Getting a jump in the woods

I recently read a very interesting book on flash photography specifically for Canon shooters. The book was by Syl Arena and he obviously has put a lot of time and effort into developing his technique and understanding the way the Canon flash system works. I don’t know whether a similar book exists for the Nikon shooters out there but, while a lot of the specifics in this book relate to the Canon technology, a lot of the techniques and concepts are equally applicable and might make the book worth a read.

Anyway, having read this book once through and picked at it a number of times for specific sections, I have become quite enthusiastic about experimenting with high speed sync and making the action pop out of the shot while de-emphasizing the background. Some of his examples had included skating and there is a skate park not too far from me that I am interested in trying out at some point soon.

However, the start of my experimentation has actually been some biking. A little way north of me in the city is a park called Clark Park that has some routes laid out by the local cyclists. The area is called The Gardens and is a partnership between the riders and the city. The routes include jumps and berms and I decided to try and check it out to see whether I could get any good shooting opportunities and to see how well I could implement some of the ideas in Syl’s book.

I contacted one of the guys who helps organize things and he was very welcoming about me coming down. I headed down one Sunday when a bunch of them were getting together. Unfortunately, the weather had not been good that week and the ground was wet under foot. Everyone was grabbing shovels and working on developing some of the runs. I grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and got to work too. It has been a while since I did anything at could be considered real physical labor and the blisters and aching muscles that I had the next day were a testament to my easy lifestyle!

There was no riding that day and in the following weeks the weather was not helpful tending to dump a ton of rain every few days making it hard for anything to dry out properly. That combined with my own other activities meant I didn’t get a chance to go back for a while. However, finally the stars aligned again and I got to head back.

A bunch of guys were already there when I showed up and were starting to get some runs in. The jumps are very dramatic to look at and I suspect more dramatic when you riding toward them. There are a sequence of jumps along a run so the guys get up some momentum as they go. It all looks really cool.

I had a couple of flash units that I was triggering with an IR controller. This is something that is considered unreliable outside but, since we were under tree cover, it proved to be reliable provided I was pointing the right way. I did bring a long cable connection as a backup but didn’t need it on the day.

The guys were happy to try a few things for me as I experimented. I shot a lot of flash on the jumps and around a berm along with some ambient light shots. The tree cover meant those needed the ISO cranked way up but, even then, it was hard to get a good shot. However, some of them gave a good sense of the motion. I shot in manual with the exposure dialed down to make the background less apparent and then used high speed sync at about 1/400th of a second to illuminate the rider. This seemed to work quite well although I did end up taking the flash exposure compensation down to -1 stop.

I balanced the two flashes 2:1 with the foreground getting the greater proportion of the light in the rider’s face and the fill coming from behind. Next time I shall experiment a bit more with this. One of the tricky elements is finding a good spot to locate the flashes since the jumps are steep and slightly broken up at the edges. I had one flash on a Gorillapod and the other on a bean bag. The Gorillapod was the better solution and I will have to get another one at some point.

One other thing I experimented with while I was there was mounting a GoPro video camera on the hot shoe and shooting some video at the same time. This worked out okay but the sound of the shutter firing on the camera below tends to be a dominant sound. Some editing will be necessary with the music to blank that out.  When I have done that, I shall put something up here.

For additional shots, go to the gallery at this link.

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