Since I attend several major BMX contests throughout the year like the Dew Tour and X Games, shooting vert riding is something I do on a pretty regular basis. However shooting an outdoor vert ramp at dusk outside of a contest environment was a pretty rare opportunity for me, so I was really excited to shoot with Coco Zurita at Woodward West in July of 2009.
The photo was first used as a downloadable BMX desktop wallpaper on ridebmx.com, then later used as an autograph postcard for Coco’s shoe sponsor, Vans.
Coco Zurita - Vans Shoes Autograph Card - Photo by Fat Tony.
SETTING UP THE SHOT
Coco is an extremely talented rider who goes insanely high and rides with an unbelievable amount of style. He specifically wanted to shoot in shorts and a T-shirt with no pads (besides his helmet) to show that you don’t have to be dressed like a football player to ride vert. After we shot two tricks from the same angle with a telephoto lens he asked if I wanted to shoot another trick from the deck of the ramp with my fisheye lens. He wanted to shoot a toboggan, and I was more than happy to oblige, as it’s one of my favorite tricks to shoot. My initial instinct as a BMX photographer is to never shoot from behind the rider in fear of the dreaded “ass shot,” but Coco insisted it was a good angle for the trick, so I set up my gear to shoot from behind him.
This nac-nac is one of the two tricks we shot from this angle before setting up to shoot the toboggan from on deck. Click to enlarge.
We were losing daylight so I had to set up quickly. I put my Qflash on my tallest light stand and put it behind my back pointed up around the area that I thought Coco would be at the peak of his trick. It was positioned to light him directly in front of me where I’d see him most. Then I put a Vivitar flash in front of me and to my right, just out of the frame of view to help act as a fill light. Since the tripod it was on isn’t very tall it was a bit under him and pointing up, which is why the right side of his front tire is brighter than the rest of the tire. After Coco was properly lit, the ramp in the background was really dark and it was difficult to put the obstacle he was riding into perspective. So to remedy this I put another Vivitar flash behind me (at full power) pointing directly across at the opposing wall of the ramp.
After shooting the trick four times Coco was happy with how he dipped the toboggan and how high he was, and I was happy with my lighting and composition. Mission accomplished…just in the nick of time before it was too dark to continue riding outside.
The final image that was used for the Vans autograph card. Click to enlarge.
Date: July 18, 2009
Location: Woodward West – Tehachapi, California
Camera: Canon 20D
Lens: 15mm f/2.8
Flashes: Quantum Q Flash with Turbo 400 w/s battery pack (Probably set somewhere around +1/8 power.), Vivitar 285 (Probably set to full power.), and Vivitar 285 (Probably set to 1/4 power.).
Transmitter: Pocket Wizard Transmitter
Receivers: Pocket Wizard Receiver
Light Stands: Random, inexpensive tripods, and random, inexpensive light stand.
Raw settings in Photoshop.
PROCESSING THE IMAGE
If you’ve kept up with my blog thus far and have seen my other “Behind The Photo” posts, then you probably already know where I started out when processing this image…that’s right, with my “personal stock settings,” as I call them. I set the clarity to 25, the saturation to 10, the sharpening to 125, and the masking and luminance to 50.
After my go-to settings were in place I pushed up the contrast to 55 to help the image pop a bit more. But it still didn’t pop enough, so I bumped up the blacks to 8. After that, the image was a bit dark, so I moved the brightness up to 60. It still was a little too dark, so I pushed the fill light to 15. From there, everything looked pretty good, but Coco’s white bike was a little too blown out, so I moved the recovery up to 30. Bingo! That’s where I was happy with the image.
Well, almost happy…there was a lot of dead space at the top of the photo, so I cropped in a bit. With a fisheye lens, usually cropping a photo will make it look really awkward, but because I was shooting with a Canon 20D (that has a 1.6 crop factor), I didn’t have a true fisheye look to begin with, so cropping didn’t make the photo look weird at all.
From the Camera Raw editing screen I made sure the image was set at 300dpi, then I opened the photo, switched it to CMYK color mode, saved it as a .tiff, and sent it off to Vans for them to use on the autograph postcard.
A before and after low-res look at the original untouched image, and how the photo looked after I processed it.