Veterans Day reflections

November 15, 2013 

What I had pitched a few weeks ago as a simple portrait series of Tri-City veterans ballooned into a harried project last week as I scrambled to write six stories and edit photos and videos for each.

It wouldn't be fun if I didn't procrastinate.

The series ran on Sunday, but if you missed them, here are links to stories about:

Oris Goodey

Loren P. Henderson

Pat Brown

Khris Judy and Troy Teal

Dale Washburn and Dottie Fisher Washburn

Their videos are all embedded at the bottom of this blog post as well. For the portrait series, I wanted to show the veterans in their civilian environments, while the words tied their service into their post-military lives:

The main story was about Tom Whitney, who is displaying a Washington state flag at the Federal Building in Richland. The flag was damaged by artillery fire while flying atop his bunker in Vietnam.

I wanted to photograph Tom with the display in place at the Federal Building. I had seen it at Khris' office, but I wasn't sure how it would look when installed. I erred on the side of irritating caution and hauled in all my lighting equipment since popping in and out of the Federal Building (and the security precautions) isn't very quick or easy.

I started with a quick CYA warmup snap of Tom:

It sucks for a few reasons. First, my reflection is in there. Also, it's boring.

I knew that after shooting it, but wanted to spend my time working a more ambitious angle. As I've confessed before, I'm a sucker for reflection photos. It can be a difficult technique to pull off correctly, and it's even tougher to pull off without being too gimmicky. In this case, I felt the technique fit the story of Tom wanting to remind people of the sacrifices made by U.S. troops of his generation.

Here's one of my first attempts:

I didn't like how his face faded away into shadow and the flag, so I set up another light to the right. I didn't shoot a setup shot, but here's a diagram I made with the handy tool at

Here's a tighter shot that shows the effect of that light:

I don't like the extreme tilt this frame requires though, and I wanted to show a little more of the display. One original idea was to incorporate passersby. A portrait session in the lobby attracts attention, though, and they don't add anything to the frame:

I liked that the support columns were modeled after the 140mm rockets that damaged the flag, so I went wider:

It's a little too wide, though. I tightened in to get rid of the somewhat distracting display information (which you wouldn't be able to read in the photo anyway) and went with this one for publication:

In a perfect world, there wouldn't have been a stupid electrical outlet there. That would be easy to remove digitally, but (photojournalism) homies don't play that game. I think he could use another light on him to help separate that black jacket from the background, but I'm pretty happy with the image.

Some of you might be asking why all that futzy lighting is even necessary. Sure, there are big windows in the lobby, which is reasonably bright, but that's the problem. Here's what the display looks like with available light:

With all those wacky reflections, you can barely tell the flag is ripped and doing that reflection technique with Tom definitely would not work. If we pull up that lighting diagram again,

that big light on the left is not only the key light on Tom, but the spilled-over feathered light is what is illuminating the flag as well. To knock down those undesirable reflections, I had to really underexpose the room, which would have made the display black.

If we go back to the lame portrait,

it probably looks unlit to an untrained eye, but I'm popping some light in from the left to light this corner, with another light to the right for Tom. The unfortunate inclusion of myself is due to some of that light spilling onto me.

Here are the short video interviews I edited from each:

While I was swearing up a storm as I worked furiously on Friday to try and pull this project together, it was definitely a rewarding kind of busy. I hope I was able to do justice in telling these veterans' stories, and that their portraits were an accurate reflection of at least a slice of their lives and personality.

Speaking of doing justice...

Canadian photographers are now automatically the copyright holders of commissioned works.

The Big Picture has a strong set of photos from the heartbreaking devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

This amazing composite photo of Saturn has been making the rounds online.

And be sure to check out Joakim Eskildsen's timelessly beautiful "Home Works" series at Time's Lightbox.

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