Professional flatland BMX rider Terry Adams is the closest I’ve ever had and I love working with him on photo shoots. One day in July of 2010 we were in Downtown Los Angeles and had just finished filming a “5 Trick Fix” video for the Ride BMX Web site when we decided to set up to shoot photo for the upcoming Dan’s Comp wall calendar. (The photo also ended up being used in a print ad that ran in Ride BMX, and several online ads.) We were at a spot that has a clear view of the city in the background and the sun was just about to set, so it was an extremely picturesque location for the photo. However, the ground was really rough and anything but ideal for riding flatland. As always though, Terry came through and made it happen…here’s how we got it done.
SETTING UP THE SHOT
For this photo I chose to use my 70-200mm telephoto lens because I feel that it produces images that are a little bit sharper than my 24-70mm lens. Also, by being able to zoom in to 200mm I can focus more accurately before zooming back out to 70mm to compose and shoot the photo.
Since I knew this photo was going to be used for the Dan’s Comp wall calendar, and I knew the calendar was a square format I set up to shoot the image horizontally and intentionally shot it with a bit of a lose composition so there would be plenty of room to work with on all sides. For the same reasons I centered Terry in the frame when setting up the shot.
After we found a spot of ground that was flat enough for Terry to do the trick on I picked an angle that would give me a good view of the city in the background and some dramatic natural sunlight coming into frame. I took off my lens hood to catch more of a glare on the lens, which created the light orbs in the bottom left corner the image. This is something I usually try to avoid, but in this case I thought it added some a cool element to the image.
I set the camera’s ISO to 100 to ensure a photo with as little grain as possible. Then I set my shutter speed to 1/200. This is fairly slow for a BMX action shot, but since Terry wasn’t moving very fast during this trick it still stopped the action enough so there wasn’t a lot of motion blur. Next, I set my aperture f/9 to make sure the sky wouldn’t be completely blown out and white. With my camera settings in place it was time to set up the flashes.
The sun was coming in from the back of my subject and to my right so I positioned the more powerful Qflash exactly opposite of the ambient light—pointing directly at the subject from my left. It was on a tripod just at the edge of the frame of this photo; as close to Terry as possible without creeping into the shot. I can’t recall exactly, but I suspect the flash was set to around 1/4 power. Anything less than that would have probably not been enough to counterbalance the exposure I had set for the sun. I then positioned another flash on the right side of the subject, again just out of view of the frame. This was a smaller Vivitar flash set to 1/4 power to help fill in other darker areas of the subject.
I had Terry stand in the spot where he was going to be doing the trick, zoomed all the way in on him, focused on his T-shirt, then zoomed back out too compose my shot.
Although we got a total of nine photos of the trick, we ended up using the second shot because we liked how his legs were positioned the best.
Date: July 20, 2010
Location: Los Angeles, California
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 70-200mm IS USM @ 70mm
Flashes: Quantum Q Flash with Turbo 400 w/s battery pack (set to roughly 1/4 power) & Vivitar 285 set to 1/4 power
Transmitter: Pocket Wizard MiniTT1
Receivers: Pocket Wizard Receivers
Light Stands: Random, inexpensive tripods.
PROCESSING THE IMAGE
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 editor 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. Because the sun had washed out a lot of color in the image I then bumped up the saturation to 25 bring out the colors more.
From there the only other thing I had to do was to bump up the blacks to 10 and the contrast to 70. These adjustments helped bring out the detail in everything and made the image pop really well since the harsh backlighting had washed out most of the subject.
Still in the RAW editor I used the cropping tool and made a square crop on the photo, then, using the straighten tool I drew a line across the outline railroad tracks just behind Terry to make sure the image didn’t look crooked. Tilted horizon lines are a huge pet peeve of mine in photography, and if the train tracks looked straight, the whole photo looks straight. Then I moved around the crop tool and cropped in a little to select a tighter square composition that worked for the image.
After these minor things were tweaked I opened up the image and converted it to CMYK color mode (since it was going to be used for a printed piece) and saved it as a .tiff.
I’m never one to do a lot of post production to my images, but this one had a few nagging distractions that I just couldn’t leave in there. The antenna sticking up in the background just behind Terry’s rear wheel and the power lines overhead had to go. I took them out using the clone stamp tool in Photoshop. This was a very quick, easy, and effective fix since they were all against the monochromatic sky.