Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Big Chopper vs Small Flashes

I got an opportunity last week to hang out with the boys at Emergency Management Queensland, the helicopter rescue team that attends to emergencies around the state

I knew that I was gonna just have to go with the flow, as I was shooting a real life team on a normal shift, at any point they could get a callout and have to literally take off.

I packed light, digital SLR, a few lenses, 3 speedlights and a couple stands. Instead of softboxes or umbrellas, I packed Stofen diffusers to soften the light if I needed to. (I could have used tissue paper and rubber bands in a pinch…try it).

Arrived at the hangar around 7.30am and met the boys, nice group of guys. First thing I did was ask where I should retreat to if they got a callout, last thing I wanted was to get in the way as they were scrambling to take off.

I walked around inside and outside and checked out the ambient light, the sun was fairly low and made for a really good key light…perfect.

Outside was a smaller chopper on a flat trailer. It was explained to me that as this particular chopper didn’t have wheels, they took off and landed back on this trailer. I was impressed, landing back on top of something not much bigger than 2 ping pong tables must have taken some skill.

Inside were 2 much larger shiny helicopters. “Brand new from Italy” said one of the crew, “yep, real beauties, only 16 million each” I took a step back to make sure I didn’t pass out along side of it and put a dent in the panel with my head.

The shoot went real good, I had a particular style of processing in my head that I wanted to use, so knew what I wanted as far as lighting goes. To that end I didn’t wind up using the Stofen diffusers, the hard light typically given by a speedlight provided the harsh lighting I would need to achieve that look in post.

Once I had shot inside and outside, the crew fired up one of the large ones and we did some shots on the tarmac. The intention was they were going to take it a ways up in the air and I could shoot them doing some drills. As the rotors intensified for lift off I scrambled over to my camera bag, I had thrown the lid closed but hadn’t zipped it, and the wind from the chopper had blown it open exposing all my lenses to the flying dust….thank Christ for weather sealing. I had time to tweet that experience on Twitter, thanks for all of your amused responses

Just before the chopper took off someone came running out of the hanger, the phone had rung and the unit’s services were needed. The shoot was over and they took off for real. This was not a drill.

I got back in my car; pretty happy with the shots I managed to get…it was time for a coffee.

As a special treat for you the reader I’ve chosen to put up a shot before processing in photoshop. I’ve processed the RAW into JPEG via lightroom and desaturated it at that time. When I was taking the shot I was having the crewman step out of the cockpit in order to add a bit of life to the shot. I had a flash pointed to crosslight with the direction of the sunlight. Although the one flash was fine as far as light went, the shot still looked a little lifeless. To change that, I took a second speedlight off the stand and threw it into the cockpit on the pilot’s seat. The result I feel gives life to the helicopter and indicates that the controls are on, plus provides a nice rimlight on the crewman. You can see the final edit and the rest of the series here.

Hope everyone has a great week.

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