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on Oct 23, 2012 in Aviation

Moose & Backlight

Backlight and me are just not good friends! I have always struggled working with backlit scenes and subjects. It’s never been a technical issue, one of exposure or sun flare (light striking the front element) but rather of story telling. The vast majority of the time when shooting backlight for me, it is what it is. You can use flashfill on some birds, but you can’t a Moose, Bison or Bear and they don’t seem to really come close when you use a gold reflector. Now most of the world can recognize the silhouette of a Bison or the Statue of Liberty, but most of the subjects I work with, showing the subject is a big part of telling their story visually. So with backlighting, the subject is often lost except for shape. Hence my problem with backlight and story telling.

What happens though when the background assumes (because we say so) a more important role in the photograph? When the background has as much importance and perhaps even more than the subject, what happens then with backlight? It wasn’t until I started shooting air to air projects did this question ever enter my thought process. That means for over 25yrs, I avoided backlit subjects because I visually didn’t know how to make it work for the subject. It was my first over water project that I realized backlighting was essential in telling the story. That’s because the highlights off the tops of the waves is what really makes the water, a sea visually in the photograph. I wanted to say “ocean” and not lake or pond, these backlit highlights are essential in saying that. And in my desire to capture historically accurate photos of WWII warbirds, that was very important. All three of these aircraft, The B-25J, P-40K and P-51D saw battle over water, oceans, and that’s what I wanted in the photograph, the background, the story!

In my air to air shoot with the Texas Flying Legends Museum shooting with the D4 (shutter priority @1/60) and 70-200VR2 (@f/22), the segments of our flight over the Atlantic, I welcomed that backlighting. “Betty’s Dream,” the B-25J carries 22 mission symbols and two silhouettes representing sunken Japanese ships. The P-40K The P-40 that you see here represents the “Aleutian Tigers,” i.e. the 343rd Fighter Group activated on September 11, 1942 and operated in Alaska until the fall of 1943. The P-51D “Little Horse” represents the thousands of Mustangs that crossed the channel to defend the bombers taking the war to Europe. The water was everything to these photos! The D4 took care of exposure with 0 comp dialed in. In post, I used the Shadow Slider in ACR 7.2 to bring out the shadow detail in the fuselage. And backlighting did the rest to tell the story I wanted to tell about these very cool aircraft.