Saturday, April 7, 2012

Epic Photoshoot at Preferred Jet FBO

Last year I was approached by Preferred Jet to make a large group photo of the company employees, their FBO (like a private airport building) and some of their airplanes. The photo was to be used in a trade show booth and on various promotions like their web site.

Large Tradeshow Graphic
We discussed optimal schedules to get the look they wanted which included dramatic golden light seen either in the early morning or late afternoon right before sunset. Unfortunately, the only time that all employees could come together was during a harshly bright day in noon sun... usually the worst time of day to shoot drama. To make matters worse, the position of the sun would be behind the building making the front of the building in dark shadow.

I knew this beforehand so my plan was to use multiple exposures to tame the extreme latitude of the scene in front of me. I would take an exposure for the bright sky, one for the mid-tones and a few for the extremely inky shadows. Later, I would composite these together creating a high-dynamic range photo.

Very Expensive Equipment
If you think moving people around in regular group photo is tough, try adding 12 people, a multi-million dollar aircraft, a gasoline tanker and a sports car into the mix. From atop of an aircraft tug, I looked through my lens as workers moved the elements into place. I would pass instructions to my client who would yell them out and use hand gestures. I was about to pull my hair out when it all came together. I was literally asking to move the jet back and forth by an inch or  two, and it was surprising to see how much that could make the difference.

The fun part of the job happened later during the retouching phase. The trick was to find the right balance between realism and idealism... or, let's call it enhanced reality. Below are the original exposures showing that a single exposure would not have captured details in the bright highlights or the dark shadows.

Multiple Exposures Captured on a Tripod and Combined Later

The most important enhancement I made was to replace the sky which made it look more like sunset instead of noon. The color of the sky meant that I had to make sure that the rest of the photo matched in temperature and color cast. Changing the sky can really effect the drama in the photo as shown by this early color test.

Early Color Sketches Not Used. You can see the harsh shadows that were later replaced by hand.

I also did a lot of cleanup removing distracting elements like wires, gas tanks and even all the cars from the back parking lot. This was a tough to do since I had no reference photo of the lot without cars. I had to draw in the asphalt blacktop and then redraw a digital fence and gate on top. The fence was created using a seamless pattern I made. It's a small element, but makes a difference in how clean the final photo looks.

The fence on the right was digitally created.

I also took an impromptu fun set of photos that were much less formal...Heck, this one even had a chopper! This was quite a project.