Smoke On Go

Gallery: Rian Bester

“For me, there’s a lot more to aviation photography than just shooting images of aircraft. It’s that moment when you press the shutter release and know you got THE shot.

Rian Bester was introduced to aircraft at an early age by his great uncle, Captain Theo Purchase, who flew for SAA in the ’50s and ’60s and later, after mandatory retirement, went on to fly for Air Cape. “I can remember my first flight with him, sitting in the cockpit of a Hawker Siddeley HS 748, from Oudtshoorn to George. That’s where I fell in love with aviation,” he recalls.

His journey into aviation photography began back in Standard 4 (Grade 6) when his teacher, an avid photographer, introduced him to the wonders of the SLR camera. This is his story so far…

“I was immediately hooked and became a ‘slave to photography’ from that time on. I already had a passion for aviation and, with this new-found passion for photography, I started collecting books about aviation and photography, especially books showcasing Herman Potgieter’s work. I suppose I could say that Potgieter became my ‘mentor’ at that time.”

Aero Vodochody L-29 Delfin (ZU-DNW) -The Soviet Trainer at AFB Waterkloof
De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T Mk 55-2 (ZU-DFH/SAAF 277).

“In 1989, I joined the South African Air Force to study. I qualified as an Aircraft Radar Technician and spent my short career in the airforce working on the Cheetahs (89 Squad, 5 Squad and 2 Squad).

“Photography took a back seat for a while, but remained a serious hobby. I resigned from the SAAF in 1996 and went to work for two military contractors, Reutech System and SAAB Avitronics respectively and remained in the military aviation industry until 2008.”

C-47A-DK Aero Modifications AMI DC-3-65TP (ZS-MFY/SAAF 6803) air-to-air shoot north of Pretoria.

“I started my photography business in 1996 photographing weddings, family and modelling portraits. In 2003 I got heavily involved in underwater photography and began offering underwater photography courses and expeditions.”

de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth (ZS-BGN “Bertie”) taking off at AFB Swartkops

“I also worked as the in-house photographer for a popular South African diving magazine and did lot of travel photography. The underwater photography came to an abrupt end after a serious motorbike accident in 2007. In 2008 I resigned from SAAB Avitronics to run my photography business full-time, but I needed to find another specialty.”

Flying Lions North American AT-6 Harvard No4 (ZU-BMC/SAAF 7609) inverted under the clouds

“In 2010, a friend invited me to the Jack Taylor airfield in Krugersdorp for one of their annual spot landing competitions and that was the beginning of a brand new journey into the professional side of aviation photography.”

SAAF Oryx 1228 from 19 Squadron getting ready to lift a Gecko All-Terrain Vehicle in the late afternoon.

“I had the opportunity to work with an international aviation magazine and was involved in some amazing aviation opportunities. I was able to utilise technical knowledge and understanding of aircraft to add value to my aviation photography. As I enjoy working with Photoshop and doing composite work, as well as travelling, I can combine these loves with aviation photography − what a bonus!”

SAAF 2 Sqd Gripen JAS 39C taking off from AFB Waterkloof for an air display.

“For me, there’s a lot more to aviation photography than just shooting images of aircraft. It’s that moment when you press the shutter release and know you got the shot. When you review it, all the elements are in place and it’s an image you’d print and mount on your wall… a photo you can look at every day and never wish you’d shot it differently.”

Inkwazi – North American AT-6 Harvard (ZU-CXV/SAAF 7001) ready to taxi.

Your favourite aircraft is… I would have to pick two – a P51 and a Piper Cub.

Piper J-3 Cub (ZS-HKR) participating in a spot landing competition at Jack Taylor airfield.

Your favourite aviation photo is… This is a difficult one − I’m going to go with the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan ZS-NNK. It was my very first air-to-air photoshoot. I worked with a great team. Captain Francios Naude was the pilot and we did the shoot over the Pilansberg and The Palace of the Lost City. It made for an amazing backdrop.

Flightcare’s Cessna 208B Grand Caravan (ZS-NNK) air to air shoot after the Blackhawk XP-42A conversion over the Pilanesberg.

Your favourite camera is… my Canon 5D Mk IV.

SAA DC4 (ZS-AUB “Outeniqua”) taking off from AFB Waterkloof at sunset.

Your photography plans for 2021 are… I’m currently putting a project together to photograph, produce and publish a photobook that we plan to launch at the end of 2021

Menno Parsons in his North American P-51D Mustang (N72FT “Mustang Sally”) taking off from Zebula.
SAAF Oryx 1228 from 19 Squadron landing to extract ground troops.

Contact Rian

Visit: and find him on Instagram and Facebook.

Call: 0834549089 or email:

ZS-MIC (75-2936) and ZS-LDR (75-2173) flying in close formation.




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