SWAT Walkthrough

I’m currently working on a few personal projects. One is a 52 Weeks in the SPC Challenge. Another is a Family Portraits Series. These two projects came together last week when I shot my cousin, who is a SWAT Officer. This is a perfect story of photography.

Now, I knew that I wanted to capture a fitting environmental portrait of Mr. SWAT (I also knew I wanted to play with flashbangs, grenades and bazookas, but that’s another post) and I knew that for the 9th week of the SPC Challenge I would be tasked with creating a Dave Hill inspired image. Some of my friends in the SPC have expressed interest in how I put the final image, so I thought I’d take them through it, step by step, starting with a look at the final image.


Above: The final image, after an initial series of adjustments in Lightroom 3, some merging of frames in Photomatix and some tweaking in Photoshop CS5. I spent approximately 10 minutes creating this frame – not a whole lot of time, when you think about it. Why so little time? Because I did most of my work in-camera, before I started putting things together in the post-production phase.


Above: The RAW image, SOOC. Let’s walk through how this was created.

Lighting: I used two SB-80DX Nikon flashes inside a 60" Softlighter II, high camera left for the key light. My light was quite a few feet away, but I also wanted it soft and able to give coverage over all of Mr. SWAT. I needed a large light source.

I also used a SB-28 Nikon flash in a 28" softbox @ 10 o’clock to provide rim to the right and light the rifle.

Finally, I used a SB-25 Nikon flash, bare, far camera right (rim). I triggered these three flashes with Flashwaves. It’s vitally important to get your light where you want it in camera; there’s not much you can do once you’ve taken the image to fix bad light, so be careful.

The zoom-burst. This is also done in-camera. It’s rather simple to pull off when using flashes, too. I started by setting my lens to its widest focal length and slowly started to “zoom through the image;” I began the process of zooming in and clicked the shutter, following through with my zoom until the shutter closed. The flashes froze Mr. SWAT crisply, but left those areas unaffected by the flash susceptible to the zoom effect. This is an incredibly easy technique to master and is in fact one we’ve all tried before; think back to how many times you’ve used a point and shoot camera with flash, how the flash has frozen your subject yet the darker areas, the areas untouched by the light from the flash, are blurred. This is standard Facebook party album stuff.

Now for the post-production.

With the file loaded into Lightroom, I set to work creating virtual copies and adding my own custom presets on top of the image. I’ll show you a few of those. Canada_57481-2Canada_57481-3Canada_57481-4

From top to bottom:

Tarnished reputation. Decent colour, but too washed out to stand on its own.

Megan’s Gloom. This frame stands alone the best of the three, but it is too dark and the background doesn’t pop as much as I’d like it to.

Dave Hill Mock. Yuck. This looks like a tonemapped HDR nightmare. I would never, ever process a photo in this manner and allow it to stand on it’s own. That being said, for this SPC challenge, I needed the frame to have a lot of structure, good highlight definition yet somehow still retain a lot of contrast. I pushed this frame to the limit and would generally not show anyone the results.. ever. ha!

I took these three frames and exported them to Photomatix. Effectively, this combined the good bits that I wanted from each frame and did away with the rest (with a little subtle tweaking I was able to ditch the painterly look of the Dave Hill Mock frame).

Finally, I took the image into Photoshop and did a little more tweaking; I upped the contrast, sharpened the scene overall and bright down some of the highlights.

Like I said previously – no dodging and burning to take this to Jill Greenberg territory (though that would be an interesting exercise in and of itself), no masking, no layering. Most of the heavy lifting was done in-camera. I mixed and mashed a few frames out of Lightroom… and that’s it. My simple, effective Dave Hill-inspired super zoom burst SWAT tutorial.

Questions? Fire away.

– Flash