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By BEN WOODS
Thursday, November 22, 2012
THEY are renowned for their death-defying aerobatics manoeuvres and precise flying formations that have established them as something of a national treasure.
But when it comes to capturing the Red Arrows on camera, there is one photographer that the pilots have come to admire.
Gareth Leer, of Kessingland, has become a hit with the aerobatic stunt team after they saw his dramatic pictures of the displays at the 2010 Lowestoft airshow.
And so impressed were they with the 20-year-old’s talents that he has been invited to join them at their base at RAF Scampton – twice!
Gareth was given the unique opportunity to get behind the scenes of the world’s most famous aerial display team at the beginning of October when he went to live at the Lincolnshire base to photograph the pilots, their planes, and their engineers at work.
Now he is preparing to rejoin them in January, when he will spend another two weeks at RAF Scampton before potentially joining the air crews on a trip to Cyprus in March.
Gareth, who attended Kirkley High School and Lowestoft Sixth Form College, struck up a relationship with the Red Arrows’ team photographer after he presented the pilots with a book of his pictures while they were taking part in a charity cycle ride to Lowestoft last year.
Describing his time with the team, he said: “I loved it. It was such a good experience and the guys were so pleased that they invited me back for another two weeks.
“The formations and the stunts they perform are so clever and the experience I have had has really helped me progress and I feel better about the images that I am producing.
“The feedback I am getting at the moment is really boosting my confidence.”
Despite his success, Gareth’s experience has also been tinged with sadness.
The young photographer was fortunate enough to meet Red Arrows pilot Flt Lt Sean Cunningham just weeks before he died last November when his seat ejected while his plane was still on the runway.
“I met Sean at the 400in4 cycle ride to Lowestoft that he took part in,” Gareth said.
“He was a very friendly guy and didn’t stop smiling that evening. He was very happy to chat to me and complimented my photos within the book. I was upset when he passed away as I was talking to him just weeks before.”
Gareth’s photographer’s love affair with the Red Arrows began as a child when he developed a passion for planes and a desire to join the RAF.
But little did he know that it would be his photographic talents that would bring him closer to his childhood dream.
“Since the age of five or six I have wanted to go into the RAF,” he explained.
“But it is only just recently that I have wanted to into the air force as an photographer.
“I have already applied to join the air force and now I am just waiting to find out whether or not I am on the list.
“Hopefully I will be, but it will not be until the start of next year that I know whether I am or not.”
The Red Arrows’ praise for Gareth, who works at Jessops in Lowestoft and as a photographer at the Escape night club in Oulton Broad, is not the first time his efforts have won admiration.
In March 2010, Digital Camera Magazine made his work the subject of a six-page feature, while his photographs have twice won The Journal’s popular Picture of the Week competition.
● To see more of Gareth’s photographs, you can follow him on Twitter – @GarethLeerPhoto