With Top Gun: Maverick burning up the movie box office for much of the past year, there has been a renewed interest in aviation.
But not for Beiseker resident and long-time aviation photographer, Ray Courtman, who has always felt a “need for speed.” For the last 50 years, he's had his eyes to the skies.
“I just like airplanes,” the former mayor of the village confessed. “I tell people I am 'plane' crazy. If it is flying or has wings, I just love looking at, photographing, and watching them.
“I think the most important thing is to try to catch the movement and speed, but of course in a still photo … It’s about looking and seeing if you can catch that motion within a still photograph. I enjoy that challenge.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Courtman used to attend at least 10 air shows per year across western Canada. The hobby photographer habitually took 500-600 photos per show, using three distinct cameras each fitted with its own unique lens to not miss a moment of the action through his eye-piece.
“It’s a way you can lose yourself in an air show and in aviation,” he explained. “I’m not one of those guys who takes a picture and then looks at the back of his camera to see what it came out like. I keep shooting, and then I have plenty of time to look at home. I don’t want to be distracted from what I am doing.”
Courtman comes by his love of aviation honestly, as his father served in the Royal Air Force as an air frame mechanic during the Second World War with the British Commonwealth Air Training Program in Alberta. Courtman started doing aviation photography 50 years ago, at roughly about the same time he started flying his own aircraft.
The former teacher, mayor, and community advocate's personal experience as a pilot and as an educator of aeronautics at The Hangar Museum in Calgary for many years strongly informs his aviation photography, and has made him a well-known photographer among air show circuit pilots themselves, who often seek him out for photos he has taken of their performances.
“I have flown before,” confirmed Courtman. “I have flown aerobatics … so I know what the plane does and what it feels like to do the maneuvers I am trying to photograph. I think it has been part of my shooting to know what the plane can and will do. And to predict where it will be.”
Courtman also confessed he has no love for unmanned aircraft or drones, but is drawn to the deeply human element of the air show experience. It is this human element which continues to inspire him to keep looking up, camera lens poised, to capture these great aerial ballets in the sky.
“There is a human pilot in there,” he stated with awe in his tone of voice. “If you look at the photos [I take], there is a pilot in there working his hardest to maintain formation and do the maneuver that has been assigned to them.
“For me, there is always a human connection there to flight.”
To see more Ray Courtman aviation photos visit raycourtman.com.