A few summers ago I was called by FHM magazine to shoot Iron Maiden frontman and commercial pilot - Bruce Dickinson.
I definitely did a little dance around the room when I got this phone call. Firstly because its Bruce bloody Dickinson!! Secondly because this job came along during a very quiet and frustrating period. It was during the London 2012 Olympics which seemed to put me and all my photographer friends in two different camps. All of London’s attention was on the games and nothing else so photographers were either really busy shooting Olympic related stuff or, like me, they were bored to tears. I shot quite a lot of Olympic athletes on the lead up to 2012 but when the Olympics kicked in things got very quiet.
I headed off to Cardiff, Wales, with a journalist from FHM to check out Bruce’s company - Cardiff Aviation.
This still remains one of my favourite portrait commissions to date.
Once we arrived and dumped the gear we were given a tour of the entire premises by Bruce himself. Cardiff Aviation are based just outside the Welsh Capital on a site made up of several aircraft hangars and two runways. We were shown all the different aviation equipment that Bruce’s company builds along with various different planes parked on the premises. Bruce mentioned that he wanted to see Britain become a nation that builds things again and his knowledge about all things aviation was incredible.
CHOOSING THE SETTING
Sometimes I’m presented with a location thats overwhelmingly photogenic causing a hundred ideas to float around in my head when I’ve only got a short time to make some decisions. I’ve learned that in these situations you cant possibly shoot everything you want and you have to be disciplined in what you want to achieve. It’s much better to shoot a handful of set ups really well than shoot a huge variety of rushed, mediocre work.
I was given an hour to wander around the site alone and scout for locations with only one bit of advice - “Don’t go near that end of the airfield or you might get shot”…… Bruce’s airfield bordered a high security military site and I was warned that if I go too close to the perimeter and they see an anonymous man loitering with a camera things could get pretty ugly.
I didn’t need to worry though. I had plenty of inspiration without having to go near the danger zone. I knew before leaving London that I wanted to get a hero shot of Bruce with an aircraft in the background, preferably sitting on the wing or in one of the engines. Fortunately there was a disused commercial jet parked right in the middle of the airstrip for me to use. The sun was hitting the metal aircraft and the tarmac in a harsh but stunning way and I began to figure out my lighting after a few test shots.
EXPOSURE AND LIGHTING
I used a fair bit of fire power for this shot. Although the sunlight was coming from roughly the right direction, it was the middle of the day in peak summer which meant that the sun was really high in the sky and I needed some strobes to help me out. I wanted to light Bruce from a realistic/natural angle and used my strobes create a slightly cleaner and evenly balanced version of what the sun was already doing. I wanted to underexpose the plane to give the shot a feel that resembled evening light conditions and fill in my subject with just enough pop. I got called up for the job the day before so I didn’t manage to find an assistant but luckily there was no wind at all to smash my gear to pieces!
This was lit with two 600w Einsteins with 5ft octobanks to camera right, 12 feet high and aimed straight at Bruce. Here’s a lighting diagram showing the set up along with a Straight-Out-Of-Camera shot. I really need to remember to take a few steps back and shoot a BTS photo more often.
Camera: Canon 5dmkII Lens: 50mm Aperture: F/14 Shutterspeed: 1/200
I was warned by Bruce’s PR guy that he wasn’t a fan of having his photo taken and that the best way to keep him relaxed was to allow him to keep being interviewed while on set. That was fine by me and I could call his attention for short bursts rather than force him to pose for minutes on end. I didn’t need any theatrics from him and I just wanted him to sit in the engine while I clicked away for a while. I shot 21 frames on this set and then moved onto the next idea.
Not a huge amount going on here. Just a bit of colouring and contrast work. I pulled down the exposure using a curves adjustment layer and then painted some of the original brightness back into Bruce and parts of the plane. This gave the image deeper shadows and made the highlights pop a bit more.
Next I worked on colouring the image so that the light looked less ‘midday’ and a bit more ‘early evening’. I did this using a Colour Balance adjustment layer to put more warmth into the highlights and another one to put cooler tones into the shadows.
A little bit of selective sharpening on Bruce and I was done.
We shot 4 or 5 different set ups, had a beer with Bruce to finish and headed back to London.
Thanks for reading!