Sunday, October 20, 2013

MC perspective: Mine pouncing

Read how Wray created this photo below.
One of the nice things about the MC rate is the freedom.  On the Nimitz, we were encouraged to find stories that interested us.  This meant every once in a while someone would experiment with a new idea and create something amazing.  MC3 (now MC2) decided to push his photo skills, and covered a really cool story in the process.

On a side note, I've taken too long to get this story up, and will make it up to Wray with a photo tribute at the bottom of the post.  

You can read the story as it appeared in Nimitz News here.  In a very small nutshell, being an Explosives Ordnance Disposal Sailor means jumping sometimes from helicopters to deal with mines in the water. (aka an extremely badass job)

Riding in a helo was great. I set it up ahead of time with HSC-6 to make sure I could get a ride in at least one of the 2 helos. I was hoping for the one with the EOD guys in it so I could see them jumping out but the second helo turned out to have more freedom of movement and got me more angles. I brought my 80-400 lens which got most of my shots of the divers in the water.

Before going up I asked for comms with the pilot, which is the best thing I could have done. They told me not to say anything if the aircrew were communicating but it mostly wasn’t a problem. After about an hour or 2 flight out to the site we flew low to the water and dropped a flare marker and then did circles around the main helo with the EOD guys. When I couldn’t see I just asked the pilot to turn the nose of the aircraft left or right, or asked him to stop moving. They never hooked me into a gunners belt for some reason so I only got shots from my seat out the door (this is why comms are great). 
EOD in the water.

One aircrewman took my camera for a few shots of the helo following us on our way back out the back of the door.  They did a few flying maneuvers and flew low to the water; almost close enough that you felt like you could touch the water and the rotors caused it to spray up a bit at us.

I listened to the comms as they did the countdown at around a minute, and the barrel that they rigged with a charge went off. I pulled my camera up quick to get the explosion, which luckily seemed to linger in a mist so I was able to get a shot but not the initial “boom” which couldn’t be heard over the sound of the rotors of the helo.

  I usually get my inspiration from learning new things (a shooting technique, a new place on the ship, etc.) so I decided to climb a new ladderwell one day and came across a fancy painted EOD door and  knocked.

I found out they had some events going on and asked to see their gear. They showed me a space full of  guns and other uniforms.


Another MC (Hooper) had once done some cover photos for us that were all well lit, and I had recently found a multiple flash lighting kit and was looking for a way to use it. The EOD magazine space had some depth to it, so I knew it was perfect for a shoot like this. I used some of the same techniques I used in a similar shoot I had done with security late last year, placing some members in the background, and a prominent figure in the foreground, who would look at the camera (kind of a way of welcoming/connecting you to the photo.)

Placement of Subjects:

One guy left and came back with the robot you see in the front. I had him sit in the back with his controller and backpack antenna. I had another member sitting on a box who I originally wanted to be putting on dive gear but they said they wouldn't be putting that on in the magazine, so I just had him cleaning his gun. The only place for the main guy was to the left. Normally I would step back and zoom in to compress the subjects, making them seem closer together and about the same size even if they are 2-3 yards apart.


In order to get everyone in focus, I knew I needed a high f-stop. For these kind of photos and group photos, I usually go for around an F-10 (shutter speed 125-250 to synch with flashes.) It's always dark inside the ship, so a high f-stop would only make it worse; luckily, you're using multiple flashes to make up for it.

Each flash is meant to light a different subject. I set commander mode up on my camera's built in flash and set up a main flash to light the main subject. This wasn't lighting up the robot though, so I put a flash on the ground to my right pointing up. This lit up a bit of the subject cleaning his gun but not well enough, so I set up another flash behind my main subject pointing forward to separate the guy cleaning his gun from the background (as opposed to having a shadow that would make him fade into the background). The guy in the back was a bit harder to light correctly. I set a flash behind the guy cleaning his gun and pointed it towards the wall to bounce off (direct flash would be too bright).

Another technique that I later remembered is grouping your flashes. If you set your secondary flashes to group B or C, you can change the exposures of each to be brighter or darker; you would do this when everyone is well lit but maybe someone in your background is overblown.

I used 4 flashes for this. One of them I had to hold above my head. You have to point them in the direction you need them but also be aware of the sensor pointing towards the camera.


The photo took approximately ONE hour. The subjects were getting tired by that time and it was also really hot in the room. I had a lot of problems with flashes not going off with the others or sometimes being brighter than others, so this is actually a photo illustration. I used the rest of the day to pick out how I liked the lighting of each one, and then faded the different parts of them together to make it look like how I wanted to. I used to be big into photo manipulation (making cross-species animals and other things), so it looks like one image, but it's actually 4. You can imagine it was hard to do, because I didn't use a tripod, and they were all at different lens lengths.

I decided to bump up the contrast, shadows, and clarity in camera raw once I compiled the image, and then add a blue tint just to make sure it looked photo shopped, because I knew I blended the images together too well to look deceiving.

I have worked out the kinks since this photo so my later work with multiple flashes don't require any Photoshop. I have been passing this technique on to the junior people in my shop since; It's an especially effective technique to use when you want to use one photo that will encompass the variety of things people do in their job (good for stories on different rates or shops).

That's all folks!


Me and Wray (who's always excited)



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