We catch up with vintage aviation photographer, Darren Harbar as we introduce even more of his fascinating imagery to his airplane wall mural collection.
Mural taken from the Darren Harbar collection.
Could you tell me a bit about why you’ve chosen to become a specialist in vintage aviation photography?
"I’ve always been interested in aircraft since my dad took me to airshows when I was younger. My parents bought me a camera when I was in my early teens and I started taking pictures at the various shows. I enjoyed the fast jet action, but my interest swayed towards the older planes as I found them to be more interesting and they had fascinating histories."
We have to ask you as this must be the question on everyone’s mind… How do you take the airplane images in mid-air?!
"People often ask that question, with a wise crack about ‘do I have a very tall ladder!’. To capture images from the air, you need to be flying in another aircraft. It’s often an aircraft with an open cockpit or open window that you are photographing from. This is a very complicated task that requires a great deal of planning and organisation.
The subject aircraft are often very valuable, so the owners will not put them in the air for just anyone to photograph them. Having permission to fly alongside an aircraft is one thing, but having the right aircraft and pilot to fly with is another major factor. We call the plane that I photograph from, a ‘camera ship’ and this is always flown by someone I know well, and who has significant experience of formation flying.
The pilot of the camera ship and the subject aircraft get a full briefing from me before we fly. We discuss the flight height, location and positioning that I will need to capture the ideal shots. I use sketched images to show the pilots what I have in mind, and then use hand signals in the air to position the subject plane. It can be very intense, as you are under pressure to get the shots quickly and you’re often putting the camera out into the airflow, which is less than comfortable and makes it hard to keep things stable. Good planning ensures we get the results we need, and we all land with big smiles on our faces."
Have you any stories or favourite moments in your vintage aviation photography career?
"My… I have lots! My first air to air with a Spitfire plane was one of my most memorable shoots. The aircraft was owned by a lady called Carolyn Grace and she had invited me to do some pictures for her, as she had liked some of my ground to air work. The sortie went very well, and she loved the images of her Spitfire. She’s remained one of my biggest supporters and a great friend. I have to say that I have been very fortunate in my time as an aviation photographer. I’ve seen some really iconic vintage aircraft from alongside them in the air, and that has been breath-taking. I’ve also had the chance to fly in some great aircraft, including a Spitfire plane, which is a memory I will always treasure."
Supermarine Spitfire airplane mural - Darren Harbar.
Who are your influences in aviation photography?
"It may sound a bit obvious, but my father was my biggest influence in the early days. If it wasn’t for him, and him taking me to airshows, I’d certainly not be doing what I do now.
I had a few photographers that have inspired me in my work. Peter March was for many years a leading light in aviation photography and he’s still at it today. I’ve got to know him well in recent years, and it’s always great to see the man who I have respected for so long. Another influence is the legend known as ‘The Ghost’ Phil Makanna. He’s another air to air photographer who I’ve become good friends with. His ‘Ghosts’ calendars are world renowned, and his work is awesome."
What is your favourite piece from your vintage airplane collection and why?
"I can’t really pick out one image, as I like them all. I think the Vulcan Bomber on the taxiway mural is one that will appeal to many, as the aircraft is so iconic and it makes you feel you are there with it. The Spitfire plane murals will always appeal to many people and I especially like the Spitfire Pair wall mural with the fluffy clouds."
Vulcan Bomber on the taxiway wall mural - Darren Harbar.
Spitfire Pair wall mural - Darren Harbar.
Where do you see the murals being installed? Is there a specific one that you think belongs in a specific room?
"I see a lot of ‘man caves’ being graced with these images and I can see that providing a good talking point. I think as a lad, I’d have loved to have the Red Arrows mural on the wall, so that image may work well in a child’s bedroom. At the end of the day, I’d love to see them in any room."
Red Arrows mural - Darren Harbar.
What would it mean to you to see your aviation photography take pride in someone’s home or workplace?
"The ultimate compliment is when somebody likes an image I have taken. I’ve met a lot of people over time who have invested in my images and that means a great deal. To like an image enough to grace an entire wall is something special. I just hope it brings them as much pleasure as it did for me to take the shot."
Any tips for an amateur aviation photographer?
"I could be blatantly commercial about this question, and say that they should attend one of my UK aviation photography workshops at IWM Duxford or The Shuttleworth Collection! Aviation is not an easy subject as it’s a mix of composition, panning for action and of course good old luck. Practice is what improves your technique, so attend lots of airshows to home your technique."
Head to Darren Harbar’s full collection of vintage airplane murals to view many more breath-taking shots! Feel free to use the comments box below to let us know which airplane mural you’d choose and where you’d hang it.