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on Nov 4, 2013 in Aviation

Uping My Portrait Game

Tuskegee Airman, George, Alexander & Charles

Tuskegee Airman, George Hardy, Alexander Jefferson & Charles McGee

I’m the kind of portrait photographer who has to see the portrait unfold. Since day one working with biologists, I shot journalistic style, taking the portrait as the project unfolded. Setting up the portrait is just not my strong suit and knowing that, I’m working on uping my game. As I work with all these hereos, WWII vets, I feel the pressure to tell their story in their portrait. This means pushing myself and it’s hard. Where my bud McNally can meet a stranger on the street and five minutes later have them posing naked, it takes me a hour just to screw up the courage to say hi. So I start by learning a little bit about the vets prior to saying hi. In Houston, I had the added stress of knowing I’d be having a conversation with these vets on camera for our documentary. Can you say … panic!

WWII Corsair Pilot Joe

WWII Corsair Pilot Joe McPhail

I started where I knew I was safe, behind the camera. A few of the vets took the stage to tell the four hundred folks gathered in the Texas Fling Legends Museum (host for the reunions) hangar a little of their story. There is a giant American flag on the back wall and to incorporate it in the portraits, I had to stand way off to the side. From that angle, I had all sorts of “stuff” in the frame that made a clean shot a challenge. The top two images, I went vertical because of the “stuff” (mostly folks with pocket cameras) but I didn’t like the results. When I put the pressure on myself to do better, I push myself because of the importance to telling that visual story. I had to do better!

"Betty's Dream" Navigator Jim

“Betty’s Dream” Navigator Jim Mahaffey

When Jim took the mic, I knew I had to make the shot. I kept inching myself up towards the stage. I didn’t want to get in the way of those there to listen, it was a reunion and the room was filled with family of these vets. It was their day, not mine. Shooting with the D4 / 80-400VR3, I was slowly able to move forward ten feet and that was all I needed to make the horizontal shot I wanted. In my own mind, after listening to some of their story (they have so much to share with us!) and watching them through my lens, I started to feel more comfortable with them. With that, I was able to approach them and start a dialog which led to the portraits. I already knew Joe, but the other gentleman I had not made their acquaintance yet. By the end of the weekend though, we’d all become fast friends and had a great time with them on camera for our documentary. And yes, I made more portraits of them as you’ll see. The moral of all of this, you simply gotta push yourself beyond your comfort range if you want to up your photography. Success comes from failure to some degree. Just don’t settle!