Flying the flag for Birmingham International Airport.


Thursday 21st February 2013


On a bitterly cold winter’s day, with a freezing easterly wind blowing, I was commissioned to take a “contextual portrait” of Paul Kehoe – the CEO of Birmingham International Airport.

With a job at Jaguar Landrover out of the way prior to my appointment at Birmingham International Airport, I was off to a flying start on a busy day.

Mr. Kehoe has spent the majority of his career in aviation. Starting as an RAF air traffic controller, he then moved into domestic flights, working at Belfast, Luton and Bristol airports. He joined Birmingham in October 2008 as its CEO, and has overseen the biggest transformation in its history. Mr. Kehoe’s efforts earned him an honourary doctorate in business from Birmingham City University, and according to his online profile, he’s feeling bullish about the future of the airport.

It was in this specific context that Mr. Kehoe was being photographed to illustrate an article about his high flying career path with The Sunday Times Appointments section.

Upon arrival at the airport I met up with Jo Lloyd, Head of Brand at Birmingham Airport, who was there to help and ensure everything went to plan. Undertaking the shoot involved going ‘air side’, which – similar to when we all fly – involves a passport check, all my kit to be passed through an x-ray machine and security checks to myself prior to getting airside.

Fortunately this didn’t involve queuing up with those who were actually flying, but passing through a separate channel where all the cabin crew, baggage handlers, and flight side personnel pass.

With all the security passes & checks complete, (which took a lot of time as all my kit had to be checked and even my boots and belt were ceremoniously inspected!), I was airside and en route across the tarmac in a 4×4 to set up my lights on an aircraft stand that we’d be using as the shoot’s location. This is where traveling light really helps – with tonnes of kit to carry, the whole requirement to set up can take a lot of time. With minimal kit, setting up is far easier and thus quicker … ensuring that those escorting you are not left standing around, something I really try to consider – especially on such a cold day!  Knowing what kit to carry / use comes from experience alone and in being able to visually think through the shoot ahead of actually being out on location.


Once on stand we had to be careful of aircraft movements

Once on stand we had to be careful of aircraft movements


Using my minimal kit I set up just two light stands, each with a Canon Speedlite mounted in a hotshoe on top. A radio transmitter on the camera’s own hotshoe fired the respective speedlites, which were plugged in to radio receivers. I needed to get an aeroplane in the picture to give a feel of airport life – the option of Mr. Kehoe just stood outside the terminal building wasn’t really going to make a picture in context of the article. What’s more, The Sunday Times is the leading Sunday newspaper in the UK, and images shot for the publication have to be extremely professional and well put together. A basic and boring portrait was never an option! Knowing where to position just two lights, to avoid creating shadows on a subject, comes with experience.


On stand, working with just two lights. There positioning is key to ensure shadows are NOT cast

On stand, working with just two lights. The positioning of the flashes is key to ensure that shadows are NOT created by either of the lights when fired


Once set up, Jo stood in so that I could get a couple of test shots fired. A further tweak was required to each of the light’s flash output and their positions – one located as a main light and the other as a back light – and I was ready to go, so we radioed for Mr. Kehoe to come and join us.


Jo stands in, allowing me to see how the light is being cast on the subject with a few test shots

A freezing Jo stands in, allowing me to see how the light is being cast on the subject with a few test shots


Birmingham is a busy airport, so we watched the passing planes come and go as passengers looked on as we tried to keep warm in a blustery east wind.

It wasn’t long before Mr. Kehoe  arrived – greeting us with a firm handshake and commenting on the “warm weather” with a hint of irony in his voice. A further test shot was required to add more power to the light’s flash output – he was wearing a dark suit which absorbed some of the added flash whereas Jo was wearing a reflective hi-vis gilet, which by its nature reflected more light.


With Mr. Kehoe in place a further test shot was taken, before the shoot formally began

With Mr. Kehoe in place a further test shot was taken, before the shoot formally began


Adjustments complete, Mr. Kehoe was brave enough to remove his overcoat and stand in his suit for the images as I worked as fast as I could to get the right angle, light and image. 15 minutes passed and I was all done. A moody sky developing behind Mr. Kehoe helped with the final picture’s overall feel.


The completed shot

The completed shot


We all departed together in Mr. Kehoe’s warm car back to the terminal.

Jo helped me sign out of all the required security and I was back on the road heading home within minutes.

Once back in the office, I ran the entire shoot through PhotoMechanic to edit, caption, rename and resave my final edit of pictures. These were then individually adjusted in Photoshop to ensure that the colour balance was right, shadow & highlight details were adjusted correctly, the brightness & contrast were right and that the images were pin sharp.

Saved as high resolution JPEGS, the completed images were sent to the desk via secure FTP link, easily meeting the requested press deadline.

Although bitterly cold, it was a really enjoyable job. My thanks go to Jo and Mr. Kehoe at Birmingham International Airport for being so friendly and accommodating with the idea of a picture beside a plane (especially in such bitterly cold conditions) and to The Sunday Times for the shift that flew past with ease!