Interview with our Aviation Photographer – Colin Chatfield

At Camber Aviation Management, we take immense pride in working with professionals who share our dedication to excellence. As such, we’d like to introduce you to Colin Chatfield, our young aviation photographer who perfectly encapsulates this ethos.

With a career beginning at 13, nurtured by a family rooted in aviation and mechanics, Colin brings a unique blend of skill and passion to the field. His journey from capturing the beautiful landscapes of British Columbia to specializing in the intricate details of aviation interiors is not just captivating, but also reflective of the evolution of a highly versatile artist.

In this interview, we delve into his early inspirations, professional development, and the technical and creative aspects of aviation photography. We also explore how his role aligns seamlessly with Camber’s commitment to excellence, turning every project into a meticulously orchestrated masterpiece. Whether you are an aviation enthusiast, an aspiring photographer, or simply someone who appreciates exceptional craftsmanship, this interview offers intriguing insights into the art and science of aviation photography.

Can you describe your earliest memory of falling in love with photography?

It was shortly after my parents had gotten me my first camera for my 13th birthday. A family friend and renowned photographer, Rüdiger Schulze had been visiting us In Squamish, and offered to take me under his wing and show me around my new camera. We drove to Whistler, and I shot my first ever long-exposures, something I fell in love very early on in my journey.

How did flying with your father influence your passion for both aviation and photography?

My dad is one of my biggest inspirations in life, and his love and passion for all things internal combustion, planes, and cars alike, has certainly worn off on me. Both of my parents have always pushed me to explore and pursue my own passions. Rebuilding and modifying a Mazda Miata in high school. Those long nights in the garage gave me an appreciation for how these machines are built, and what it takes to keep them running. My love for cars has been lifelong, from naming car brands for my mom in traffic, to photographing some of my all-time dream cars. More recently, this has transpired into a newfound love for aviation. I guess it was only natural, having been around airplanes my whole life.

When did you realize that you wanted to turn your love for photography into a career?

It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. I believe I realized it was possible to make it a career when I first started getting booked by private clients. It showed me that photography was not only a hobby of mine, but that it has the potential to be much, much more than that.

You’ve mentioned that you started photography on your 13th birthday. How have you seen your style evolve over the years?

Not only my style, but my subjects have changed drastically. As many beginner photographers do, I began by photographing my immediate environment. Luckily for me, I live in British Columbia, a very scenic part of the world. Progressing from only landscape photography, I began shooting more street and cityscape photography. This allowed me to become more versatile in my styles and built my photographic foundation. The fact that I have travelled extensively has provided me with opportunities that wouldn’t be possible where I live.

What challenges did you encounter when transitioning from automotive to aviation photography, and how did you overcome them?

Personally, one of the biggest challenges in aviation photography is reducing interior glare and reflections. There are multiple ways I’ve learned to overcome this, beginning with first understanding the cabin lighting system and what is capable of. I then use a combination of ambient light – from outside the aircraft – well positioned small “pocket” lights to enhance certain areas and carefully using non-reflective foldable panels outside of the view field to soften reflected light. Aside from image manipulation, playing with the various lights inside a cabin can do wonders in blocking out unwanted reflections, as well as implementing exposure bracketing to ensure even exposure. I do as much as possible in camera to limit the application of Photoshop post-shoot.

What are some of the technical aspects of aviation photography that differ from other forms of photography?

Aviation photography is unique in that the flight crew is present on location and they are keen to show off the attributes of the aircraft they relate so closely to. They’re proud of “their” jet and want to help in making the photoshoot a success. It’s always a great time planning, setting up and executing shots together, along with the crew often having some great ideas!

What goes into planning a scene before you take a shot?

Everything from lighting to foreground details must be considered. Having a clear image of what you’re aiming for always makes planning and executing the shot much easier. Spending time getting an appreciation of the space that I am photographing is also very important and allows me to ‘feel’ what style the area has.

Can you share a project where close attention to detail made all the difference in the outcome?

While not aviation based, a fantastic example of this is during my 7’s day shoot for Mazda RX7 enthusiasts. With 9 cars and 3 locations, there was a lot of planning involved. The night before a multiple vehicle shoot, I sketch out the different ‘formations’ for the vehicles. There are usually 4-7 of these for each location. Once on location, getting the owners to arrange their cars absolutely perfectly is always a fun game, especially with these older examples. After about 15-20 minutes of arranging cars, I finalize my camera settings + angles, and get to shooting. While far from my only multiple car shoot, this one has a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because my dad owns a classic red RX7 as well, and it’s the first car I drove… the attention to detail is always worth it in the end.

What do you aim to make the viewer feel when they look at your photographs?

My focus is always for the viewer to feel disconnected from the outside world for just a little while. The feeling evoked by my work will be different with each set, but as a rule of thumb, I aim for the viewing experience to be clean and simple, not cluttered, or busy.

How has your upbringing near Vancouver influenced your work?

Calling British Columbia home has certainly influenced my work. As I mentioned previously, I started with nature and street photography, of which Vancouver has plenty to offer! My good friend Nic Millard and I would drive to the city on the weekend and shoot street for 8+ hours at a time. We just couldn’t get enough of it. This is also when I began to shoot more automotive, adjusting quickly to the moving cityscapes and lighting, learning techniques I still use today!

You mentioned finding beauty in everyday objects. Can you share an example where this mindset improved a photograph?

It’s honestly more of a general mindset. While these simply everyday objects are usually not my main focal point, they are often used as foreground elements, bringing depth to the image. An example may be a mechanic working on a turbine engine, with my focus on the hand, the tool and the uniform sleeve, with the engine blurred in the background. The viewer can see work is being done on the engine but the perspective in on the workmanship and effort of the mechanic in the foreground.

How does your role at Camber intertwine with the company’s ethos of “Commitment to Excellence”?

Everything we do at Camber is centred on our client. Without our deep commitment to excellence, we would not be able to deliver services at the level we do. This goes for everything from cabin completion management, technical advisory services and on to our aviation photographic services.

Can you share your experience of photographing a business jet for Camber?

The projects are always at a distant airport or hangar, so preparation is key. Together with the Camber team, we will discuss the aircraft type, its attributes and the feeling we are trying to capture. Inevitably, one of the team will know that particular aircraft model, having either worked on, with or flown that type. This is essential in gaining insights into aspects that we may wish to highlight. I then speak to the crew and begin to sketch out the scenes that I want to photo- and video graph. A great deal of effort goes into staging; that is, how each scene will be set up and what is needed to create the desired feeling. For example, blankets, pillows, place settings, food and drink, flowers, a set of classic aviator glasses…the list is endless. Involving the crew ensures fresh ideas, teamwork and excitement.

Packing all the right equipment – with lots of spare batteries and memory cards – is essential. Once on-site, we all work together to create memorable images of a beautiful aircraft. Its carefully planned, spontaneous and exciting. I love it.

What’s the most memorable feedback you’ve ever received on your work?

Not one, but all pieces of feedback/criticism are invaluable to me. I often ask those closest to me to look over a client set, without any more information. Naturally, some just say “Yeah, those look perfect”, while others are more critical and focus on the details. Without the support from those closest to me, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.

If I had to choose the best feedback, it would be the lead captain of one of Camber’s BBJ2 clients, who has my image of the jet with a Hennesey hypercar positioned in front with the gull-wing doors open hanging in his office.

Do you collaborate with the team at Camber to enhance the end result of a project? What’s the process for getting the best possible results?

Absolutely. We collaborate throughout the entire process, from planning to execution. The process for the best results is simple, open constructive collaborative brainstorming sessions for upcoming projects.

When you’re not working on photography, what else keeps you busy?

I’m in my 4th and final year of my bachelor’s in Health and Exercise Science. Alongside that, I run an automotive community/business (@okwhips) with my business partner Axel. On the daily, I go to the gym, fix my seemingly ever broken BMW, and spend time with my lovely girlfriend, Kiarrah.

How does your automotive interest feed back into your work?

My love for everything automotive has been around for the past 15 years… and I’m only 21. It very quickly became not only a passion but a possible photography career. I’ll be honest, much of my free time is automotive related, but then again so is a significant amount of my work. Since this all started with my burning passion for cars and photography, I absolutely love what I do. As my love for cars has progressed into a love for aviation, my interests feed naturally back into my work.

What upcoming projects are you most excited about?

I’ve got an upcoming projects with Turbine Engine Services, based in Fort Worth, Texas. For those unfamiliar, they specialize in aircraft engine repair, overhaul and teardown. The project is primarily videography focused, with interviews and information videos. The best part is, I’m learning as well. I may be able to teardown automotive engines, but aircraft turbines are on a whole different level!

Where do you see yourself in the field of aviation photography five years from now?

 Incredibly, I see massive potential in this space. If you compare private jets with super yachts, there are some incredibly talented yachting photographers providing their services to owners, charter companies and services providers, not to mention providing in fantastic imagery for yachting magazines. In the private jet niche, there are fewer professional photographers and, in fact, if you look at sales brochures for pre-owned aircraft, you’ll often notice the images are taken with an iPhone. Clearly, there is an opportunity to present the aircraft in a much better “light” to highlight beautiful cabins, livery and the sleek lines of the jet. My goal to become one of the top aviation photographers in our industry, working with owners, suppliers and brokers to create beautiful content, together.

What’s your favourite part of aviation photography?

While also the most tricky to capture perfectly, interiors are my favourite part. Much like choosing a perfect specification on a high end sports car, the personality of a private jet lies in the interior. With each aircraft being so different, it’s like opening up a box of chocolates, you never quite know what you’re going to get!

Any advice for aspiring photographers who might be interested in specializing in aviation?

I believe the best piece of advice is to truly believe in your work, practice, practice, practice, and to build relationships with the best in our industry.