We were walking along the shore in Pacific Grove when we saw a bunch of people on the dock that is part of the wall of the small harbor. It appeared that they were getting ready to jump in so we stopped to see if they were or not. Jumping into the Pacific in spring is hardly a polar bear plunge but it was still fun to see their reactions as they jumped in. I guess it was still pretty chilly.
Surfing off the headland at Santa Cruz involves getting into the water a distance away and then paddling across. If that seems like too much hard work, you can climb the fence and walk out onto the headland with your board before jumping off the cliff. We saw a couple of guys doing that while we were there. There was little hesitation so I guess they had done this before.
They weren’t alone! I saw one guy jump off quite a high area. He was followed by a friend of his and I was ready when she jumped. A burst of shots means I can animate the jumps! I did two versions of this. One that doesn’t move the background and results in some white space moving around. The other tracks the subject. Not sure which I prefer.
Another trip back in time today. I seem to be coming across older shots when looking for something else and they trigger the idea that they would have been blog posts had I been writing a blog at that time. Today, it is a bit of skydiving. The Clow Cavalcade of Planes is a great event held by a local airfield southwest of Chicago. I wrote a piece about this year’s Cavalcade previously and you can find that here if you want to check back.
A couple of years ago, I was at the event and spent a bunch of time with the team that carry out skydiving demonstrations during the show. Clow is under the airspace leading into Midway and O’Hare so there is a limit of about 3,500’ on how high they can jump from but that is enough to get quickly under the canopy. When the weather cooperates (which it didn’t this year), they jump multiple times during the day. I got shots of them prepping their parachutes, under canopy and coming in to land. I also got to go up on a couple of the jumps. The first was a bit of an unusual one. They were jumping from Midwest Helicopters’ S-58T. I was in their normal jump ship, the Cessna 182. The helicopter had a far higher rate of climb than us so, while we were airborne ahead of them, it climbed up passed us and we had to catch up. Then we orbited them as they jumped. Quite an unusual thing to see.
I also rode up in the 182 when they were jumping from it. There was only one seat in the plan and that was occupied by the pilot. I sat on the floor with my back to the instrument panel with the straps across my legs and they sat in the back. Plenty of time for group shots as we climbed and then time to open the door. It was hinged at the top and the airflow held it open. When you are sitting on the floor and that door opens right next to you for the first time, it is an interesting experience seeing nothing between you and the ground. Funny how quickly you adapt though.
Then they took it in turns to jump. There was a step on the gear leg they could rest on and the wing strut was also something to hang from. A lot of good poses before letting go. Then we side-slipped to let the door close, latched it shut and descended as fast as we could. It was a fun shoot and something I would like to do again sometime. We shall see if the opportunity presents itself again.
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.