What’s missing from aviation photography?
This musing takes you through a journey of self-examination on the world of aviation photography. It starts with a cross-examination in the spirit of ‘just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s right’ and moves onto the set-up of a new organisation for aviation photographers that sets out to fill those gaps… and more!
Do you remember the film “Jerry McGuire”? It’s a Tom Cruise flick (yeah, he did other films, who knew?!) and he plays a football agent.
…He gets a brainwave.
…He gets a download.
…He re-writes the whole goddamn book.
…He’s up all night and the ideas keep flowing to totally re-shape the business.
Well, that was me, ever since I landed from my last photo trip wayyyy back in February 2020 having just taken a group half-way round the world and back to shoot Japanese Phantoms. Little did we know.
March was then horrendous. A business based on travel, aviation, events and enjoying social evenings in groups was pretty much the perfect storm. Everything stopped. It had to. Everyone was either paid back, ring fenced, or cancelled. I think it was around 30 events. No business can sustain that. Sure, at the time, we expected travel to come back in a month or so. Then the summer. Then by the end of the year.
But no. My goodness… All those awesome events emptied. Yes, things changed. But this was an opportunity. What could this mean for the world of aviation photography? Had the landscape changed? Did the book need to be re-written in my own moment of epiphany?
Well, just maybe.
Taking our glorious hobby by the throat and pouring out my 30-year career into an online product is no mean feat. Was it broken? No, not really. Ever thought about something you dearly love, or do all the time and just think, how could this be better? Just because we do something every day doesn’t mean that there’s nowhere to go with it, right? Where would we be if Wilbur & Orville thought like that?
So, here’s what that weird 2020 thing did to my brain. Here’s what I think, after 25 years as a professional aviation photographer, is missing from aviation photography. See if you agree…
1) WE ALL WANT TO GET BETTER AT WHAT WE DO… But there’s very little specialist training.
Aviation photography is passion. Period. Very few other pursuits will have you wake up in the dead of night to venture out into the freezing cold or boiling hot, walk miles with heavy gear, all in the hope that ‘something might happen’. You gotta love it. However, we can often become disappointed with our results – it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted, unsure of how to make it any better, and they’re nothing like the guy that was standing right next to you. It can get pretty frustrating. There is the gear factor in there too – are we using that expensive kit to its full advantage? Conversely, at the entry-level gear, you might be feeling that there’s no hope as the equipment just isn’t up to it. We’ve all been there, I promise – and we’d all love to learn and improve our existing skillsets, no matter what level of experience.
Yet, weirdly, there’s actually very little specific aviation photography tutorials and courses out there for us to take. There’s a ton of stuff in other genres, and ten ton of stuff that’s not genre-specific (all those LR and PS tutorials!!), but most from random non-aviation guys on YouTube, and not from people that have been there and done it, brought the t-shirt, and the mug, and the patch, and the stickers.
2) WE ALL WANT TO KEEP UP TO DATE… But that is hard to do, and we have so little time.
Our time is so very, very precious, yet we all want to keep up to date. News is spread all over the place, on too many platforms, and mostly single-genre focus. I wanted more from my social media experience. I am interested in ALL forms of aviation and want to be kept up to date, quickly, on everything, without needing to look at a million platforms. And, when I do have time, I want to really get my teeth into something… Something that furthers my knowledge and fuels my passion for aviation photography. Magazines? Well, even some of the strongest names are struggling. I want more!
3) SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMMUNITIES CAN BE HARD… And they are not getting any easier.
Social media can be pretty hard work and is not getting any easier. Rules and privacy and data and politics and bias and… and… Phew! I personally enjoy all social media (and Facebook in particular), but I can see some real cracks starting to appear. It is hard work keeping track or dipping in and out, watching friends tear each other apart, having things rammed down my throat… And then when there is a concentration of that, usually inside dedicated Facebook Groups, things can get just that little bit more compressed and turn into a melting pot. It seems that general, wide-open communities are becoming increasingly and needlessly toxic, and I am sad to say that aviation has been in that mix.
4) ERRR… THERE’S BEEN LIKE NO AVIATION… But it will return.
We are all missing our aviation fix. Oh jeez… WHEN!? Of course, it’ll be when the time is right, but… but… argh! The sights, sounds, smell. The adrenaline. The people. The machines… We’ve missed it all and our beloved aviation has been hit so hard. I cannot wait to pump my energy into it all again, to rejuvenate the footfall through local museums, to boost attendance at airshows, to witness operational flying.
5) NO DEDICATED ENTERTAINMENT FOR AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHERS… Yet it’s the coolest hobby in the world, right?
There’s a lack of consistent and interesting content for aviation photography entertainment. Sure, there’s been the odd magazine, or book dedicated to aviation photography (some excellent ones, in fact), but why, when every other pursuit in the land is covered by a magazine and TV show is there nothing for us, as we shoot the fastest, baddest, meanest, coolest, most precious machines on the planet!
6) MERCH IS SCATTERED ALL OVER THE PLACE… Yet we all love to buy it.
One of the unexplainable dynamics of the pursuit of aviation is the in-built desire for ‘merch’… Whether it’s t-shirts, patches, stickers, coins, furniture, tech – and anything in-between. So there were a number of points here… Firstly, there’s some awesome clothing and merch manufacturers out there, but their wares are scattered all over the place. There’s no mall for aviation photographers to sate their merch thirst. Secondly, there’s no actual branding specifically for aviation photographers, especially in terms of outdoor clothing! And finally, the squadrons themselves have some seriously cool stuff, but they don’t always have an avenue to get them to the wider market and if they do, it’s an ‘extra duty’, and often deployments and personnel changes alter any good thing they had going on.
SO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? The solution.
After decades in aviation photography, I felt it was high time that these issues were addressed. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world that’s as obsessed about the aviation photography community as I am right now.
Look, I’ve been round the block… But the passion never leaves. I want more. And anyone that knows me well knows that I do not do things by halves, you can’t in my world. I am all-in, whole hog, full-pro, perfection-seeking and anything that I do needs to be a world-beater.
But… I also love community, the collective experience, working together and building people up. For me and my career over the last 20 years, it’s all about the collective, worldwide experience, the adventure. Sharing the action and the epic journey.
So, whilst 2020 was a shocker, it’s allowed a monumental opportunity in our aviation photography world. It built “COAP Online”.
I run The Centre of Aviation Photograph (COAP), which, until that landing back from Japan in February 2020, took small groups of aviation photographers all over the world for unforgettable action and adventure. It was time to pour it all into an online experience that addressed all those elements that were missing from aviation photography.
It took 12 months to build, but I am confident that it’s the right thing at the right time and hits all of those gaps in the aviation photography experience.
- The new membership brings something to belong to with an innovative, purposeful and engaging community.
- It saves time, effort, frustration and removes any fog of negativity from social media and allows you to still stay up to date with every single thing going on in aviation right now.
- It will rekindle the love for the hobby again. The first ever online entertainment content dedicated aviation photography will inspire and ignite your interest.
- There’s the excitement of discovering where your photography will be after the new tutorials and future online courses. Frustration and disappointment in your results will be replaced with fulfilment, confidence and pride.
- A new series of aviation photography competitions to relish the challenge and become award-winning photographers
- The coolest merchandise will bring a branded identity for aviation photography leisure and assignment wear.
- No more pointless scrolling for something to get stuck into, trying to be entertained, trained up, belonging. No more poor learning experiences. Everything, the whole lot – entirely dedicated to the pursuit and passion of aviation photography.
Of course, travel and adventure will return. We have a plan for that and it will be great. We can’t wait to whisk aviation photographers off to hit aviation in the best, most fulfilling and exciting ways possible – and every moment will be savoured right?! I believe no-one will be taking anything for granted ever again.
So 2020 was a lot of things. But one thing that it most definitely was not is a waste of time for aviation photography. The promise to you is that the new COAP Online membership will bring the best resource for entertainment, information, community education & training in the aviation photography world… And that’s even before starting up the epic COAP travel adventures again. Imagine doing those epic trips but having even more content to enjoy on top of them.
This really is going to be such an integral part of your enjoyment of aviation that you will wonder how on earth you did without it.
Epiphany: “A moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation”… Here’s to that.