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Ok, so I’m going to tell you a bit more than just how to light images like these.

To start, I typically place the plane, car, or whatever object I want to photograph the person with for a shot backlit by ambient light, however, you can see in the images included with the post, not 100% of the time. I then determine what my exposure will be for the ambient light and set it with manual mode on the camera, so that it will not change due to any momentary changes in light on set. Typically, I set this ambient exposure such that it is perhaps a full stop darker than if I was taking a “normal” photo.

I have a speedlight in a softbox with a quarter or half cut CTO on it. I typically place this on a handheld boom for an assistant to hold in place, but will use a light stand if I can’t have an assistant on the shoot. I use the speedlight in manual, in the past triggered by a cord, will do it with pocket wizards now. I start with the speedlight set on full power as that will be what is normally necessary. The softbox is also positioned as close to the person as possible without being in frame. I typically have it directly where the subject is looking and about 45° above the subject. Having the light as soft as possible, rapid falloff, and as bright as possible are all positive attributes for this look. I use a 24-105mm lens wide open. Position the person 2 to 3 meters in front of the plane, car, or whatever and shoot a test shot. Adjust the speedlight setting to get the person as bright as you want.

Once you get all the lighting values set as you want, play around with various compositions. Generally you will want to keep the camera low as looking up at the person a little as well as them appearing large in relation to the plane, etc., is a big part of where the look comes from. I think I would actually prefer to shoot this with an even wider lens, but of course that requires some investment.

Once I get the shot to Lightroom, I create a virtual copy. The original copy I will apply a preset I made that increases the contrast about 20, +80 on shadows, -80 on highlights, clarity +40, and vibrance +30. I then set the whites and blacks so that there are tiny areas of both pure white and pure black, although I won’t set the whites darker than the starting point or the blacks brighter than the starting point. The other copy, I choose the camera portrait profile and do a very basic edit on it. I then select both copies and choose the “Open as Layers in Photoshop” option of the “Edit With” command. I then make sure the “camera portrait” layer is on top and mask out everything but the person’s skin. I then blend using opacity to get as much of the “crispier” look of the bottom layer without making their skin look strange.

I then press shift, ctrl, alt e to merge all visible layers to the top (actually I programmed one of the buttons on my Wacom tablet to do all that.) I set the blend mode on this layer to “overlay” and set the opacity to 40%. This creates a glow. I mask that so that there is no glow on the person or airplane. Finally, I open Color Efex Pro4 and apply Tonal Contrast. I mask this so that it only shows on the airplane and the person. Then I might apply a vignette, depending on the individual photo.

In this explanation, I left out any skin retouching etc. This is very dependent on the individual, makeup, etc.

You can take a look at the images from the Sport Aviation shoot, where most of the images in this entry came from. Or please take a look at my People Portfolio.