The making of “Flags of Our Fathers”


"The Flags Of Our Fathers"

"The Flags Of Our Fathers"



















I’ve had several people ask how I created my photo “Flags of Our Fathers” so here is how it came about.

My vision was to re-create the famous photo by Joe Rosenthal “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, but make it with my own artistic interpretation.  In brainstorming ideas for the shoot the following thoughts came to mind: I wanted a red/white/blue color scheme, I wanted the shot to be stylistically exactly like the original,  and I wanted to use my children to depict the future of America. 

Original Concept Sketch

Original Concept Sketch




















My original idea was to shoot with the sun high and shift the blue sky to red using white balance(shoot at very high K).  I wanted the children exposed somewhat (not completely silhouette) and I wanted them wearing blue/white stripes to tie the colors together.  I knew that I would have to use strobes to expose the children, so I began planning how I would accomplish that with the camera.   As you photographers know cameras have a maximum shutter speed that can be used with flash (called flash sync speed) and my Canon 50D is 1/250s.  If you shoot faster than that your picture will start getting black bands because the flash burst is out of sync with the shutter curtains.  With the sun high, ISO 100 and f11 I would need higher shutter speeds.  There are two ways to solve this problem.  The first method is to use FP (high shutter syc) flash mode and the second is to turn your camera upside down with strobes and either sacrifice 1/2 of the frame or let ambient light expose it.  I had to use the second method because I don’t have a way to fire my speedlight off camera.  In order to use the “turn your camera upside down”  method you have to know what shutter speed your camera can get up to and still expose 1/2 of the frame as well as which half of the frame will expose with the flash.  Mine will go up to 1/400.  The reason I shoot with my camera upside down is because the way the curtain opens the camera ends up exposing the top 1/2 of the frame.  The end result is that the sky will expose properly (top 1/2 of frame) because sufficient ambient light is available and the bottom 1/2 exposes properly because the flash hits the subject (with camera upside down).

The next problem I had to overcome was getting a platform up high so I could simplify the composition and not have distractions.  I ended up building a platform on top of my old red pickup truck so that the kids could stand on it.  I placed black velvet over the truck to absorb light and put rocks and sticks on top of the whole thing so it would look more like the original.

Snapshot of Setup










Another problem to overcome was making sure the flag pole was long enough and that the kids could do the pose while up on the truck.  We practiced in the yard and I made a light flag “pole” out of trim from the house (to my wife’s displeasure).  The flag was attached to a small pole which I clamped to the longer trim peace so I could adjust the height to whatever I needed “on the fly”.  Practice!I figured I could just clone out the clamps in the final composition.

This photo is with the sun higher in the sky with the “upside down” method at 1/400 f11 iso 100.  You

can see that the flash exposed the kids with some light and the sky is fairly well exposed (but the

stars on the flag didn’t get any flash because it was too high in the frame).  You can also see the

difficulty I had getting all five kids showing!  With this shot I had them wear red/white shirts and was going to leave the sky blue.
















I was not happy with the lighting when the sun was high so I waited for the sun to get lower and decided that a “blue to red” gradient would be nice.  IMississippi River Sunset shot a tree at sunset on the Mississippi River a few weeks earlier and I knew the color scheme would work well for this shot.

This version is 2 hours later and I had the kids switch to blue/white shirts to create contrast with the red sunset.  The sun had almost gone completely down so I knew I could get some really rich saturated reds and blues in the sky and no longer had to worry about my flash sync speed.  The exposure was now F9, 1/200 ISO 100 with two strobes.  This was very close to what I wanted, but I was not pleased with the harsh shadows (noticed on Morgan’s arm).  The strobe to the right was pointed at the flag and the strobe on the left to the kids.Almost There














The final version ended up being almost the exact same as the one above, but I switched off the flash on the left pointing at the kids.  I wanted a version where the kids where in silluette but the flag was exposed with the flash.

Editing was pretty simple, I opened the RAW file and exposed the photo with a “proper” white balance (5100K tint + 10) which resulted in a base version to start with.

"Cool" exposure

"Warm" WB of same RAW exposure

I then opened the same RAW photo again and pushed the white balance way up to 18000K and tint to + 70 and opened it in photosop.
I copied the “hot” version as a layer on top of the “cold” version (Step 1), added a black mask (2), set foreground color to black and background to white and filled the mask with a gradient from top to bottom (3).  The effect was to gradually reveal the “hot” layer.





















I used a square crop and simply cropped out the strobe on the left.  I then did some minor cleanup (brush, sensor dust, clamps, etc) sharpened,  and applied curves adjustments to “pop” the colors.  I also used the mask on the “warm” version to protect the colors of the flag.

"The Flags Of Our Fathers"

"The Flags Of Our Fathers"

You can purchase this print at

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