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Air Tattoo Blog

Airshow Photography with Rich Cooper

Published: 12 Jul 2019

We caught up with professional photographer Rich Cooper, who runs the Centre of Aviation Photography, to find out more about photographing aircraft. Rich works with the Air Tattoo as part of our big pool of photographers and supplies many of the images seen on our website and social media. 

Aviation photography is a hugely popular hobby, so we wanted to find out more about how Rich turned it from an interest into a business.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into aviation photography?
I've been taking photos since I was 7 years old, with my dad pushing a camera into my hand at the SBAC 1982 Farnborough Airshow. He influenced pretty much everything really, as an avid enthusiast and freelance press photographer himself - of course, there were more military shows for him to take me to in those days too! I had my first picture published, an RAF No 111 Squadron Phantom FRG2 in new unit markings, in Aviation News aged 11.

I went on through my teens as an enthusiast, with the aim of entering the RAF as a Photographer. Unfortunately, service cutbacks started to bite by the time I was 17, so the trade was not recruiting. I made my Saturday job in a camera shop into a full -time post, and stayed there for a number of years and I used my days off to travel around the country with Jamie Hunter. I also used my annual leave to hit the States, also with Jamie, in our early 20s.

I then worked for an aviation information company at Heathrow, which saw me end up as editor of yearly, bi-annual, monthly and weekly titles. Whilst reporting for one of those titles, I met the then-Editor of Aircraft Illustrated (Allan Burney) and we hit it off. That was the start of a 10-year career in aviation publishing, as Deputy Editor of Aircraft Illustrated and Editor of Combat Aircraft.

I left that world in 2008 to work in a young people's charity for four years (totally different!) and then came back into aviation as a Freelancer around 2012. It was then that I set up The Centre of Aviation Photography with Steve Comber, as well as COAP Media, which continues to this day as my full-time job as a pro aviation photographer, journalist, experience provider and tutor.

What is the most basic advice you'd give to somebody photographing aircraft for the first time at the Air Tattoo?
Enjoy it! If you set out to have fun first, the photos will end up being better than if you went out hell for leather in the stress of getting "the best shot". Know your camera as much as you possibly can and how it works in different lighting scenarios... Practice your panning technique, and look after your creature comforts (right clothing, drink, earplugs, and suncream etc). Make friends and be aware of the people around you. Make sure you take time to take the camera away from your face and enjoy the spectacle with your naked eyes.

Which is easier to shoot; solo displays or aerobatic teams?
I would say aerobatic teams. Solos are quick and often quite small - especially if there's no smoke involved. Whereas teams are constantly evolving shapes, allowing for different compositions, they usually have smoke that's super useful to add drama and a sense of flight to the image, and they're all very photogenic!

What photo are you most proud of?
Totally impossible I'm afraid! It's all about the people and the experiences along the way.

A selection of Rich's shots from our archive

“It was an epic spectacle, as magical as anything you've ever seen in the West End, and as loud as anything you've ever heard at Knebworth.”

Jeremy Clarkson, Television Presenter

“All the thrills, excitement and noise of a Grand Prix, but in the air!”

Jenson Button, Former Formula 1 Racing Driver

“Probably the most complete air show I’ve ever been to!”

Al Worden, Apollo 15 Astronaut

“This is THE best airshow!”

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut

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