Author Archive

Chandler Smalley

This here is my 16 year old cousin Chandler (high res), who is the oldest out of the nine grandchildren after me and Matt. I forgot what our handshake deal was, but I do remember winning 15 minutes out of her busy adolescent time for a sunset shot since I can’t seem to find any women (aside from Amy) who will pose for me.

This shot was a little more difficult than it looks since the dock we went with had these really bright, gross sodium-vapor lamps that spat out this slime green light. Not to mention the mosquitoes were no holds barred mid summer in the Outer Banks, NC so we had to get in and out with precision.

Fortunately, I had a crack team with me consisting of my other two 15 and 11 year old cousins. The older and taller cousin held myManfrotto Nano light stand with a 43″ silver/white umbrella shot through with a Full CTO gel just high enough to block the nearest dock lamp. With the light fading fast, I equipped my younger cousin with my Sekonic L-758DR light meter and taught him how to read off aperture values to the one holding the umbrella, instructing him to move the light forward and backwards until the numbers matched up.

If I had to do it again, I would have used my 48″ reflector to block that lamp and completely eliminate the sodium-vapor bulb since too much light still came through the umbrella and made those highlights on Chandler’s face. This was one of five, and as you can tell from the background we didn’t have much time to work with but we got the shot! Just a hair of Photoshop (I’m a reformed minimalist now) and I’m very pleased with how this turned out.


I am bit overdue with this posting since I initially shot James Mulherin’s Subaru STi back in early June. But not being completely satisfied with the initial batch, I went back and took another swing at it and came out with some really striking images. This one above is by far my favorite and just screams, “this road is about to be torn up!” Ok…maybe not, but that’s what I think (high res).

I’ve known James for almost five years after meeting him while flying down at Robins, AFB with the JSTARS program. Ironically enough, I sold James my 2005 Subaru STi only to have it totaled a few weeks later! It wasn’t his fault and being a true car nut he jumped right back in the saddle and bought a brand new 2006 STi with his insurance check. As you can see, this car is far from stock and James claims that she puts down 400 whp!

James was transferred up here to Andrews, AFB a little over a year ago which presented me an opportune chance to try my hand in a new market. I’ve always loved cars and even shot a few of them, but this was my first attempt at something more formal and I have a ton of lessons learned from these two ventures.

Our first go at this seemed (above) near perfect to me when we were through. We shot “ChrSTi” (as she’s affectionately known) at the Andrews, AFB hobby shop which was perfect for this shoot, aside from the fluorescent bulbs. I brought my two big Alien Bees 1600s and a gelled small strobe for the interior. Getting the right mix of ambient with the strobes, combined with the black paint was extremely difficult and I eventually opted for ambient light since balancing the AB 1600s reflections and getting a consistent fill was just too much and we had a limited schedule to shoot. This is the ideal situation for a large screen, or just a king sized sheet to diffuse the bare bulbs…which I’ll bring the next time around I’m inside with a glossy car.

After the shoot and submission, I came under heavy fire from many of the other tuners who said that the images looked too Photoshopped…which they were, but I thought that the shoe fit. Wild car, wild images, makes sense right? As it turns out, this community has more refined tastes that I couldn’t leave unsatisfied!

Returning to the scene of the crime, James and I headed back to Andrews a month later on an overcast day. With plenty of gorgeous god light and no one around, we hung out at the arrival end of the runway and captured some really cool photos. I went for a very natural look with these images and what you see is primarily color tweaking along with dodging and burning done in Photoshop.

My second favorite from the bunch. Luckily, you can spot a C-17 Globemaster III from miles away so I didn’t have to lay in the grass for too long waiting for this bird to fly over.

Another favorite of mine. You really have to work to find angles like these and I have a new found respect for dedicated automobile photographers.

By the waterside with a strobe firing into the grill off to the right for a little bit of fill light.

One last parting shot. The sky was amazing that day and the reflection of the setting sun in the headlamp is a great touch here.

Be sure to check out the rest of the gallery to really get a feel for the detail and mood I’m trying to convey with these images. Also, if you’re a Facebook user and you like my work, please sign up to become a fan of the site, every person counts and you never know who’s going to click on my link posted to your page.

Scott Marchant

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???