As a photographer and videographer I’m in front of gnarly BMX tricks all the time, and every once in a while I find myself a little nervous for the rider because of the possibilities of what could go wrong. It’s not that I ever really doubt the rider’s ability, I just know all too well from firsthand experiences that anything can happen, and I know it only takes a split second for someone to get seriously hurt—I’ve been there myself, and I’ve seen good friends get broke off more times than I care to remember. And while that’s not something a photographer or a rider really wants to think about, it does occasionally pop into your head. This fear factor while shooting has definitely diminished for me quite a bit with time and experience, but several years ago I shot a photo that was pretty scary for me, and it has an interesting story behind it, too…
The Scariest Photo I Ever Shot – Johnny Devlin
Date: September 24, 2007
Location: Downtown Los Angeles, California
Rider: Johnny Devlin
Camera: Canon 20D
Lens: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 USM @ 70mm
Settings: 100 ISO, f/5.0, 1/250
In the fall of 2007 Johnny Devlin came out to California with Talem Cowart and stayed at my house for a week or so, and I ended up shooting a short interview with him for the magazine.
I had never met Johnny before, and was immediately impressed with his personality and skills on a bike. While we were out filming for a Web video he began calling out some pretty crazy tricks that he wanted to film for his section in the Shadow video, “Into The Void.” Since I couldn’t film the bangers for my Web vid I put down my video camera and picked up my still camera…
The day we shot this photo started out at the famous L.A. white banks where Johnny did a massive gap to wallride off the bank. (That photo and clip ended up in the mag and Shadow video, too.) After that we went into Downtown and started cruising. One of the first spots we pulled up to was this parking-lot-to-parking-lot gap that I had been to a handful of times and showed to a handful of people. Everyone else that had seen it just kind of laughed it off, but Johnny got real serious about wanting to do it. I anxiously started setting up my flashes and was nervous right off the bat. The hop over the top guardrail decently pretty high, the gap out away from the bottom guardrail is pretty far, and the drop to flat is easily 10 feet. If he were to tag the rail or not clear the distance, there could have been some serious consequences. However, as nervous as I was, Johnny was just as calm and collected. He obviously knew his limitations, but at the time I had only been working at Ride BMX for just over a year, so I wasn’t that used to seeing pro riders do such burly tricks on a daily basis.
After I set up my flashes and did a few test shots to check my lighting and focus Johnny was ready to go. He eyed it up a few times and fired it out, but he landed like a ton of bricks and his foot blew off. I was bummed for him that he didn’t pull it on the first try, but also relieved that I was going to get another chance to shoot it… I was so scared while taking the shot that I jumped a little and messed up my composition, chopping off Johnny’s head completely. Luckily for both of us the second go was good on both of our accounts… He landed the trick smooth and got his clip for the Shadow video, and I had a proper photo with his head in the frame.
A few minutes later Talem was looking at the images on the back of my camera and somehow accidentally deleted the photo. Johnny said he was willing to go do it again, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. I reluctantly took the memory card out of the camera, put it in my pocket, and crossed my fingers that some kind of recovery software would be able to restore the deleted file.
A few days later back at the Ride office I was able to recover the file, and the photo was eventually used on the opening spread of Johnny’s interview in issue 143.