Wireless fun at the Gravity Enduro

April 09, 2012  •  1 Comment

With some important events and other races coming up I decided to give the Round 1 of the Gravity Enduro a miss and take some photographs instead of racing in it. It's great fun to take shots of the gravity variety of mountain biking. At those events everyone is sporting a full set of cool on them and carrying a bag of gnar in their camelbacks, fancy bikes, colorful outfits and riders showing off their riding skills all make for interesting photographs.

The location, Djouce Woods, is a tricky one for a photographer who is traveling on foot. It's very spread out and steep everywhere so it was a hard couple of hours running around and chasing the riders around the course. I would normally have a plan in mind when covering an event like this but this time I was a bit unprepared which made things a bit harder. Well, I wasn't going to cover everything anyway as I was only doing this for myself and for my club mates.

I made the decision quite quickly to go to 4 different locations and those were:

  • tight switchbacks on 'Benchcut'
  • off-camber corner at the bottom of 'Gran Canaria'
  • small drop-off build over a shlompy section of 'Sliddery'
  • one of the drifty corners on the new 'Disco Stu'

In regards to the technique of the day, I decided to focus on remote flashes as my main light and ambient as the fill, the weather was a bit dull so I had to create my own sunlight! And of course, the speedlights with their super fast flash (hence the name) are great for stopping action too (flying dirt in particular!).

To be honest I was a bit rusty at the start as I haven't touched the radio triggers for a good while and forgot which settings worked well at different distances etc. The triggers that I have don't transmit TTL information so it's all manual, not a problem but takes a moment to tune them in right. What I love about those little things is that you can put your flash whenever you like and it will always fire, great for those long lens shots.

Ok, so the first location was on Benchcut. I wanted to get a overall shot of the entire switchback and a rider 'on approach'. I managed to get nearly I what I wanted but I wish I had the flash more to the left (as you look at the photo) which unfortunately wasn't possible. I would have to put it right in the spot where the riders were most likely crash if they got the turn wrong, and I didn't feel like having my gear wrecked! Number two was the bottom of the Gran Canaria. I wasn't sure weather to focus on the river crossing or on the off-camber turn... I chose the latter. Similar to the previous photo I only used one flash to illuminate this one. I like the way I got the flash set up to light up only a small part of the image (the rider) and leave the rest under-exposed. It was taken with a 200mm lens and I was about 10-15 meters away. Ok so the next one was fun, a little northshore bridge that the Gravity Enduro team built for this event. I decided to play with lights here a bit and set up 2 flashes. One for a nice contour light (from behind the rider) and another one to illuminate their scared faces. And the last location, which produced one of my favouite images of the day, was the new 'Disco Stu' descent. Steep and gnarly, with loads of loose pine needles and dirt, perfect! It was very dark in there so again - 2 flashes. This time I used one as the main source of light (from the right looking at this photo) and another just to highlight the background and the flying dust. Love this one!

Well that's it! It was great fun but hard work all the same! I have another interesting photo project coming up for the IrishXCOmtb website so stay tuned!

More about the event here: www.gravityenduro.ie


Biking Blitz - Round 1 - Ballinastoe

February 21, 2012  •  1 Comment


Photographing extreme sports (like Mountain Biking!)

I had great time photographing this event (http://www.biking.ie/biking-blitz) so I thought I would share a few secrets for those of you who love to shoot adventure sports but are not sure how to make their images stand out and be not only technically correct but also interesting to public.

Generally there are two ways you can cover an event like that, you either choose to stay in one particular spot and focus on taking a photograph of each participant (and for example sell copies to them later) or you can choose to do it reportage style, move around and take snaps of different places and moments. Personally, I prefer the latter.

Everyone has a different agenda when photographing a sports event, some do it for money, others to take pictures of their friends and/or family, and some of us do it for themselves. I photograph mountain biking because I'm passionate about it and also because a lot of my club mates (from Epic MTB) take part in those events, so I know they would love to have some deadly photos of themselves to put up on facebook and other social media. Anyway, enough about myself, let's talk photography.

Max's rules for taking good photos:

  • Have a plan, know what you want to photograph, when and how you're going to do it.
  • Know the sport you are photographing, in case of cycling, try to foresee when riders break, turn, jump etc. Capture those key moments.
  • Prepare yourself, take only the lenses you're going to use, have enough battery power, cards etc. Keep the amount of gear to absolute minimum, it's easy to get overwhelmed by too many options.
  • Think of how you can make usual places look different, experiment with point of view, depth of field and lighting.
  • Stay focused throughout the event, you never know when that magic moment is going to be, always be ready to photograph.
  • Post-process your photos carefully and present them well, use a good hosting website/gallery.

Some examples:

1. Mixing light sources creatively

Normally people think shooting with the strong source of light in the background (like the sun) is a no-no, well it isn't.

Here I underexposed the background but 1 stop (I think) to preserve detail and keep the shadows of the bikes and used the flash (here on auto exposure) to illuminate the photographed subject(s).

2. Being in the right place

Sometimes the most obvious place to be isn't the most interesting.
I decided to walk about 10m further up the fireroad than everyone else and then photograph the leader
of the race, the chasing group and the spectators all together.

3. Point of view

Good photograph often requires commitment, event if it means having to lie on the ground in a puddle filled with mud!

Note how the use of a wide angle lens together with a low point of view adds interesting dynamic to the photograph,
in this case I also used a graduated natural density filter on the lens to darken the sky for more dramatic effect.

4. Never let the guard down (and do your homework!)

I was about to take a snap of the rider in black and yellow when I noticed that Greg Callaghan appeared from behind him.
Knowing that Greg would definitely not give up an opportunity to style it up a bit I re-focused quickly and got this cool photo instead.

Always be ready to pull the trigger!

5. Post-process for that extra punch!

I generally keep most of my photos neutral color-vise but there are occasions when a bit of tweaking is justified.

In here I decided to bring out the yellows in the highlights and blues and cyans in the shadows
to obtain that blockbuster-ish effect, simple things that can make your image have that extra kick!

That's it for today, I hope you enjoyed it and feel free to leave comments or ask questions!

Max out

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