Tom Calton is a professional photographer and videographer based in the UK. With 12 years of experience, his clients are vast and varied, including Fujifilm, Superdry and the NHS. Tom teaches via his online photography school, cameracourses.co.uk.
The benefit of being a portrait photographer is that you’re never short of subjects. That is, if you’re willing to find them and make it happen. Some may simply dismiss portraiture as the act of capturing one’s appearance – look at the camera, a quick snap and off you go.
But I’d argue that it’s much more than that. Everyone you know has their own story to tell, whether it’s an interesting hobby, a troubled past or even an unusual and unexpected job title. Prying the lid and revealing the story hidden inside through one or a series of still images is what really excites me about the medium.
This photo in particular was the result of a chance conversation I had with a friend of mine (Robynne) where she revealed that she had recently started skydiving and was working towards being able to dive solo, which requires passing a specific program and having a set amount of tandem jumps.
She showed me photos of her in full skydiving kit. The sight of her soft and feminine features inside the almost astronaut-like suit, I thought, made for an interesting shot. So I asked her whether she’d be willing to pose for a few photos one evening just for fun, to which she kindly agreed.
As luck would have it, she also said that we could get access to one of the plane hangers at the local airstrip where she jumps from – the perfect backdrop.
On the day of the shoot we really lucked out as one of the planes was in the hanger for scheduled maintenance (you can see in the photo that the innards of the plane’s wing section are still exposed), meaning that we could shoot in and around the plane itself.
The hanger was quite gloomy, the only available light created by a select amount of moss-coated skylights and a couple of flickering fluorescent tube lights hanging from the ceiling. None were of much use, but this didn’t matter too much anyway as my plan was to use off-camera flash to light Robynne and help separate her from the background.
I started by positioning Robynne against the plane, with one medium octabox positioned to the camera’s left and slightly above her. I wanted the light to mimic that of the skylights so that the result didn’t appear too artificial.
With a 35mm lens on my Canon 5D Mk III, I took the photo from a crouched position so I could fit more of the plane into the shot, and also to give it and Robynne dominance over the audience.
Although this photo was taken a few years ago now, I still find myself coming back to it. I think it serves as a reminder for me that often the most interesting shots are created through simple storytelling.