Has anyone else around DC noticed how unbelievable the photography weather has been lately? By “photography weather” I mean cool, moderate days with a slight breeze, rich blue skies, and plenty of amazing clouds in the background. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself a bit too tethered to a desk lately, but I did manage to make it outside for one of these incredible days during my last July UTA weekend (that’s when I become a Reservist for two days out of the month) to shoot Scott Marchant for one of our member spotlight articles.
Scott was one of the first people I met when I came to the 459th Air Refueling Wing headquarters to work in the Public Affairs shop and everyone speaks very highly of this troop. He generally keeps to himself as the wing historian, but I managed to find out through some of our coworkers that he plays on the Air Force rugby team.
I’m going to dive into a bit of technical speak here since I’ve been getting a number of questions about how I took this picture after posting it Friday to my Twitter account, and I like to keep the people happy. As soon as I heard “rugby” I immediately knew that I wanted to pursue something along the lines of Tim Mantoani, who coincidentally shoots a ton of stuff for the NFL. I love the stories his photographs carry with them, even without captions, and I think that’s the biggest intangible element of great portrait work.
OK, back to the technical. Good portrait photography is about control; whether it be the setting, lighting, subject, you have some degree of control over these elements if you’re interested in making your life in front of the computer a heck of a lot easier.
First the setting. Air Force bases are killer places to shoot. Why you may ask? There are a TON of wide open spaces, green grass (“don’t walk on the grass” as my navschool Senior Ranking Officer used to joke), not to mention a variety air planes constantly flying overhead. I could have done without that bread truck over Scott’s right shoulder, but it’s a small price to pay for the clean(ish) background and the shade we worked in.
Which leads me to my next element, lighting. Contrary to what a lot of you have been asking, this was not taken in the sun. Many cultures worship the sun, but most portrait photographers will tell you that the direct sun is the devil! Unless you have a patch of shade to operate in or a diffuser panel, try to stay out of the sun! What I did here was place Scott under an enormous tree with a two strobe set up; one over Scott’s back right shoulder, and one high to his left shot through an umbrella with a 1/2 Color Temperature Orange gel. The softness of the umbrella and the 1/2 CTO gel somewhat fool the viewer into thinking Scott is looking into an offset sun, but that’s not the case since he’d be real squinty and not relaxed. The tree gave me great control over the ambient light since I arranged Scott and my strobes in line with the tree trunk, blocking the sun and further ensuring that we’d have more control over the sun.
I’m not big on directing since I don’t think I am all that great at it, but I always do two things when working with people; make sure they’re comfortable and wrangle my subjects into a small circle where I can predict how my strobe setup is going react. Shooting military folks is crazy easy since it’s second nature for them to unquestionably follow direction…well at least for everyone else in the military aside from me. I simply gave Scott a mark to keep his left foot on and then we just talked and shot. Wash, rinse, repeat until I felt like we got it.
And that’s it! I know this was probably the most I’ve written about one shot, but I hope you guys still find this information interesting and digestibleeven with all the camera speak. I have a couple other portraits sitting on the back burner that I want to talk to, but my guess is that they’re not going to be this in depth since I just gave away all my secrets! Is my work not as cool now???
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