A Guide to Aircraft Photography: How to Become an Aviation Photographer

A Guide to Aircraft Photography: How to Become an Aviation Photographer

A Guide to Aircraft Photography: How to Become an Aviation Photographer


How to Become an Aviation Photographer


What do you do if you’re a beginner in the photography industry and want to know how to become an Aviation Photographer?

I think the biggest overlooked hurdle keeping people from making a go of a “photography business” is most people ignore the second word. They tend to think it’s all about photography, and making great images…. and to an extent it is.

If you are thinking about how to become an Aviation Photographer, first and foremost, never forget it IS a business, and needs to be treated as such. That means BEFORE you post your website, and BEFORE you start pressing the button, you better have a good background in HOW to run a business, and you need to set it up as a business. Take classes at the local CC, go visit the SBA, but do something to learn about how to run a business.
The most easily overlooked item is a good, solid, well-thought-out business plan. Know your market, know its demands and pricing, and know how you are going to fit into that. How long will it take to make a profit (hint: years!) How will you survive while building your clientele? What will make you stand out, and what will you offer that is unique.

Ignore if You DON’T Want To Succeed

Do not ignore the above paragraph or you WILL FAIL, especially if you have never run a business before. Do not think you know it and move on. Write a full business plan. On paper. Do the research. No shortcuts. Spend six months or a year thinking about it. There is something about taking the time and putting it on paper that not only internalizes your business, but helps you make better decisions.

Data from the BLS shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years. According to Dane Sanders in the book Fast Track Photographer: In the 1st year, 60% of photographers give up their business. Of that remaining 40%, another 25% will fail within the 2nd year. The odds are not in your favor. And I believe it is because photographers more than ANY other group of entrepreneurs think a camera is the one and single step for success in this business. Nope- you are actually less likely to make it, and that is because you focus on the photography part, not the business part.

To many beginner photographers that want to know how to become an Aviation Photographer (and trust me, I counsel many of them!) think, “Oh, I have a camera, and my wife says I take good pictures…. it’s only a matter of weeks until I am a photo millionaire.”

Trust me, that is not how it works.

How to Become an Aviation Photographer

How to Become an Aviation Photographer


Getting Started in Aircraft Photography


Be ready to have single digit numbers of clients your first year (if you are lucky). Having a camera does NOT guarantee you a career, much less a successful one. It is a long-term career, not an overnight one. If you are not prepared to spend a decade learning, this is not the career for you.

Success is the result of many years of slugging away in the trenches. Doing boring and repetitive shoots. Trying, failing and trying again. Taking classes, going to workshops and seminars, networking and working on personal projects. (Notice I did not say, “Working for free.”) But most of all, setting up a successful business to start with; did you write out that business plan like I recommended?

When you start out, you are probably all dreamy-eyed about your chances of making it…. and that is great. One of the best things you can do is burst that bubble and be realistic. The road to being a competent photographer is a decades-long pursuit, and to being successful even longer (look up the 10,000 hour rule; it applies here). Perhaps, if you are really lucky, you may even get to the point you are shooting things you enjoy. I am extremely lucky in that way, but most photographers are not.

Learn realism. Accept it. You are not (and never will be) as good as you think you are. Photography is not something you learn and you suddenly have “made it”. Photography is a lifelong journey of learning and getting better and improving. Of accepting your mistakes and using them to get better.


Final Thoughts on aircraft Photography


The hardest thing is to be self-critical. But this is something you must learn. Not all your work will be good, or even acceptable; you must be able to see this, realize this, and rise above mediocrity. You must be brutal in removing images from your portfolio. In my opinion 5 stellar images always beats 20 good ones. Only shot your best.

Here is my final bit of advice regarding how to become an Aviation Photographer: Photography is not about making images; it is about problem solving. First, you must solve your client’s problem- that is what they hired you to do. Then there are the myriad problems to solve to make the pictures that solve your client’s original problem. From exposure, to lighting, to hiding the broken whozit, 95% of your time is spent problem solving and only 5% is actual photography.

I think photographers are driven to be what they are; I know I am. I cannot do anything else; this is my life. On any given day, I shoot 100’s to 1000’s of images. Strangely, I shoot even more on my days off; I am shooting every day. Because I am a photographer, and that is what it means to me. Good Luck. And always feel free to drop me a line if you need to (I do not bite).

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