John and Pam Dibbs established the Plane Picture Company in London in 1993 with the aim of providing comprehensive photography services to the aviation industry. Now based in Seattle, the business continues to deliver innovative and stunning imagery as well as offering a range of aviation consultancy services.
An interview with John Dibbs
How did you get into this business?
I was working as a graphic designer and photo assistant in a photo studio in London but my passion was historic aviation. My Dad instilled this in me and we volunteered together, working on a Catalina at Duxford, where I met the great aviation photographer Arthur Gibson. Arthur nurtured my interest and took me flying a couple of times and I decided I wanted more! At the time I was also working with some of the aviation magazines as a cartoonist under the name ‘Dibbsy’ and I began to get my air-to-air photography published in the magazines.
What are your favorite aircraft?
I enjoy photographing the Mk I Spitfire the most because it is truly a sculpture that takes flight – it is a machine as art!
Flying in the Harrier was the most enjoyable because it affords an opportunity to experience flight in parameters you would never normally expect; from high speed to hovering, it is an incredible technological masterpiece.
Is there a favorite image that you have taken?
Two F-16s breaking in Texas. I was trying a new type of break that hadn’t been done before. It worked first time and the light and positions are perfect – it must be a good shot because lots of people have copied it since!
What have been some of the defining moments in your career so far?
- Shooting Concorde (and getting to experience flying on it!)
- Working with the Scandinavian Historic Flight to set up for Col. Bud Anderson (WWII Ace) to fly ‘Old Crow’ his Mustang over his former Air Force base in England
- Being the first foreign national to photograph the F-22 Raptor
What or who inspires you?
Growing up I would spend hours thumbing through magazines and books mostly the work of George Hall, Arthur Gibson, Charles Brown and Katsu Tokunaga. I was fortunate to get to know 3 out of 4 of them personally and they have been huge inspirations. George Hall who jokingly I called ‘The Jedi Master’ was generous in talent, time and spirit. Arthur Gibson’s work I believe has been sadly overlooked; he had a genuinely innovative approach to air-to-air. Charles Brown could define an aircraft in a single frame. Katsu is not only a true gentleman, he has invented so many new ways of portraying aircraft in flight.
What drives and motivates you?
The aviation aspect of WWII are represented by a few flying aircraft. I’m very committed to highlighting the experience and sacrifice of what’s been called ‘the greatest generation’. Some of my most moving experiences have been facilitating and hosting former USAAF veterans to go back to England to visit their former bases. Getting to know so many of them has been an honor.
I feel very fortunate to be an air-to-air photographer and hope to take other people airborne by creating dynamic, real images. I strive to take portraits of aircraft – inspiring images that make you look twice.
What has been your biggest challenge?
People thinking my work was photoshop trickery. Also overcoming airsickness was a relief! Perhaps I could counter the first point with the second…it’s not photoshop, I have the sick bags to prove it!
This business is full of challenges and uncontrollable variables; scheduling aircraft, pilots, serviceability, weather, air traffic…I’ve undertaken over 1,000 air-to-airs and am not sure I can think of one shoot that was easy.
I must stress that air-to-air is not just about a camera and a photographer, it is about teamwork and experience. I count myself fortunate to work with some very gifted aviators like Tim Ellison. Tim is an exceptional camera-ship pilot who not only understands what’s happening behind as well as in front of us, but knows how and what to communicate to the subject aircraft's pilot. He also understands light, a critical factor in a successful shoot!
What current projects are you most excited about?
As a WWII aviation specialist and historian, I’m excited about my growing work as a consultant on films, TV programs and restoration projects.
I’m also working on 2 new photography books….watch this space.
As co-founder of the Plane Picture Company and with a background in business management, Pam is responsible for overseeing sales, marketing, key accounts and production.
Based in the UK, Iain brings a wealth of project management and coordination expertise to the business from the pharmaceutical industry. His roles include organising photo-shoots and assisting with the management of our various publication projects. He has a passion for warbirds and an extensive knowledge of WWII aviation history.
A note from Dibbsy
It is now 20 years since we established The Plane Picture Company with the aim of providing unique and stunning air-to-air imagery of warbirds, military aircraft and commercial airliners.
Over this period I have undertaken over 1000 photo-shoots and the gallery pages showcase some of my favorite images from these sorties.
During the course of these assignments I have also been fortunate to meet several owners and restorers of vintage aircraft as well as veteran aircrew.
Their expertise and stories inspired me to learn more and to expand the business to offer a range of consultancy services focused on WWII aviation history.
I hope you enjoy the new website and that it successfully captures a flavor of my world and the miracle of flight.