We all start somewhere and for very different reasons. Some of us love photography and fall into aviation; others love aviation and fall into photography and then there are those who from an early age, discover both and their passion has driven their career path and opened doors to opportunities that the majority can only dream about. Darren Harbar is one of those people.
Graciously humble and endearingly likeable, I had the pleasure of meeting Darren for the first time at the Shuttleworth Collection where we discussed our collaboration for one of his themed photography courses, which took place in May at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Darren had bravely selected me to be his model for the day!
Darren had wanted to be a pilot but for him this route was not an option. Whilst keeping a hand in with the RAF, he started selling cameras which resulted in him becoming an international buyer for Dixons. Photographic publishing came a calling with Darren becoming the editor of Which Digital Camera? magazine and then as the test and technique editor on Practical Photography. Darren's work can be seen in numerous publications and his distinct style is easily recognisable.
You cannot help but warm to Darren with his laid back and engaging manner - key qualities for any tutor. Everyone who entered the beautifully situated "classroom" in the suite overlooking the runway at Duxford was welcomed and immediately put at ease. There was no air of superiority which can no doubt be the reason why his candidates achieve high quality results on the courses - questions were asked and nothing was too much trouble. In fact, a testament to his success comes from the repeat bookings with some "students" returning for the second or third time.
What sets the courses aside from others I have attended myself is the accessibility of the content. No jargon, no assuming, no rush. Each topic was covered carefully and each linked nicely to the next (the added attraction of a Dakota on a few of the slides did not go unnoticed by this Dak Darling either!) The location also lends itself to offering something no other location can: museum exhibits, airside access and of course the beautiful range of historic aircraft.
Once the classroom aspect had concluded, we were let loose in the museum to practise our skills. (Darren kindly let me join in for the whole day which was a lovely bonus.) I hate low light scenarios because, as my brother will tell you, I have an aversion to digital noise and grain. When you can't use a flash (and ISO "becomes your friend") inevitably noise will occur. We had exclusive access to the Lightning - allowing us to go beyond the ropes to get up close and personal.
As I wandered around looking for details to shoot, I took time to observe the people on the course. Deep in concentration and keen to get it right, it was clear they were all wanting to perfect their skills and each person took the opportunity for some 1 to 1 time with Darren, asking questions before setting off again to try out the advice he had given.
I should point out that not everyone had high end equipment or indeed digital SLR cameras - the course is tailored for all abilities and all camera types. Clearly there is an aviation aspect to the course so it was inevitable that most people had equipment suited for shooting fast moving objects at distance but there was one chap who had a compact point and shoot who took home as much experience as anyone else - learning on the day was all relative to prior knowledge and ability.
Following a lunch at The Workshop, we went airside. This is the first time I can honestly say I have been near aircraft in three inch heels and fur coat! It was time to pose. We started with the Spitfire who clearly outshone me with her graceful lines and historic prowess. Darren talked about using the Spitfire as a backdrop and how to get the best from any model by building rapport and talking them through your vision as a photographer. I didn't stop laughing for the next hour as 11 camera were trained on me. I now have some empathy for movie stars on the red carpet; it is tiring work. We worked through a number of angles and poses - each member of the group directing at some point from sultry and serious to cheeky and fun.
Photo credit for above to course attendees: Steve Granger, James Benson and Will Russell
It was then time for me to grab my camera as we crossed over the airfield for our slot with the Chipmunk in the air. Everyone was introduced to the art of panning and prop blur - the skills that every aviation photographer desires to obtain. The Chipmunk made several sweeping passes and we were also treated to a pass from a resident Spitfire and Dragon Rapide.
Back in the classroom to end the day the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone had enjoyed their day, learnt new skills and were excited to take those skills to their next event - for most it would be the Duxford Air Festival.
What did I get from the day? Well I learnt about a few buttons on my lens that I had never played with before, I reaffirmed that you don't have to shoot on fully manual (it is ok to let the camera to do some of the work in AV and TV modes) and I've acquired new friendships with some amazing people.
If you are someone who sits at home looking at your images and thinks "I wish it was... sharper, brighter, composed more artistically" then I strongly recommend you check out Darren's website www.darrenharbar.co.uk and find out where and when you can attend one of his courses. Each one offers a different opportunity from Spitfires, Mustangs, models and re-enactors. No matter how long you have been taking photos, you will no doubt gain more experience (and plenty of laughs) through one of Darren's photography days.
I'd like to thank everyone who attended who made my day so much fun and for all the wonderful photos that you've sent to me to enjoy and to Darren for inviting me along and hopefully I'll get to work for him again soon.
Until Next Time, Smile for the Camera,
Love Carly x