Special Friday Guest Post: How HDR Saved RC’s Star Wars Celebration

Tie Interceptor: Full Size Replica
Click on the picture to see it bigger, or see it in Flickr

Hey everyone, RC here. I was chatting with Scott a couple of days ago about my experiences at the Star Wars Celebration that just happened in Orlando, FL – and he thought it a good idea to share them here on the blog. I was happy to oblige! [NOTE: RC is being kind here. I absolutely loved his images, and the story behind them, and I begged him to do a post about it—Scott].

I walked into this opportunity not really being a Star Wars fan. I’d seen the second half of the movies as a kid, but never really got around to watching the three prequels. For the most part, I don’t watch a lot of movies, so it wasn’t something that I felt I was missing out on.

Why I Went
elvis-1What attracted me to go to this convention was passion. I’m a passionate person by nature – you kinda have to be to work here. Because of that, I find myself attached to people who are really into being passionate about things. I don’t follow sports, but i’ve always wanted to be friends with one of those superfans who paint themselves with the letter D and hang out by a stadium.

I mean, i’m the guy who drove by myself a ton of hours to go to the “RC Cola Moonpie Festival”. I love talking to people about the things that they love talking about. The sparkle in a person’s eye is just awesome- I guess it’s why I enjoy environmental portraiture as much as I do. To be able to go to a place where people get dressed up to pay tribute to something that they love was just something that I couldn’t pass up.

I packed a bunch of lights in my car and headed out to the convention. I was prepared for anything – from small lights to a pack and head scenario. More often than not, i’m usually the guy that’s packing 6 strobes so this isn’t entirely out of character. It’s the McNally in me. Last minute – I threw my tripod in the car, not really knowing why.

Check out the rest of the story by clicking on the link below…

The Convention Problem

I walked around the convention and (thanks to my buddy Rob who VAL’ed and NAPP Member Don) had lighting assistance to make some portraits. Westcott 28” Apollo in hand, we tried our best to make portraits. The problem wasn’t really the lights, per se.. but more the concentration of the location and the mood. This Expo hall was packed with people and vendors, and in the middle of it, had huge dioramas made by a Belgian Star Wars Prop group of fans. The sets were amazing, but right in the middle of all of the other vendors. Try to get a shot of Jabba with some Leias – you were guaranteed to get some pipe and drape in the background, or another company logo in the shot. I definitely didn’t want that kind of shot, and i’m sure that the person who I bothered to take a picture of wouldn’t want that either.


Feeling dejected, I walked to the corner of the expo hall – muttering how I drove all the way out there for the shoot to be a bust, when I saw a full scale replica of a Tie Interceptor (I guess they’re different from Tie Fighters. Did you know that Tie was actually TIE: Twin Ion Engine.. yeah, neither did I) with some Storm Troopers posing for prints. That was my “Moment It Clicked”

The HDR Solution
Here I was trying to shoehorn flash photography in a badly lit, tight space where people who were passionate about this stuff just wanted to feel like they were a ‘part’ of the scene.. like they actually stepped ‘into’ that role. In a flash, I darted out of the convention with my rolling bag and lights and came back with the Tripod. HDR would do this moment justice.

I knew that in order to do this I would need access to the locations. For that, I grabbed my iPad, which had a library of my recent HDR work. I went back into the hall and I talked to one of the propmasters there. I explained what I wanted to do and I showed them what I -could- do with it. Bam! Whenever I walked into the scene, they roped off people and gave me the 40 seconds or so I needed to make the image.


In the process of making the image, I was fortunate enough to briefly meet Seth Green, and Steve Sansweet – Ambassador of fan relations for Lucasfilm, and I made some HDR portraits for them. I exchanged email addresses and went home to process some images and send back to them. Much to my surprise, they emailed me back with a full conference pass to come back the second day and do some more shooting!

I’m Invited Back
The second day, I brought the iPad with what I did the day before, and everywhere I went I got willing fans to pose in the scenes. I made the shots as fast as I could and exchanged cards with the willing attendees to get them the images I made for them.

(Click on the image to see a bigger version or see it on Flickr)

I was even able to go back to the huge Tie Interceptor replica and make a portrait with Melanie. Her and her father made this Tie Interceptor and she was very proud of her work. Two speedlights in the cockpit (backlight and dashboard left w/ gel) and a composite with an HDR of the scene. So on top of it all, I got to use lights as I wanted it, and I was able to get cool photography tales along the way.

The Emperor
The Emperor (click on the picture to see bigger.. or see it in Flickr)

HDR as a Purpose
I wanted everyone to feel like they were ‘in’ the movie and for that HDR solved the toning and lighting problems that I dont think could’ve been solved considering the time/location/lights that were available. I see HDR as one of those tools that you can learn how to do and put in your bag of tricks as a photographer – to pull out when you want to solve a specific scenario, or when you’re looking to have some experimental fun, but in this case I went to it for a very specific purpose.

I took a moment from this person’s time to sit on a speeder to try to make a portrait with a light. Chances are, that person would be happy to get a picture back of that moment and smile at it, but it wouldn’t bring out the passion that they had about making their costume in the first place.

Biker Scout
This picture would. (Click on the picture to see it bigger. Or See it in Flickr)

Our Charge as Photographers
I put together a slideshow of some of the images from that day so you guys can check them out.

We’re charged with making the best portraits that we can when we enter in an agreement with our subjects. If all we do is just strive to push the button, and never really see making the picture as a partnership, we’re just collecting baseball cards. To that end, i think we owe it to ourselves to become as aware as we can of as many techniques as possible so we can make the best picture possible. It serves the person, and ultimately can serve us as well.

I was able to make some cool connections with people, fill my photographic bucket, and make some fans happy getting them images they never thought they’d get. Commercially, I have three of these images that i’m selling as limited edition prints (only printing 15 of each image, period) and 5 are already spoken for – so its turned out positive even in that regard.

If you’re interested in this kind of processing, Matt has got a cool class on Kelby Training taking you through the paces on making HDR prints. He and I have tag teamed Photoshop World with an HDR precon sharing how he uses HDR, as well as how I use it for my type of images. Make sure you check it out.

A big thanks to Steve Sansweet at Lucasfilm, Michael Wistock, Seth Green for the Portrait, Rob and David Rogers for VAL work, the Belgian Prop Crew for their unbridled passion and access, and to all of the people who stepped in front of the lens. I’ve even gone back home and watched the first 3 movies.. so now I can say i’m a fan!

Finally, I want to thank Scott for giving me a chance to tell my tale here, and for giving me a platform to follow all of my passions. I greatly appreciate that.

Should you want to follow more of my ramblings, feel free to check out my own personal website, or follow me on twitter.

Looks like even in Star Wars, you cant seem to shake the Tripod Police :)
Star Wars Tripod Police


  1. Loved your article. It made me want to be more passionate about life in general. Loved the photos. They really captured the spirit of Star Wars.

  2. Whoaa ! This is why you’re a professional photographer and we’re not! The use of HDR here is just incredible, every single shot is a piece of magic, plus it really feels Star Wars. Very nice job.

  3. RC,

    Thank you for this great story and these amazing shots!!!! I am a big Star Wars fan and I would have loved to be there and get my picture :)
    Great job for the use of HDR, this is probably one of the best fit for it I have seen!
    May the Force be with you!

  4. What a cool event and an awesome way to tackle a problem. These shots turned out awesome and I’m glad you shared them. If I didn’t think my girlfriend would kill me, I’d buy a print of that Tie Interceptor. :)

  5. Holy cow, RC! The TIE Interceptor shot is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!! I also liked the one in the slideshow of all the different colored Mandalorians (Boba/Jango Fett)!

  6. Wow RC… I love your images! Sci-fi and HDR go together so well. Beautifully done. My favorite is the one with the speederbike (maybe because I have fond memories of ‘Return of the Jedi’).

  7. RC,
    Awesome shots! My good friend Clark Mitchel, Illustrator Extroidinaire and an official Star Wars artist, was there as well. The event is all about passion and I can see how a guy like you would fit right in. My buddy Clark is full of passion too and loves these events.
    Your images are wonderful. Great job dude!

  8. I love how someone shared how HDR made the moment work, not as a means to use a technique (which in and of itself isnt bad). Thanks for sharing how it pulls everything together.

    I wish Kelbys blog wouldnt soften images so badly. Anytime you click on an image and see it in flickr or where ever else its posted, you realize theres some severe softening happening.

  9. Absolutely amazing! I’m not a huge fan of the prequels but I’ve had the others memorized since a young age. I love the HDR idea for something like this. Not only that, but I love the passion that went into doing this. Beautiful!

  10. Wow, RC, I think this is the best use of HDR I have ever seen. Seriously. I have to admit to being an HDR “hater” in the past, but these photos are a clear demonstration that, in the right hands, HDR can be an effective tool. Thanks for opening my eyes to the possibilities.

  11. So that’s how you got the access to make those shots without a bunch of elbows in the way. iPad to the rescue, again!

    Seriously, very nice work on all of these images. More importantly, very nice work on making it happen. There were plenty of us who went out there to take pictures, but you came home with art.

  12. Absolutely love these. I really love your comments about passion too. It is great to be around people that are passionate about things, and then for you to be able to capture their passion in a whole new way for them.

  13. Absolutely fantastic photos, RC. These are some of the best HDR photos I have ever seen. I especially liked the Millenium Falcon Interior & the Biker Scout photos.

  14. RC, great shots. But, had you not had the, “I’m RC and I’m important. I work for NAPP. I know Scott Kelby. I’m a lecturer at Photoshop World” card, you couldn’t have gotten these images. Anyone else with a camera would have told no. I hope you realize that.

    1. I was waiting for someone to come in and spoil the party.

      Mikey – I hope you realize that:

      1. I went to the media office to ask for a media pass. Got turned down. This is AFTER giving them my business card – telling them I wrote for 2 magazines, AND threw a Scott Kelby Name in it.

      2. I PAID for a one day ticket to get in to do some stuff, and despite my ‘popularity’ , -one- person recognized me the entire conference.

      3. Explaining what I did to a Belgian Prop crew took the better part of 20 minutes.. AFTER the show.. After we’d taken the images.. and none of them had any idea as to who Scott Kelby was.

      4. I’m sure that the Lucasfilm ppl prob know who Scott is.. but the people that were there didnt. The only reason that I think I got the Seth shots was that the entourage that was with him all carried Point and Shoot cameras.. at about 10 feet out.. with popup flash.

      5. As I was taking the pictures inside of Seth, I tried to take other pictures of the Tie fighter, and asked one of his ‘group’ to move.

      His response? “Soon as we get Seth out of here.. I don’t care -what- you do”

      Yeah.. that’s total VIP Treatment right there.

      Come to think of it.. I remember exactly what the Media person said when I handed them my card.

      “Yeah… we dont make it a habit of just handing out media passes to anyone. Here’s this folder with media information and in it is a card with our media contact number. Give him a call and he’ll make sure you get images for your ‘thing’ . ”

      Mikey – I REALLY was going to let it slide.. but I figured you needed to at least learn ‘one’ thing:

      As you get more ‘important’ (your words, not mine), you would be SHOCKED as to how much more you need to hustle to prove yourself. The ONLY thing that really opened a door here was the fact that I had an ipad with my images.. giving me enough cred to have them give me a shot.


      1. LOL way to put it on him RC – in my experience people who leave comments like that are trying to give THEMSELVES an excuse NOT to perform. It’s easier to sit back and attack others than it is to get off the couch and try to go make an image.

      2. RC…I thought what you made clear in your original post was the great use you made of your iPad to show folks in real time what your photography was about. It was your work that opened those doors, not who you were or who you knew.

        I thought it was a great demonstration of making technology work for you. Well done and your resulting photos are amazing!

      3. Nice shots RC. I think this is a good lesson for us all. You had an idea and made it happen, implying that you had some sort of VIP influence is ridiculous.

      4. Like I’ve said on more than one occasion, if you want to slam somebody that’s ok, but put your name so everyone knows who you are. Hey, slamming RC is one thing, slamming Star Wars…now your pissing me off!

      5. I was with RC that first day and I can certainly attest to the fact that RC had to purchase a full day pass in order to get some of these images…and the cost of that pass was not cheap either!

        I met up with him a few hours after he got there so I didn’t buy a pass as the expo hall was only open for about another hour or so, so we hung out mostly outside the Expo Hall since I wasn’t allowed in. I can also tell you that RC was bummed that first day.

        As we were about to walk out to the parking lot, RC stopped and asked me to wait for him while he went back into the Expo Hall (with tripod in hand) right before they closed, for a last ditch effort to get some images he might be happy with.

        As I waited for him I made sure to keep my hand on my phone in case he called (noise made it hard to hear my phone). Unfortunately, when I grabbed my phone I must have somehow turned off the ringer and vibration, as about 15-20 minutes later RC came back and told me “Dude! I was trying to call you! I think I got some awesome shots with Seth Green in a Tie Fighter!” Turns out he was right. The rest is, as they say, history.

        At no time during that first day I was with RC, did I see any preferential treatment. He was just another guy with a camera taking pictures (albeit w/ an assistant carrying around a 28″ Westcott Apollo on a monopod – lol). His persistence in trying to get some images he was happy with and his portfolio on his iPad was what eventually led to (unexpectedly) getting a pass to come back the next day.

        Glad it all worked out for you RC. I wished I had been able to join you on the subsequent day(s). We still need to work on that Storm Trooper idea you had – lol!

  15. Okay, RC, my eyes are getting all watery over the “we’re just collecting baseball cards” quote. Of course you went to the RC Cola Moonpie Festival. Dude, they named it after you! ;-)

    Seriously, this is a great post and a strong testimonial for always carrying your tripod and your iPad.

    I *adore* that last photo.

  16. Great post, RC. What an adventure, and really cool shots. Wish I had been there — with camera and tripod, of course. The video was great. I see you got captured in the end. Finally, please pardon the inevitable techie question: Which camera, what ISO, how many shots, and what was the exposure interval? Oh yeah, and did you use Photomatix or CS5?

  17. Question.. since you use multiple frames to create an HDR … how is it that the people are not blurry.. I would think they wouldn’t be able to maintain the same position frame after frame.. correct?

  18. RC – this is a really fun post and the images are great. Thanks for a completely different perspective on HDR. What did you use for post – CS5, Photomatix, NIK?
    I loved your reply to Mikey – so much of life is showing up and then trying every technique or tool that you have to get what you want. Sometimes you win, sometimes the dragon wins. Great job – I like the last one best!

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Nik Software Announces HDR Efex Pro

Next Post

Going to Photoshop World? Here’s a Video To Get You Rev’d Up For The Show