My friends know that I am not a gear junkie. I’ll be the first to admit I do own more photography equipment than most recreational shooters and I do try to only purchase equipment I know that I’ll use. I’ve blogged in the past that it’s not your equipment that is preventing you from getting the shot, it’s really you. There have been many conversations between me and a couple of friends about that guy who buys every new and improved photography thing assuming it will take his work to the next level. Now that I have again made my point that it’s not about the gear….It’s time for me to back pedal a bit on that statement.
Since my 7D comes with the ability to shoot video I felt an inner responsibility to get out and dabble. My plan was to head over to the local BMX track, gather some footage and put together a intro/promo piece for their website. I’ve been shooting stills at the track for years and figured it’d be cool to have some movement on the site so people could get a feel for the place. Knowing a tad about video I knew I’d need my tripod to get some stable shots. So with camera and tripod in hand I headed out to the track.
I thought a good opening shot would be the large parks and rec sign that leads you into the track. I got out my tripod and mounted the camera. Set my focus and BAM…it hit me…It WAS about the gear. My tripod is a pile of crud. Sure it was one step above the free one you get with your video camera purchase at Costco. And yes it served me well for some stop motion work. And ok..yes it does great as a light stand on uneven terrain. So maybe I’m being a bit harsh calling it crud?…But for video it was about as good as using a 2×4. I had read some info on a website where a guy said you HAD to have a fluid head tripod. And I scoffed…”gear junkie”…I don’t “have to have” anything but my camera and trusty just above bottom tripod. My attempts at panning were laughable and the tripod has a bad case of lock creep. Meaning I’d toss the camera on and the position locks would start to move.
I did end up getting some shots and tossing together my first video. I even felt it was good enough to post on the bmx site. I’ll still stand by the statement that you don’t have to be a gear junkie…..but if you are going to shoot video, do get yourself a nice fluid head tripod. Even better borrow one from a gear junkie friend of yours. He is probably busy eying the next camera body that shoots 3D.Read More/Leave Comment
Last week a few of us had agreed on meeting for a mountain bike photo shoot. It was going to be two photographers and two riders. Todd and I (the two photogs)had arrived earlier than the two riders and we spent our time eyeing a few different locations that we wanted to shoot. We had unpacked our gear, set up the lights and waited for our first rider Troy to get his gear on. An interesting twist on this shoot was that Troy didn’t have a good feeling about the first two locations we had picked out to shoot. In certain situations this could be a problem. The photographer and the talent not being able to agree….I did have a plan B.
One of the benefits of doing some homework on your subject is being able to have a backup plan. In this case I needed to know enough about mountain biking to understand what the other options were. I knew there were less extreme riding options for the rider that would still create a compelling set of photos. Since I have many years of riding under my belt I had the advantage in this case. I would use the same techniques if it were another sport. Spending time studying the sport/subject, looking at other photographers work, going to other events and spending time with your subject. These are all great ways to get the knowledge needed for a back up plan.
Sounds like very simple advice…but it’s often overlooked.Read More/Leave Comment
While I call myself an action photographer I still find joy in shooting many other subjects. Our family recently spent the week in Mammoth California and I had the opportunity to shoot one of those other subjects. Since this is a vacation post I’ll keep it short. Shot this one while hiking above Lake George.
As always click the image for a larger view.
While there are many downsides to living in Southern California, there are also a few upsides too. One major advantage is our weather. I can rarely use poor weather as an excuse for not shooting. Another upside is there always seems to be something going on outside…usually something in the way of sports.
We have a pretty constant sound on our street and I can’t say it’s a pleasing sound. The constant sound of young skaters trying various tricks and their boards slamming on the ground after each failed attempt. Doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but multiply it by 4-5 kids and it can start to bug. I decided to take the lemons in this case and use them for some lemonade. I invited the local skate clan to a nearby school for a photo shoot. They were all game.
I hadn’t envisioned any certain shots in my mind, but I knew if I watched them in their favorite spots an idea would soon come. The skaters enjoyed a spot that allowed them to get quite a bit of air and allow for a relatively safe landing if the trick was missed. I know from experience that missing tricks seems to happen more than making. We had our spot picked out and now it was up to me to capture their moves.
The sun was providing a nice light source at the skaters backs and left sides. In a case like this I could either go for the blown out sky and perfectly exposed skaters, or the perfect sky and the back lit subjects. OR I could get some help from my light kit. My kit is not an expensive glamorous name brand light set, but it does work and I love that it’s portable. The Boling light kit is made up of 2×300 watt lights and a portable battery.
I went with a simple set up of one light slightly off center of the subject and the other to their right. With my shutter speed set to my cameras highest sync speed (1/250th), the next step was to set my fstop to dial in the sky. I set the power of the lights to 50% and tried a test shot. I was happy with the test shot and it was time get the skaters to do their thing.
We took about 20 shots and due to the heat and a few minor injuries, we called it a day. One quick heads up if you venture out to shoot a skateboard session….know/learn the sport you are shooting. If it’s your first time shooting then I suggest spending time learning where the action is…action being where the bodies end up and where an errant skateboard can end up. I’ve had a few close calls with boards and my head/face.
Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tokina 12-24 F4
Lights: 2 Boling 300watt strobes fired via Pocket wizards
1/250th @ f/11Read More/Leave Comment
I had the opportunity to bring my friend Jay, who is new to photography, to our local BMX track. He recently purchased the Canon Rebel which came with the kit lens. Jay had been doing some shooting on his own and wasn’t finding much challenge in shooting landscapes or the items around his house. After a trip to the Tour of California cycling race he knew he wanted to shoot more sporting events. After we talked a bit and reviewed some of his images of the tour, we agreed a trip to the BMX track would be a good place to practice shooting sports. Unlike the Tour of California where you may only see the riders flash by once a day, at the BMX track you get riders doing lap after lap for 3+ hours.
My thought going in was to let Jay shoot the first 45 minutes or so with his kit lens, then let him borrow my 70-200 2.8. I was hoping that once he got home he would be able to compare and contrast the pluses and minuses of each lens. Well he didn’t make it home before he noticed both the good and the bad of the 70-200. He instantly noticed the weight and size of the 70-200. He was quick to point out how much faster he was able to focus and of course the distance he could cover when shooting at 200mm.
Jay finished the night with the 70-200 and I had asked him to email me his thoughts once he got home and was able to compare the images he had gotten with both lenses. Within the email I received from Jay titled “Officially Addicted” was list of lenses he had done some research on…They included the following:
1) 70-200mm, f/2.8, $1500
2) 18-200mm, f3.5-5.6, $700
3) 70-300mm, f/4-5.6, $650
4) 55-250mm, f/4-5.6, $300
His list was followed by the question “Ok, so which of these telephoto zoom lenses would you choose between and why?” My first reaction was remembering asking myself the same question back when I had first started shooting. Why was one better than the other and why did so many sports guys choose the 70-200. I had done similar research and had the same question. For those of us shooting a 70-200 f2.8 the answers seem so simple. The fixed and fast Fstop, the build quality, the next level glass, and quick focusing all make for things sports shooters love. As I was typing all these points and found myself quickly telling Jay it was apples and oranges I realized I had not asked him what he thought he would be mainly shooting. Could the 18-200 at $700 be the ideal lens for Jay? I realize some will scoff at that idea. But not so fast!
In 2005 I had taken a similar lens with me on a trip to East Africa. While I look back on that trip and the amount of travel we completed I’m not sure I would have wanted a 70-200 lens with me. The 18-200 was light, offered a great focal range, I only had to carry one lens, and I used it to get some amazing images from my trip. The photo in this post is just one of many that I came home with. So maybe I was too quick to point Jay in the direction of the 70-200….Maybe the 18-200 and $900 bucks in his pocket is exactly what Jay needs. If he wants to mainly shoot sports then I will make a case for the 70-200 for the reasons stated above. If he wants a great all purpose lens and $900 in his pocket then sure the 18-200 would be ideal. Bottom line I was too quick to point someone to the top of the line gear. Lesson learned.Read More/Leave Comment
I think I maybe accused of over hyping certain things if I really like them. I guess I forget that other people may not be as into certain things as I am. Sometimes this happens with people and their photo equipment where they tell you that you “must also” own the gear they are hyping. Im typically not one to try and convince you into buying gear that I have, but I may be guilty in another area. My area of over hype would be in bike trails. This came up recently when I found myself talking up a local mountain bike trail that I hadn’t been on in a couple years. I had made some promises of fantastic single track with some increadible views. To be totally honest I may have said it was one of my favorite local rides. The victim of my excitement was my riding buddy Dark Cloud aka DC.
DC is one of those friends who will believe what you are selling and for the most part trust what you are saying. So off we went on this fantastic trail. Hmmm…seems I forgot that the first 200 yards was a brutal climb. So much for warming up. I utter my first “sorry DC”…”Guess I forgot”. We continued on our ride only to find that this years mild El Nino had produced some very Jurassic Park like plan growth. Most bike riders aren’t too thrilled with constant plant overgrowth grabbing their bars and obstructing their views. “Sorry DC” number two is uttered. As we continue it seems the local hikers enjoy a nice soft path beneath their feet and have hand dug a huge percentage of the singletrack into barely ride able mush. Yeah you guessed it another “sorry DC” was needed. We press on and find a semi decent stretch of wonderful tacky singletrack to get some speed on…for once I dont have to apologize. Things maybe shaping up after all…..or not.
We had reached the point in our ride where we had to do some pretty steep climbing but the trade off would be that we could take a short cut and bypass some climbing later on. If you are still reading at this point you know that something probably didn’t pan out here. Well after the climbing piece we came upon a multitude of no trespassing signs and warnings of imprisonment. Options? Turn around and grind back to where we came from. “Sorry DC”…Did I mention the angry trail crews that were “working” on the trails? Well they were spaced out enough and had so many tools on the trail we lost our downhill speed and ended up having to slow down for each of them. Not what we had in mind for the downhill.
What does all of this have to do with photography? Well the “something out of nothing” we got this day was the photo I posted above. Probably one of my favorite shots that I’ve captured this year. So when you are out and things don’t seem to be going your way…look around maybe there is a gem hidden in that mess. And maybe you should take a picture of it. I know you already have your camera with you.
In this case I got the shot with my ultra portable Canon Elph point and shoot camera.
Thanks to Dark Cloud for never complaining and still trusting me to lead him on “new and exciting” trails.
As always click image for larger view.Read More/Leave Comment
The process of having images come out in a book taught me a lot about being patient. I’m pretty sure it was over a year ago that I had been contacted by Ilex Press about using a couple BMX images for an upcoming book. I really had no idea how long the process took and was pretty excited at the idea of my images being used to illustrate flash techniques.
Well the excitement soon cooled and I realized I just needed to bank this one as a future portfolio addition. I’m happy to say the book has launched in the UK and will be available in the US around September. The book is called Extreme Exposure: Pushing the Limits of Aperture and Shutter Speed for High-Impact Photography by David Nightingale. I can tell you that the images used to describe first and 2nd curtain flash are top notch
Thank you to David and Ilex Press for giving BMX some love.
As always click the image for a larger view.Read More/Leave Comment
I titled this post “dedication” because of the subject. If you spend any amount of time at a BMX track you’ll soon see familiar faces, young and old riders, and a lot of people having fun on bikes. It wont take you long to spot certain riders that seem to have something special. At first their speed and skill is deceiving because they are so smooth and controlled in how they attack the track. Then you watch them blow past a group of other riders and you realize there is something different about them.
At our local track we have two riders training for the 2012 Olympics. The amount of dedication it takes to do lap after lap day after is amazing to me. I’ve been shooting at the track for the past four years and both are there every day putting in the hours it takes to get to that next level. I also know they are doing much more training away from the track. Why do I bring all of this up? Well beyond the fact I’m totally blown away by their commitment, dedication and skill, I see a connection to photography.
There are a TON of us out there shooting and much like the BMX track there are a lot of people just having fun. Having fun is great and one of the reasons we shoot, but I know dedication is what can take you to that next level in your photography. Simple things like being willing to read your manual, then reading it again and again until you’ve got the controls mastered. Shooting day after day to where sometimes you aren’t sure you are having fun anymore. To maybe even challenging yourself to shoot subjects you dont even enjoy. They say in many two wheeled sports that riding with someone faster than you is a great way to get faster. I see the same thing in photography…but in photography its shooting with someone more skilled or reading their blog or being a part of an online community of photographers. Dedication can mean different things to different people. I may not be trying to go the Olympics, but I am trying to get the very best out of myself each time I shoot.
The rider in this photo is local ripper Jesse Day.
Photo stats: 1/2500th f/2.8 Shot with the Canon 7D.Read More/Leave Comment
In 2009 I teamed up with a mountain bike website (Mountain bike 198) and wrote a series of “How to” guest posts on shooting mountain bike photos. I thought It’d be a good time to repost those articles as we are getting right into the heart of riding season. The snow has melted for a lot of you and its time to get out, ride and maybe do some shooting. I’ve pasted the links to the three articles below. Also if you ride mountain bikes and haven’t poked around the Bike 198 site, take some time and do so as there are lots of great reviews and articles to read through.
Like a lot of photographers I have ideas for different shots floating around in my head. The original idea for the “Night Project” was to shoot a long exposure of the sky and capture some cool looking stars while having a mountain bike rider in the shot. Well light pollution where we live put an end to that idea pretty quick and a trip to the mountains wasn’t in the plans. A friend of mine suggested a spot looking over the entire valley and the city lights could take place of the stars. The night project would take place after all with a slight tweak to my original idea. While the final photo may look like a simple capture to some, if you continue reading I’m sure you’ll agree it was a challenge.
If you’ve seen any of the BMX photography that I’ve done at night you’ll notice I use a technique called 2nd curtain sync. Second curtain is when the flash is triggered at the very end of an exposure giving the photo some amazing light trails and a sense of motion while still using the flash to stop the action. The way I carry out this technique is by using my Canon 580ex flash on camera, setting the flash to 2nd curtain and using some longer exposure times. Fine technique when using on camera flash, but for the night project I was going to use my Boling strobes and trigger them via my Pocket Wizard IIs. No 2nd curtain option with this set up! After spending some time going over my options I decided that we would try to manually duplicate 2nd curtain by firing the flash at the end of the long exposure manually.
Step one on the project was to get my mini team of friends together as I knew it’d take more than myself to pull this one off. First I needed a rider…..I’ve used Troy in the past and knew he’d be up for the challenge of doing the same manuver multiple times in order to get the shot. I also needed a couple of “voice activated tripods” aka friends holding my strobes while I politely asked them to reposition the lights over and over. In this case having people hold the light in liue of light stands saved me tons of time and the agrivation of working with more equipment in the dark.
With location picked out, we all hiked into the spot while it was still daylight. This allowed for some conversation over line choices with Troy and opportunities for me to line my shot up before dark. The sun began to set and we did a couple trial runs. The trial runs were more for Troy and making sure he knew where he was going since he’d be moving in dark conditions after having two 300 watt strobes flashed into his eyes. Once the sun set I had to figure out the best exposure time for getting the city lights to show up in the shot. After a few test shots, it was going to be a 3.5 second exposure. I’m hoping you might be reading into why this was a tricky shot. Not a lot of action photos are taken with 3.5 second exposures.
Step one was getting lights positioned where I wanted them, step two was setting my exposure for the city. So I set the exposure for 3.5 seconds and knew I was going to need to use a cable release so that we didn’t get camera shake. So I set up cable release and began to go over the timing with Troy our rider. I would have to give Troy a count down to when I thought he should begin to ride, push the cable release to begin the exposure while holding my Pocket Wizard in my other hand. The intent was for me to fire the strobes at the VERY end of the 3.5 seconds, essentially creating 2nd curtain.
After a couple test shots we had the whole process down. I’d tell Troy to go, push the cable release with my right hand to begin the exposure, count out loud to three(ish) and fire the strobes with my left hand. There maybe more ways to pull this shot off….I was happy with our results and thrilled to take something from concept to completion. So if you are out there with those ideas floating around, grab some friends if you need to and get your project completed. I know you’ll be glad you at least tried.
Oh and we only lost Troy one time. A slight miss to the right of the rock he was riding on and he ended up staring at the stars in a pile of bushes. He was fine and back up in no time for the next shot. Thanks to Troy, Chris and Charles for all of their help. I know their favorite part was hiking in the dark back to our cars. Why does every little noise sound like Big Foot at night?
Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tokina 12-24 f4
Settings: 3.5 seconds @ F9.0
Strobist Info: 2 x 300 watt Boling strobes fired via Pocket Wizards