My Several Year Path to Creating This Composite

My Several Year Path to Creating This Composite

This is a how I did it story. Along with some “why.” Unlike most all folks my age, I am very fond of the WW2 history and even more so WW2 aircraft. My favorite plane of all time is the B-25 mid-range bomber. This concept has been in my mind for years, and I waited to actually implement it until I felt I was able to do it right. Had I done it early in my career, I feel the quality wouldn't have been up to the standard I would have liked. 

As I talk about it a lot, I really believe that comparing is a huge thing for quality, and increasing your own knowledge. Give yourself a benchmark if you will. It’s important for that benchmark to not be local in most cases… I see a lot of photographers trying to set a bar at someone’s level in town that they know, it makes sense I get it... but I disagree with it. I seek out the best in the world that I can find at whatever particular style/thing I am looking at and compare to them, and if I miss the mark, 90% of a very high level is better than 100% of someone at a lower level.
So as this concept evolved in my mind, I tried to come up with reasonable and realistic ways to accomplish what I wanted, which was to incorporate a B-25 and a sexy model (since I shoot a lot of model portfolio work), but it was a tall order. First of all there aren’t many B-25’s around. I actually grew up around one, as some close family friends owned one. It was about a eight hour drive away and I of course could have done that. Coincidentally, there is one about two miles from my home also, which could likely have been made available for such a task. But the actual feasibility for me seemed tough, how could I light the plane the way I wanted, and to give the mood I wanted? I wanted fog and a dark-ish type scene. That would be a rather tall order given the size of the actual airplane. Lighting the plane would also be a bit of a tall order, as even the biggest softbox is still a small light source relative in size to that subject. Lighting the girl would be the easy part.
This challenge kept me away from producing the image for years. During which time I acquired a Harley, then of course I wanted to use my Harley and somehow add it all together.  

My Ah-Ha Moment

I first saw Felix Hernandez do an image with a model car… and I was amazed with his creativity, and at the same time I said AH-HA, I bet I could combine a model airplane, with a real girl and my real Harley, and put together what I had in my mind. This would allow me to incorporate the fog I wanted, as well as use a studio light source to light the airplane to give the relative size lighting as if it were being lit by a sky. 

Challenge Accepted

I had my mission. 
First, I got one of my favorite models and I asked her about the concept, she loved it. We took my Harley out and shot the session, knowing what I was going to be doing in regard to the composite, I pretended as if the airplane was back there, and shot from angles that made sense to include an airplane. I shot many different things, to give myself the best options. Knowing I’d be able to position the model airplane however I wanted, I figured I’d be able to get it done in this order.
I shot the original session with the Phase One 645 and my Schneider Kreuznach 80mm leaf shutter lens. Great success.
Second step was to build the model airplane, I was excited to do this since I have a passion for the B-25 airplane. 
So I ordered a real model B-25. Of course skipping the 12-piece or so beginner model, as I knew it may not be detailed enough to look like a real airplane. I thought to myself, this is great and I will enjoy this. I remember my grandfather building these model airplanes and they were awesome. Boy was I in for a rude awakening, ages 13+ up. Yeah my arse! Should be 60 and up, I don’t have the patience for this. I had no idea it would be THAT difficult. The instructions were vague at best with no words and just pictures. I knew I could do it with enough time, but I had really already burned up quite a lot of time attempting to build this model, that the session really needed to get done. The girl was anxious to see the end result and frankly, so was I. 

Spending My Time Wisely

As luck would have it, I was at my Uncle’s store, and he happened to have a model B-25 all perfectly done and painted sitting there. It’s his favorite airplane too as he was around the same one I was growing up. Finally! I explained my situation to him, and after a good laugh we all had, he agreed I should use his model. Perfect, I could spend my time working on the photo, not trying to build a model. I fully believe this is a task for retired folks as it takes a LOT of time.
After picking up (way too much) dry ice from the store, not having worked with it before, I didn’t know how much I might need. I set out to create the backplate for my composite. Working with the model airplane was a breeze and I referenced the pose we had chosen and placed the airplane in a few ways that would make sense for that, and begun the composite. After all my retouching, finally this many year long dream and project was complete. 
Here’s a quick BTS video showing the process.

The Final Image


The History

My history with this particular airplane made it more special to me. As the B-25 was the first airplane I had ever set foot inside. Here’s a pic of me as a child with my grandfather and the pilot (Making fun of my kid mullet is allowed at this point).

I even have a tattoo in progress that features this B-25 taking off, with a US flag as a tribute to the Doolittle Raid (more below).
The B-25 airplanes were significant early in the US’s involvement in WW2. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. The US wanted to retaliate against Japan for attacking us unprovoked and bringing our country into the World War. Geographically, this was a tall order as fuel and range was a problem. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle had a daring plan to strike the heart of Japan, he had a vision of taking these mid-range bombers off of an aircraft carrier. Clearly this had not been done before, and was actually by all rights impossible. They were too large, weighed too much and needed a much longer runway for takeoff. They persisted, and after months of practice, taking off short marked runways and stripping anything that wasn’t absolutely essential from the bombers, including ammo in an effort to reduce weight, they had finally done it after months of training. 
They set out for the mission, loaded the aircraft carrier USS Hornet* with the B-25’s (lifting them on by crane), and set out for Japan. The brave pilots knew it was a one-way mission and did it anyway, for there was no way to land back on a carrier. The mission was to bomb Tokyo, and then head for China and fly until the planes ran out of fuel and ditch them in friendly territory. But there was a snag, a Japanese spy plane had spotted the Carrier several hours early before they could reach the planned launch location. They had no choice but to take off early, before Japanese fighters could get mobilized to attack the bombers en route.
Overall the mission was a success, they bombed Tokyo, and while it didn’t necessarily do significant damage to Japan, it was a huge moral victory for the US, after the brutal attack that was endured at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese on the ground were perplexed, knowing there was not enough fuel range, HOW did these bombers get HERE? Could this be real? It was. The morale boost for the United States was vital. We were strong, we wouldn’t stand by while being attacked like that. It helped kick start our troops and their confidence. Great success. 

*The USS Hornet later went on to recover the Apollo 11 spacecraft and is currently on display as a museum to visit, I highly encourage this. More info here.

Bill Larkin's picture

Bill is an automotive and fashion inspired photographer in Reno, NV. Bill specializes in photography workflow and website optimization, with an extensive background in design and programming.

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Very intriguing and engaging story. Kudos for your perseverance.

Great read. I love the old bombers too and the Doolittle raid is one of the great stories. Love how the dry ice smoke turned out.

A small historical correction. the USS Hornet (CV-8) that launched the Doolittle raid was sunk by the Japanese in Oct. 1942. the USS Hornet (CV-12) that picked up the Apollo capsule was a newer ship.

very cool.