The fi­nal word

Joe McNally on how Nikon’s sen­sors cap­ture more than the naked eye can see

NPhoto - - Contents -

Dig­i­tal does things for you. Things film could not do. Back in the film days, in fad­ing light, you might have folded your tents. But with dig­i­tal, you still have time. The dig­i­tal chip sees things your eyes might not.

We had spent the day fly­ing, but a por­trait of the leg­endary Lon Cooper was al­ways in the back of my head, up there in the air. Couldn’t short-cir­cuit the main job, so I stayed up in the sky till the last of the good light.

Or maybe the last of the good light. We landed, and started scram­bling. Pulled the plane into a roughly good po­si­tion. Got Lon in a spot, and asked for his pa­tience. Brought in a Pro­foto B-1 and a soft­box, cam­era right. Wind caught the unat­tended, un-sand­bagged B-1, and knocked it over. Bye bye, B-1. Yep, 35 years of do­ing this, and I let a light top­ple in the breeze. Grabbed another B-1, stuffed it into the man­gled soft box. Pulled an f-stop outta my butt. Got a shut­ter speed that gave me sky. Matched the B-1 flash to f-stop. Messed with the po­si­tion of the Speed­lights to elim­i­nate most of the glare and hotspots off the plane’s fuse­lage.

Flaws. Couldn’t com­pletely fi­nesse away the an­gle-of-in­ci­dence flare on side of plane. Told my­self I liked it. (You can con­vince your­self of any­thing in these mo­ments.) Got a cou­ple de­cent frames. The light fell, faster than the light stand that busted my flash. But the won­ders of the chip carved out a colour in the sky, held the light for as long as it could, like pour­ing wa­ter in cupped hands, and watch­ing it slip through the cracks.

Got a frame. That’s all you need on some days. On a shot like this, I thank the pix­els.

6:43pm Main light po­si­tioned

6:36pm Po­si­tion the plane

6:37pm Get a sky ex­po­sure

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