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???
Recently, I’ve been on a trip to get at least one personal project a week in with down time I have between paid work. I met Greg here one Friday night on a mutual friend’s rooftop (does that sound strange) just about a week before he was headed “up-range,” or somewhere in the Middle East to my civilian readers. We got to talking and I mentioned that I’m a photographer and he instantly said “I’ve always wanted a cool shot done at the Iwo Jima memorial,” or something to that effect. I absolutely love it when someone has a vision and I’ll happily go out of my way to make it happen….usually.
Real simple lighting setup with the added bonus of an overcast sky and the Park Rangers/Retired Marines not even batting an eye that we were there. This was my favorite shot of the lot since it’s just about the perfect angle to minimize the background, but not have Greg’s head at too much of a negative angle, you can find the rest of the shots here. And as it turns out, Greg is a pretty cool guy with a small collection of Cadillacs held up in Reston that I am looking forward to shooting when he gets back in about six months! Until then, stay safe and take care Greg!
I know that this gallery has been a long time coming, and by long time I am talking ten months ago! But, the pictures from my day in September 2008 with Mike Brown’s air race team are finally up and I couldn’t be happier with the gallery. Before I go any further, I need to give a quick shout out to everyonewho has been patiently waiting for these photos. In the last year, I have finished grad school, while juggling both a day job and photography clients, and my personal projects took a distant back seat to a list of other things.Thank you for standing by me while I had the chance to dive deep into the 3,000 photos I shot that weekend in Reno to produce these two galleries and I sincerely hope that these images make their way to you.
The next big question is: What do I do with them? I really have my heart set on writing an article on this phenomenal team while trying to capture the spirit of air racing…but it all just seems so overwhelming right now! But every journey starts with a single step and I guess me posting the pictures is the first step, writing this blog post is the second, and for a follow-up act I am going to start captioning the gallery with all the information I collected that weekend.
In the meantime, I’d like to just talk briefly about some of my favorite images from the set and give you a quick and dirty. You’ll have to forgive me for not mentioning names, my notes are away from my desk right now and I still need to get in touch with some of the contacts that I made.
Above is a shot of two crew members just as September Fury finished up its third day of racing and returned to the pits. The setting sun was absolutely INCREDIBLE in Reno, and I love the balance of warm rim and fill light in this composition.
A big part of Team Brown’s recent success and ability to field three aircraft in the unlimited class is due to the addition of Bill Kerchenfaut in 2005. Bill literally is air racing! He has been involved with the sport for over forty years and is considered by everyone that I talked to as the authority of this sport. As you can tell from the gallery, Bill was the star of the show for me, and I hope that when I eventually put pen to paper, I am able to properly represent everything that is so unbelievably impressive about this very modest man.
As you may or may not remember, the biggest gem at the air races for me was the people there. In retrospect, I’m so glad that I turned the camera back towards the racers on my second day. I really feel that I got everything that I could when I come back to images like this.
Not wanting to leave anyone out; here’s a picture of the crew meeting before the start of the day. Considering that this group puts up and recovers three aircraftin a single day (!!!!!), I am absolutely humbled to have been welcomed amongst their ranks for the day, and I thank them for their unabashed reception.
I’d like to end this gallery with a photo of Sue Miller-Brown, Mike Brown, and Bill Kerchenfaut, taken a moment after the silver race. There was such an incredibly and interesting dynamic that existed within this group, and I truly hope that I was able to accurately capture it within this gallery.
Please check back in about a week for the gallery captions, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on the progress of this story as it evolves.