Behind The Photo – Matthias Dandois 2011 Flatland BMX Calendar Cover

For the past three years I’ve worked with a bunch of great BMX brands to put together a wall calendar featuring photos of flatland riders that is distributed for free through Flatland Fuel BMX mail order shop. So whenever I have an opportunity to set up a photo shoot with one of the world’s top flatland riders I jump at it, even if I only have a few minutes to get it done. This was exactly the case with the 2011 Flatland BMX Calendar cover shot of Matthias Dandois that I took in Barcelona, Spain. Here’s how it all went down…

atthias Dandois - Flatland BMX Photo

This is the cover for the 2011 Flatland BMX Calendar that this photo was used for. Click to enlarge.

Nike 6.0 flew me out to Barcelona in July of 2010 to cover their BCN BMX Pro for Although it wasn’t run by the same people, there was also a flatland contest going on at the same venue at the same time and Matthias Dandois happened to be there. When I arrived at the skatepark course practice hadn’t started yet so I had a few minutes to spare to meet up with Matthias and try to get a shot for the 2011 calendar. Luckily the contest was held right at the waterfront where they had a cool, scenic spot with a large space that was perfectly flat. We pedaled down to this spot together and I spent a few minutes scouting angles for the photo.

Because it was such a new location to me and it was so unique it seemed like anywhere I shot the photo from could would have produced a cool image, but after walking around a bit and taking in the whole scene I found the angle that I really wanted that gave me a slight reflection in the glassy water.

Because the composition I chose called for a lot of open space between Matthias and the left side of the frame I couldn’t put a flash to my left at all. This meant that I’d only be using one flash for the shot, which was positioned just out of frame to the right of the subject and a little in front of him. I used my Quantum Qflash because it’s the most powerful one I have and set the power to somewhere around 1/4. (I can’t recall the exact setting that was used.) The sun was coming in to my right also, so the flash was just acting as a fill light. I positioned it pretty low to get up under Matthias’ chest to make sure his entire body was fully lit.

Matthias Dandois - Flatland BMX Photo

Here you can see how the flash was set up just to the right side of the rider. Click to enlarge.

After my flash was set up I did four lighting test shots and adjusted my shutter speed and aperture until I was happy with where they were both set. Since I positioned the rider more than halfway to the top of the frame I was able to set my shutter speed to 1/500 knowing that my flash wasn’t going to need to light anything any lower down in the frame. (More info at syncing a Canon 5D Mark II at 1/500 in this post.) With my ISO set to 100 and my shutter speed at 1/500 I then had to adjust my aperture accordingly for proper exposure, which ended up being f/5.

Now I was ready to have Matthias try the trick he wanted to shoot called a plastic man. This doesn’t happen too often with flatland photos, but the first shot we took worked out perfectly and I didn’t have to shoot any more. We had exactly what we were looking for on the first go.

Since everything went so quickly and smoothly I went ahead and took another few photos of the same trick from different angles just in case I wanted to use them for anything. However, until this blog post the alternate angles have just been tucked away in my hard drive.

Matthias Dandois - Flatland BMX Photo

Here is an alternate angle that I shot after getting the photo I was looking for. I don't have a medium format camera, but love how certain photos look with a square crop, so I faked this one with my own square crop then threw on some "vintage" looking effects. Click to enlarge.

Date: July 2, 2010
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 70-200mm IS USM @ 125mm
Camera Settings:
ISO 100
Flash: Quantum Q Flash with Turbo 400 w/s battery pack (set to roughly 1/4 power
Transmitter: Pocket Wizard MiniTT1
Receiver: Pocket Wizard Receiver
Light Stand: Random tripod.

Camera RAW Settings

Here are the settings I used in the Photoshop CS4 RAW editing window for this photo.

Like most of my photos, the processing on this image was pretty straightforward. And again, like most of my photos, I started out in the Photoshop CS4 RAW editing window with my “personal stock settings,” as I call them. For that I set the clarity to 25, the saturation to 10, the sharpening to 125, and the masking and luminance to 50. However, I still thought the image could use a little more color so bumped up the saturation to 15 bring out the colors just a bit more.

After these settings were in place I clicked the “auto” button in the RAW editor to see what Photoshop thought the image should look like. That made the recovery go up to 23, the blacks go up to 6, the brightness go down to 8, and the contrast go up to 56. This didn’t look that bad, but the image was too dark, so I moved the brightness up to 30, and voila! The image looked exactly how I wanted it to.

Since there is a defined horizon line in this photo I needed to make sure it was completely straight so the image didn’t look crooked. I used the straighten tool and drew a line across where the water meets the sky to straighten out the image before opening up the file into Photoshop.

Since the photo was going to be used for a printed piece I changed the color mode to CMYK and saved it as a TIFF and the photo was almost ready to use. The only thing left was to remove an ugly red piece of trash from the water, which was a quick and easy fix with the clone stamp tool.

Matthias Dandois - Flatland BMX Photo

Here is the original, unprocessed image. Click to enlarge.

Matthias Dandois - Flatland BMX Photo

Here is the full, final image after it was processed. Click to enlarge.

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