Alex Jansen Photography | Soldier by Day, Photographer by Night

Soldier by Day, Photographer by Night

January 08, 2015  •  6 Comments

Or "...Pentaxian by Night" depending on the circle/audience. Small side note for those unaware, a Pentaxian is someone who shoots using Pentax gear, as I do. Likewise Canonite, Nikonian, etc. Anyway, that's not why you came here, is it? This is:

Click for a larger viewPentax K-3, DA* 16-50, 22mm, 1/125s, F7.1, ISO 400

First and foremost, I can't claim to own the original creativity for this image - the inspiration came to me after coming across a photo project by Devin Mitchell that he called "The Veteran Art Project" that was making its many rounds on the internet. But where his project was of other veterans, I wanted to do it of myself (although I am a veteran). A "selfie" if you will, emphasizing not only my being in uniform, but simultaneously capturing my off-duty passion. The endstate with this image is to hopefully find enough willing participants, who also have great hobbies and/or passions to showcase, and ultimately turn it into a project that captures the theme:

"Soldier by Day, ________ by Night."

Obviously two images were taken, one for in front of the mirror and one for the reflection. Here are those two images side by side: 

Click for a larger view Click for a larger view

The first image I took was the "Photographer by Night" part on the left, as I wanted the beard and longer hair in the image juxtaposed with the clean-shaven and freshly cut appearance befitting a military uniform. It took a while to figure out how I wanted to pose, with the first idea being to face into the mirror. After reviewing the first few test shots, it became apparent that I would be shooting into my back and not be able to be doing any "action" with my camera. I had it hanging by my side with the sling-strap, which made for a pretty lifeless image in my opinion. Then it occurred to me to sit on the counter and actively look at the rear LCD screen on the camera as if I were actively photographing something. And so I picked my pose:

Click for a larger view

I was happy with the image except for the harsh shadow that the light from the umbrella resulted in behind me on the wall. I needed a way to add light to my back and the wall to correct for the shadow, so I made my first attempt with a small shoot-through umbrella. Unfortunately that didn't fix the issue as the light spill was everywhere and causing severe overexposure with the rest of the frame (Why did I expect anything different? It's a shoot-through you idiot). I then brought my 30x120 cm stripbox into the bathroom and pointed it at the gap between the wall and my rear. Voilà, it worked!

Click for a larger view

What made using the stripbox very challenging in this shoot was the lack of space that I had to work with. Here's the overall BTS (Behind the Scenes) picture showing the entire setup and the tight quarters. Hover over for the power of each flash:

Click for a larger viewFlash Values: Stripbox (1/64) and Reflective Umbrella (1/4) So I placed the stripbox on the floor and angled it up, but in such a manner that it would lean on the wall behind it and not fall/roll down, and yet also allow the flash to stand on the floor in the mount hole:

Click for a larger view

A quick note before I talk about the processing - the second shot (me in uniform). I took the "Photographer" image, told everyone in the house that the bathroom was off-limits and to under no circumstances go in it (in order to not touch/move anything), left the house to get a hair cut, and then shaved. Only to come back and kick the damn tripod leg after getting out of the shower. No, nothing fell or got damaged except for the framing and positioning of the camera/lens. I spent 30 minutes alone trying to realign everything, and after getting it as best I could, I shot the reflection image. The following image, with both photos overlaid in a transparent manner, clearly demonstrates how the two images weren't properly aligned. Focus on the lenses, camera, and the mirror.

Click for a larger view Because my attempt at Mitchell's project is more complex than his (nothing overlapped in his images - I have the reflections and even multiple mirrors overlapping simultaneously), I would have to spend far more time in Photoshop than I had originally planned, correcting for proper alignment. If you're like my wife, then you're probably asking why I didn't just reshoot it. Well because I was so determined to have the beard and longer hair in the first image as it would lose a lot of the impact without it I felt. And then if you're really like her, you would rhetorically ask why I didn't use the Auto-Align function in Photoshop while walking away. This is because the perspective was also out of alignment (the zoom was also changed slightly in addition to the position of the wide angle lens), resulting in a 100% manual effort.

After the hard work had been done I re-imported the combined image back into Lightroom to make final adjustments (i.e. the telephoto was too bright, as were my legs), cropping into an 8x10 aspect ratio, and quickly running the image through Topaz Clarity for the little extra pop I've come to love from that plug-in. And out came the final image:

Click for a larger viewPentax K-3, DA* 16-50, 22mm, 1/125s, F7.1, ISO 400

The last thing I wanted to talk about were some lessons learned aside from the above. First, this would not have been possible without the Pentax FluCard (great name, huh?). It's a white SD card that doubles as a memory card and a wifi chip+antenna. What's special about this specific WiFi capability is that in addition to sending pictures wirelessly to a device (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.), it streams a live feed of what you'd see on the back of the camera to your Wifi-connected device. Additionally, you can remotely adjust the camera's settings and "press" the shutter button. As you could see from the BTS image above of the entire set-up in the bathroom, the camera was pushed completely against the wall in a manner that would have been impossible to see the screen. And additionally, there wasn't enough room in that powder room for another person to press the shutter without blocking a flash, getting in the frame, and/or knocking stuff over. Because of this, my sister was able to direct and position me and fire the shutter from the other side of the closed bathroom door.

This is 21st century photography ladies and gentlemen, and with more and more cameras featuring these capabilities right out of the box (according to the latest rumors Pentax is finally offering them built into the bodies now - woohoo!), I encourage you to take advantage of their creative opportunities, and to combine them for even more unique photographs in ever challenging conditions.

Oh, and the other lesson I learned - make sure you clean the mirrors really well :D


Equipment Used

- Pentax K-3 on Tripod
- DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 Lens
- Cactus V6 Commander on Camera
- Cactus RF-60 Flash in Reflective Umbrella
- Cactus RF-60 Flash in 30x120 cm Stripbox
- Pentax FluCard and Cellphone

- Disgruntled Teenager

Software Used

- Adobe Lightroom 4.4
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 11
- Topaz Clarity



Thanks for reading, and if you want to make sure you don't miss another post like this, I encourage you to visit and like my Facebook page as I will post all my blog updates there: Alex Jansen Photography on Facebook.


Alex Jansen Photography

I'm absolutely floored - thank you so much for the kind words and appreciation for the effort that went into this project.

Sam Watkins(non-registered)
Firstly, I just want to say how refreshing it is to see someone in the area who actually does more with this craft than just point and shoot and retouch what they don't like in post. The fact that you could have easily removed the shadow you didn't like in post but didn't and counteracted it with lighting makes my heart happy. Secondly, I've been a fan of Devin's photo project for a while now and I'm really glad someone is trying to extend it's reach from just the west coast. This is fantastic and great and all kinds of brilliant.
Alex Jansen Photography

Thank you very much! I'm glad it exceeded your expectations, and that the teaser post caught your interest ;)

Tamia Nelson(non-registered)
Now that is nifty! I had wondered what you had in store after seeing the picture in your first blog post, but never dreamed it would be something as clever as this. Great job.
Alex Jansen Photography
Thank you, Eric! I very much appreciate the compliments. As youread, this is my first try at this, but I'm excited for other participants to open up different opportunities within the same theme :)

Thanks again for the visit,
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