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The Freedom Rock

It’s interesting how little connections we make can end up coming back to us down the road. Such is the case with myself and Maria Sorensen, who was a classmate of mine at Iowa State University and now runs Sorensen Studios with her husband Bubba – the muralist behind The Freedom Rock. I was excited when Maria and Bubba contacted me to create some imagery to promote The Freedom Rock Tour – their quest to paint a unique Freedom Rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Here’s a portrait of Bubba, Maria and their daughter Indie:

Family portrait of Maria, Bubba and Indie Sorensen in front of The Freedom Rock 2014 in Greenfield, Iowa.

The main concept for our shoot was capturing an epic photograph showing a veteran of each military branch with The Freedom Rock to give visual context to its purpose. I should note there was originally a female officer lined up for the shoot that fell through last minute, but the Sorensen’s were able to fine another member from that branch to step in. Here’s how the main image turned out:

A portrait of Bubba Sorensen

Creating the desired “epicness” for this image was quite a challenge. I brought 5 lights to the shoot and ended up using them all! I knew I wanted to expose for the sunset in the sky to create drama, which required turning around and shooting the rock from the opposite direction as the family portrait above. I was able to position myself so the sun was hidden behind the veterans from my camera’s point of view (which prevented distracting lens flare from obstructing the image). Once the composition was established and the sky was properly exposed everything in the foreground was under–exposed and essentially black. The next step was painting light onto the rock and the subjects using flashes. I started by cross–lighting the rock from two angles that would accentuate its shape and texture. Then I lit my subjects with two lights from the front to make sure each gentleman had good light on his face. Lastly a flash was placed behind the subjects to accentuate the directional light already provided by the sun and to add more drama to the shadows coming off the feet (which were getting lost in the wash of light coming off the front lights). Here’s a diagram of the setup:

Photoshoot BTS lighting diagram of Dan McClanahan

Getting to talk to these guys was a moving experience and I was able to make individual portraits of the servicemen after getting the main image. One in particular that stands out to me is the following image of Viet Nam Vet John Porter. Ashes and bone fragments of John’s fallen brothers from Viet Nam are actually painted into the rock on the helicopter you see below. The loyalty and bond that John described when recollecting his fellow soldiers left me feeling incredibly thankful for the Armed Forces and the sacrifices they’ve made to ensure the freedom I so often take for granted.


We finished the evening by making a few images of Bubba at work. Getting to hang out with him was inspiring. It’s exciting to see young people staying in Iowa and doing great things!



Next time you have a drive on Interstate 80 I encourage you to stop and check out the rock for yourself!


  • Lori K - August 21, 2014 - 8:23 am

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

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