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