Aviation photography: can you turn a passion into a profession?

A self-portrait of Mindaugas Kavaliauskas a-spotting at LAX. 2018

In an age when flying is widely accessible, plane spotting has become a common phenomenon. Aircraft enthusiasts travel all over the world to capture aviation images on their cameras, from photos of airports, aircraft and observation decks to cockpits, mountains and beaches.

Imagine taking pictures of Airbus A380 or Antonov An-225 on a daily basis. But while plane spotting is just a hobby for some, it can become a paid profession.

AeroTime spoke to Mindaugas Kavaliauskas and Vytautas Kielaitis to find out more about their passion for aviation photography.

Mindaugas Kavaliauskas
Art photographer, author of travel’AIR and A-spot photo books, and executive director of the Lithuanian Aviation Museum, he is currently based in Kaunas, Lithuania.

“Paradoxically, I would not call myself an aviation photographer.”

Kavaliauskas introduces himself as an artist, who started his career as an art photographer and later became a curator and art manager. But following extensive travel and long hours spent at airports, Kavaliauskas developed an interest in aviation in early 2000.

“At the turn of the century, I became a frequent flyer and continued to be one up until the worldwide lockdown.”

Plane-spotting on "Berlin Wall", TLX, 2016 from A-SPOT, part of t

Plane-spotting on “Berlin Wall”, TLX, 2016 from A-SPOT, part of the travel’AIR project by Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

In order to make the hours spent waiting around at airports more interesting, Kavaliauskas started to pay more attention to his surroundings and to his fellow travelers via his camera.

“Aviation has many faces and profiles, so has photography,” he says.

Spotting in Hollywood, 2018, from A-SPOT, part of the travel'AIR

Spotting in Hollywood, 2018, from A-SPOT, part of the travel’AIR project by Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

Through his photographs, Kavaliauskas tries to capture the aviation world and the human experience.

In 2015, Mindaugas began the second part of his project travel’AIR, called A-spot. A-spot depicts and explores places where daily life and aviation meet. Kavaliauskas plans to publish a second book in 2022.

This dog owner comes almost every day to Mirador del Aeroport del Prat, this comfy spotting area outside Barcelona airport, BCN. Photo: 2016, from A-SPOT, part of the travel’AIR project by Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

He says: “Aviation, in general terms, is one of the most exciting backgrounds in life. For me, a photographer, it took a lot of business offers, research, contact building, and travel to open the front and back doors of aircraft, airports, museums, and engineering bases to find my own perspective in aviation photography and aviation in general.”

Kavaliauskas believes that anyone who wants to become an aviation photographer needs to “look upon it as a journey, not a destination” because it can take you to the most unexpected places.

Carry-on of Mindaugas Kavaliauskas seen by air travel safety serv

Carry-on of Mindaugas Kavaliauskas seen by air travel safety service of Kaunas airport (KUN). 2013, from “travel’AIR” book by Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

Vytautas Kielaitis
Photographer, currently based in Frankfurt, Germany.

Vytautas Kielaitis’s aviation journey started in an old winery near the city of Mainz, Germany, when a winemaker encouraged him to go to Frankfurt airport and start taking pictures of the giant birds in the skies.

“For five years I lived with an old winemaker near Mainz,” he says. “I showed him my pictures of boats, sport dancing, motocross, and car racing. After seeing my pictures he said that I should go to Frankfurt airport and start taking pictures of aircraft, as he thought I would love it.”

Thai Airways

Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis

When defining aviation photography and plane spotting, Kielaitis says that it is a common phenomenon, which can easily become an “addiction”.

“More than 100 people gather together at Frankfurt airport’s plane spotting deck to watch Boeing or Airbus taking off every weekend. From families to couples, from babies to grandparents. Aviation photography is like a great performance.”

Plane spotters at Frankfurt airport

Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis

However, Kielaitis says that dedication, knowledge and experience are instrumental in all types of photography, including aviation photography. He adds that it is also important to know what kind of message you want to share through your photographs.

“It is like the great artists who, for years, copied the works of the masters at the Louvre until they found their own way.”

Kielaitis says that it wasn’t easy to become a professional aviation photographer. But his experience in car and motorcycle racing photography helped him to develop a flair for aviation photography.

“And then all I had to do to become a professional aviation photographer was to take the camera and start doing it.”

Kielaitis believes that aviation photography can become a full-time job. He has some advice for people wanting to go down that path. “Good aerial photography requires some technical base and practice. Can you take a professional aerial picture from your smartphone? Probably not. But the key is to know what you are aiming for and start doing it.”

Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis

Photo by Vytautas Kielaitis

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