Normally I wouldn’t put a ridiculous photo manipulation like this in my professional portfolio, but it turned out to get a lot more attention than expected. It even accidentally made me win a contest for a free pack of underwear! Obviously, winning underwear is the greatest sign of success, so now I feel compelled to talk about this.
I’ve titled this photo manipulation “Patriotic Underwear Guy on Giant Bald Eagle,” but for brevity I’ll refer to it as just “Guy on Eagle” from now on in this article. I’ve made two versions of Guy on Eagle, and the second (and I think much improved) version is the one displayed above.
There are a few weird things here that need explanation, so first let me describe the context behind this composition.
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence hit the southeastern coast of the United States. In the midst of the storm, a Reuters photographer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina caught on camera something unexpected: an almost-naked man with long hair, standing defiantly in the middle of a street, gripping an American flag that was flowing in the constant gusts of wind. This daredevil’s name is Lane Pittman. (He had done a similar stunt during Hurricane Matthew in the previous year, too.)
On the social media platform Reddit, there’s a subreddit (section) called PhotoshopBattles where photographs are posted for graphic artists to manipulate in funny or weird ways. One day on PhotoshopBattles, I noticed a recent post for that photo of Lane in the hurricane. I had nothing else to do at that time, so that’s when I started making Guy on Eagle.
Creating the Composition
I made both versions of Guy on Eagle using the image-editing software Adobe Photoshop.
The original photo of Lane had a patriotic mood to it, so I decided to amplify the Americanness by making flag-wielding Lane surf on a giant bald eagle. The winds of the hurricane in the original photo made his long hair and the flag he was holding look like they were flowing in the breeze as he rode upon a jumbo bird.
In the first version of Guy on Eagle, the image of the bald eagle (just a normal-sized one) came from a public domain photo I found on Wikimedia Commons.
For extra cheesiness, I also put in the sun with a fake lens flare.
Submitting to PhotoshopBattles
Guy on Eagle was my first submission to the PhotoshopBattles subreddit. When I was creating it, I actually wasn’t expecting it to get so popular, so I didn’t put much time and effort into it, especially since it was only meant as a stupid joke.
I was also aware that Reddit’s voting system tends to favor people who post early in a thread as long as the quality isn’t too terrible. So, I had to hurry to make this photo manipulation if I wanted it to get noticed on Reddit. (I think I wasn’t early enough anyway.)
For these reasons, the first version of Guy on Eagle is a little sloppy by my standards, and I don’t think it represents the best potential of my graphic design skills. That’s why I remade it later.
Nonetheless, a lot of people were greatly entertained by the first version, which was why I was motivated to make an even better second version. Guy on Eagle (or “‘CHARGE!’” as I had originally labeled it in the Reddit thread) turned out to be one of the top-voted submissions in the thread. On the picture-sharing website Imgur, where the image itself is hosted for Reddit, it accumulated more than 14,000 views.
UFM's Photo Contest
In both the original hurricane photo and most of the submitted photo manipulations on Reddit, Lane Pittman was wearing blue briefs that were visibly branded by UFM (Underwear For Men). Due to the publicity of the Reddit thread that accumulated over 34,000 total up-votes featuring a person who happened to be wearing UFM apparel, it apparently got the interest of marketers at UFM.
On UFM’s Facebook page, they started a three-round contest that took the 10 highest-rated compositions from the PhotoshopBattles thread—including mine (referred to as “Charge” in the contest)—and let their Facebook followers vote on their favorites. The finalists in one round would advance to the next round as the rest got eliminated.
Ultimately, people voted for my composition through all three rounds, and UFM declared me the winner of the contest! For the prize, UFM offered to send me a pack of underwear in my size worth $50 in value.
People on Reddit and on Facebook left comments about Guy on Eagle, including:
- “This one is my favorite. I don’t know why, but it just is. Good work!”
- “It has the most America, I feel it too my dude”
- “I think what really takes it to the next level is the perfectly placed lens flare.”
- “It’s hilarious!”
- “Did he use the eagle to ride all the way to Mordor?”
- “ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!!!!!!”
Despite the success of the original version of Guy on Eagle, I personally felt I could do it better, so I did. Unlike the old version that was rushed, the new version was created at my own pace, and so I was able to make it the way that I really wanted it to be.
Of course, now the PhotoshopBattles thread has already passed its peak and the UFM contest has already ended, so my new version probably won’t get as much attention… So, please feel free to share this image wherever you want!
The new version uses some different assets:
- The bald eagle comes from a photo taken by Becky Matsubara via Flickr.
- The sky background comes from a picture provided by Pixabay.
- The glaring sun comes from a Photoshop brush set provided by Brusheezy.
If you have photos you’d like me to manipulate, whether the purpose is serious or silly, let me know!
To read about other projects I worked on involving photographic manipulation, see: