I absolutely love to photograph veterans. It is a little thing I can do to pay back the tremendous debt we owe. This year’s Veterans Day profile was written by Catherine Godbey and it is excellent. Dempsey McLemore is a World War II veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division and Mr. McLemore jumped into Normandy on D-Day. That alone sets him apart as an exceptional man in my book. With that in mind, I wanted to do a portrait of him that would honor what he did.
I did not know McLemore in advance so I had no idea if he would be mobile or if he would be in a bed unable to get up. You just never know. I arrived at his home to find him in a wheelchair. I knew he had been a paratrooper and I really wanted to do something with the sky in the photo. It was an overcast day and it was breezy and cool. Not a great combination for getting an elderly man out of doors and the wheelchair complicated the matter.
I asked and Mr. McLemore was willing to give it a try. There was a small knoll beside his house where I could get him in a slightly elevated position. By laying on the ground to shoot, I could get a semi-low angle shot and give me plenty of sky in the frame. I used a Lumedyne strobe in a small softbox to light the photo. I had a nice portrait of a really excellent man.
Now you get to hear the rest of the story. I had been daydreaming of some way or other to put a flag in the photo, preferably a tattered flag that looked like it had been to war. Well, I didn’t have one of those handy and didn’t know where to find one. Now for the funny part. I had to pee really bad and I just couldn’t wait to get to Mr. McLemore’s house so I found a place where there were some bushes near the road that would give me privacy. When I got out of the car, lo and behold, lying in the dirt by the side of the road was a small, tattered, dirty American flag. I smiled, said thank you to the Lord and tucked the little flag in my trunk.
I had an ace in the hole now so after photographing McLemore I used the same lighting setup to shoot the little flag. I combined the flag into the sky using Photoshop, desaturated the layer and lowered the transparency then used a hi-pass filter to make it look a little grittier. I tried the three variations you see here and I could not have been more happy with the outcome.
Thank you Mr. McLemore and all your brothers and sister who have served not only our nation, but also the cause of freedom around the world.