 2012, at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Harriet Baskas is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com, authors the “Stuck at the Airport” blog and is a columnist for USATODAY.com. You can follow her on Twitter.