The Challenges of Photographing a Pilot and Fighter Jet

In our photographic careers, we inevitably face times where we must photograph our subjects in less than perfect circumstances. But have you ever tried to photograph a fighter jet in bright sun? Jay P. Morgan shows us his lighting process on an air force base shoot:

Shooting in Bright Sun Light

When Morgan arrives at Luke’s Air Force Base to photograph fighter pilot Josh Moffet and his F16, several obstacles quickly surface. Morgan has to figure out how to photograph a jet facing an undesirable direction, and do it under the scorching hot and very bright sun of Phoenix, Arizona.

Morgan shoots toward the west, capturing the east side of the plane, eliminating all the background clutter. Shooting at a low ISO of 100, 1/200 of a second shutter speed and an aperture of f/13 helps combat the extremely bright sun.

Lighting a Fighter Jet

Morgan uses four 400-watt strobes to light his subject and the jet. The first Photoflex Flexflash strobe is fitted with an Octodome and acts as the key light, illuminating Moffet. The second strobe, a Photoflex Triton, covers the tail section of the jet. On camera right, the third Flexflash with reflector aims at the mid-section and wing of the jet. The last and fourth flash illuminates the nose of the fighter. With the help of radio slave pocket wizards, the strobes are fired in unison.

light f16 jet strobe set up

Lighting set up to photograph a F-16 jet

Morgan and Moffet brave the heat and capture several different poses.

“It’s not that easy to light a large object like that with small strobe heads, But in the end it was very do-able. Some days you just have to go after it and make it happen.”

Morgan certainly did make it happen:

light f16 jet strobe portrait

Ambient light

light f16 jet strobe portrait

Lit portrait (4 strobes)

light f16 jet strobe portrait

Portrait with post-processing; the final image.

As the crew packs up, Morgan decides to grab a few extra shots; a sign of a true photographer. It’s important to shoot around, experiment with other angles and backgrounds, even in the final moments of a shoot.

The images are post-processed with a dark contrast layer (excluding Moffet’s face and body), added contrast and light desaturation.

light f16 jet strobe portrait
light f16 jet strobe portrait

Morgan proves that it is possible to dominate the elements working against you to come out on top with a selection of wonderful photographs.

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