A Montreal, Quebec native and third generation aviation photographer, Eric Dumigan's father used to take him to airshows and airports as a kid. By the age of 8, he'd received his first camera, and today he often spends more time in the air than on the ground. He spoke with me about his two professional loves, his epic moment with the Canadian Snowbirds, and the dangers of shooting formation flying.
Is it photography or aviation that you love most?
"It's both. I've always had a love of photography. I have a love of photographing everything – I look at everything through a camera lens. Today is a snowy, miserable day, but I see the beauty in it. The fog. If I could [shoot] every day, I would do that. And flying is just absolutely incredible – the freedom of it. You don't bring your cell phone along with you; there are no distractions; you're looking at the world from above."
How hard is it to shoot an airplane? I imagine it isn't easy...
"No. Aviation photography is one of the more frustrating types of photography. It's not like portrait [photography], where you have someone posed for you. It's very difficult to get an airplane in perfect position. You've gotta be ready to capture what it gives you. On top of that, it's not the safest job. Over the years, I've definitely learned hand signals. I can tell [pilots] to go up ten feet, down, forward, backward. I've learned to talk aviation talk. If I get a pilot with no formation experience – close to another airplane – I'll sometimes ask a friend to fly the other plane. Otherwise, the pilot is sometimes very far out, or sometimes much too close, and it's dangerous."
Tell me about flying with the Snowbirds 431 Air Demonstration Squadron.
“That was a dream come true. They're the Canadian equivalent of the Blue Angels. As a kid, I always looked at aviation magazines and watched air shows – I always had a dream to fly.
It took me two years of...not really pestering them...but trying to get a flight with them. They knew who I was at that point – I just needed to get a magazine to print some photos, because they wanted to reach the general public. It took a lot to get them to fit me in. So, I was emailing all of [the publications], and the Pioneer Journal finally said yes." [The Snowbirds] put me through so many hoops, they couldn't find any more to put me through."
There were some other bumps along the way – some literally. What about those?
"I had to undergo three hours of training for that flight. Because if there's a mid-air collision, you've got to bail out. With the Snowbirds, specifically, you've got to eject out. And if the seat doesn't drop, you've got to know which buckles to unbuckle. They don't accelerate very fast, so they climb vertically straight up to 10,000 feet. I was sitting forward but looking backward over my shoulder. Sometimes I got really sick - sometimes to the point of throwing up. We were going about 450 or 500 miles per hour.
We flew over Prince Edward Island. It was incredibly exciting – but probably one of the most frustrating experiences at first, because of the miserable weather. I drove two thousand miles, I was all set, and the weather was dismal. When we taxied to end of runway, it still wasn't legal [to fly] with the weather. We were sitting in the airplane at the end of the runway – my dream, and I still wasn’t sure if I would get to go. But we took off from there, and where we met the clouds, it started to clear. I had tears in eyes coming back from landing, realizing what I had achieved."
What's your favorite photo? Or favorite aircraft? Or are they the same?
"There's a World War II bomber from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. I went into the tail, and it was a cloudy, stormy day. So, it was backlit. And there were rays of sunlight coming through the clouds. I got this one black and white shot – a WWII type of pic – and it was really weird flight, because right after that, the pilot had to go back due to the storm. But I still got the photo [of an Avro Lancaster] despite the bad weather."
What's your favorite memory of your dad, Richard Dumigan?
"All I remember is being 20 feet behind him because he walked so fast! I've been to most airports beyond the city limits – which has been tough and miserable at times, but I look upon it fondly because it helped make me who I am. We've had so many great memories together...and still do. He's 86 now and still shoots film. I took him on the Snowbird shoot, because he knew what it meant to me. But his own love of aviation was always sitting right there, at the end of the runway. So, with Snowbirds, you could just see it in his eyes."
View more of Dumigan's work on his website: www.airic.ca
Filed under: Aviation Photography