We have been out ’n’ about filming all over the country and have some really exciting things coming up. However, we have an awesome post to share today. We had a chat with aerial photographer Giel Sweertvaegher and picked his brains about what it means to be a photographic artist of the skies.
Did you study photography?
No, I didn’t. I studied history and learned photography by trial and error.
Is photography a full-time job for you?
I wish it was, but I’m actually a history teacher. Extremely boring compared to flying next to jet fighters. But it pays the bills and allows me to take these photos.
I am trying to make some money now by selling prints via Society6, but it’s only recently that I’m really trying to make a little money with my work. I feel like I can do it now because I start to have a body of work. Not that could ever live from it, but it’s just great to know some people want to give money for the work I make.
How did you discover your niche in photography?
Because I started as an aviation enthusiast. As a kid, I collected everything aviation related. I dreamt, like many kids, of becoming a pilot. When that didn’t work out because of colorblindness, I figured out a new plan to get in the air: photography.
First I just wanted to document things. Shoot the planes because of the planes. It was only later that I tried to make good photos and it’s only very recently that I started shooting more than just aviation.
What inspires or did inspire you most in your early days of being a creative?
My brother is a professional photographer so I see and hear a lot about photography which is always good. But what really inspired me was seeing the photos from our flights. When I saw photos from a flight we did I could barely recognise my own. All the photos looked the same (they were good though). That’s when I knew I had to switch things up and try to be different in style of shooting as well as editing. I didn’t really have any other inspiration. I just took pictures and tried.
Who are your influences as a photographer?
One of the photographers who inspired me was Katsuhiko Tokunaga, probably the most famous air to air photographer. Eric Coeckelberghs has been an inspiration as well. Because of him, I know you can achieve everything if you try hard enough! I had other influences but not that much. Before I switched to Fujifilm I always had to carry my ‘heavy’ Nikon.
After seeing work of Kevin Russ I figured out I could shoot everything before and after flying with my iPhone. I also like the photos from some of the ‘famous’ Instagrammers. Helicopter flying seems to be popular among them. By following them I get to see how non-aviation photographers approach the subject.
What process do you take to get yourself into places which allow you to photograph the subjects you want to photograph?
Aviation is a small world so it all comes down to knowing the right people. Get to know the right people, work hard, deliver good photos and the rest will come.
How much planning is involved when you set out to shoot new content?
It depends. I’m a member of the Aviation Photocrew. Eric Coeckelberghs plans most of the flights, so for me, it’s not that much work. When I do stuff myself, I don’t really plan. I just go out and shoot. When a flight happens, there is a briefing for safety reasons and to be sure to get the right photos. But most of the time I just shoot and see what happens.
How do you continue to stay creative and innovative?
I constantly try new things. My editing process changes all the time. My pictures now look different than a year ago and those look different than the ones before. More recently I am trying to shoot more than airplanes. These mostly just travel photos, but it’s fun to do something new and different and I learn new things that I can apply on my aviation related work.
Tell us about an interesting or funny experience you’ve had on a shoot?
Every flight has been interesting so far. There’s nothing as exciting as a jet putting on the afterburner and breaking away and nothing as beautiful as soaring through the clouds. Nothing as amazing as flying in a plane that saw action during the second World War and nothing more honouring that escorting an early 20th-century airplane to its final landing. It’s actually really difficult to name one experience.
One that I will never forget is flying next to a Dutch F-16 and an oldtimer. The oldtimer had the fighter pilot’s dad in the backseat. After taking some photos from both planes the F-16 put on his afterburner and pulled up just a couple of meters away. The sight of the afterburner and the sound of the jet thundering through the sky was great. He then went for a high-speed pass under us and pulled up. I could see him go straight up, right in front of our plane. Another great experience was shooting the Vickers Vimy. A plane originally from 1918. We escorted the replica to its final stop at a museum. During the flight above the British autumn landscape, we had some amazing rainbows behind the plane.