Your Questions Answered – Topics From My Readers

People email me with random questions about photography, BMX, and other topics on a regular basis so I figured I’d open up a little discussion with my friends and readers here on the blog. A few weeks ago I made a post asking for your questions, and a handful of really good ones came through. From photography, to bike racks, to cars, and back to photography, I answered them all… Thanks for sending them in!

Q: Do you use any modifiers like an umbrella/soft box on your strobes?
-Stephen Cameron

A: I’ve used soft boxes when shooting in a studio and on location, but never when shooting action. Every once in a while I use the diffuser that came with my flash to soften the light, and although I don’t do this often, here are the two most common examples of when I do this…

Scenario 1: Indoor BMX contest. Very little ambient light. Shooting with a 15mm fisheye lens and my Quantum Qflash mounted on an L bracket above the camera. ISO set between 400-800, shutter speed between 1/50 and 1/200, and aperture between f/4.0 and f/5.6. I will often put the diffuser(s) that came with the Qflash over the bulb to spread the light and soften it since my subjects are so close to me when shooting fisheye. Without the diffuser the bare bulb flash is too concentrated in the center of the frame and often blows out the subject, even with the flash power set very low.

Scenario 2: Shooting at night or at an indoor skatepark. There is a large ramp or obstacle that needs to be seen and lit up in the image. I will sometimes slide the stock diffuser over my Vivitar 285 flash to spread the light over the larger area. In this scenario the flash with the diffuser is only lighting still objects, not the moving BMX rider.

Using soft boxes to shoot Carey Hart and a car for Fox Racing in Las Vegas.

Q: How do you transport your bike to spots that are driving distance away? Do you use a bike rack or take it apart? Or some other method…
-Amber Ehly Sullivan

A: When I take my bike on an airplane I use an Ogio Mammoth golf bag and take it apart. I have included a video (below) of how I do this. I wrote an article about taking a bike on an airplane that you can read on ridebmx.com.

When I’m just driving to spots locally I simply put my bike in my car. I have a hatchback and when the back seats are folded down I can fit two bikes, all my camera gear, two tool boxes, a bike pump, and more in the back without taking apart the bikes.

However, I have plenty experience with various types of bike racks, too. I’ve owned and used trunk mount racks, trailer hitch racks, and roof racks. Each have their own ups and downs, and each are worthwhile investments depending on your particular scenario. I could write an entire article on bike racks alone, but in short, here are my pros and cons about different types of bike racks:

Trunk Mount Bike Rack:
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to take on and off your car, depending on the model they can hold several bikes at a time.
Cons: Can scratch/scuff your car, does not always fit great, sometimes a hassle to put bikes on and take them off, often scratches/scuffs your bike, sometimes you can not open/close your trunk while rack is on, sometimes bikes fall off while driving.
* With these racks, you usually get what you pay for and the prices range from very cheap to very expensive.

Trailer Hitch Bike Rack:
Pros:
Keeps bikes away from vehicle and will not scratch it, keeps bikes away from each other and will not scratch them, holds bikes very securely, easy to take on and off your car.
Cons: Expensive, have to have a trailer hitch to use one, stick out far from the back of your car, usually only works well with large vehicles like trucks, not recommended for small cars.

Roof Bike Racks:
Pros:
Looks badass driving down the road, holds your bike very securely, keeps bikes away from each other so they don’t get scratched, can buy in parts to only get what you need and to break up costs.
Cons: Expensive, difficult to take off your car (usually once you install it, you just leave it on forever), increases the height of your car so you can’t pull into most garages.
*EVERYONE that I know that has had one of these has had at least one incident where they forgot a bike was on the roof and they hit something. This can and will damage your bike, the rack, your car, and/or the object you hit. After my third incident that ripped the entire rack off my car and scratched and dented the Mercedes-Benz I bought only one week prior I sold the rack, which is why I now put bikes inside my car.

Roof racks are great...until you hit something with them. Be careful!

Q: How did your meeting with my boss about investment properties go?
-Noah Krueger

A: Very well. It’s always good to get to speak to people who are successful in areas of life that I strive to be successful in. And it’s always encouraging when they reassure me that I’m on the right track. This was the case with your boss. Thanks again for helping make that connection.

…Your Photoshop screenshots [on your Behind The Photo posts show] that you don’t add any “vibrance.” Was it just this particular image that didn’t need vibrance, or do you never add vibrance to any photos, and if so, why?
-Sam Omiotek

A: I usually work under the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” rule, and a spinoff of that rule I work by is “I will learn it when I find a need for it.” I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything there is to know about photography, using Photoshop, or anything else for that matter. However, if there is something I don’t know that I need to know, I’m willing to learn it in order to get the job done or make my work better. In my years as a photographer I haven’t come across any times where I have needed to learn much about using vibrance to make my images better. In photography (and Photoshop) most of what I have learn has been from trial and error. I’ve tried different things enough to know that I like what bumping up the saturation does to my photos. And although I’ve tried using the vibrance slider I’ve never (or rarely) come across instances where I was happy with the result.

Since you asked this question I took it as an opportunity to do a little research and found two good posts from other Web sites that explain vibrance a bit more and compare it to saturation. You may find these helpful…
Comparing saturation and vibrance in Photoshop
Using Vibrance in Photoshop

Q: Why CMYK? Is there something significantly better about it versus ProPhoto RGB color mode?
-Sam Omiotek

A. CMYK color mode is used when you plan to print an image, and RGB color mode is used when images are only going to be viewed on screen. Monitors show their spectrum of colors through red, green, and blue (RGB) lights. Printers create their spectrum of colors with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. (CMYK) The concept is simple, and knowing the difference is essential for digital photographers. If you do a Google search for “CMYK vs RGB” you’ll find a ton of information about this subject.

Q: I notice that your favorite Sharpening setting is 125 and the default is 25. Are most Canon lenses on the soft side? I am always afraid of setting the sharpness too much and having the image look strange.
-Noah Krueger

A. No, Canon lenses are not soft, but this is just the nature of digital photography. Part of the processing of a digital image is sharpening it. With my particular camera and image resolution (Canon 5D Mark II / 21mp) I find the 125 range to be a good starting point for how I like my photos to look. The sharpness of a digital image is definitely something you can play around with, and it is easy to tell when it has gone too far and looks strange. Zooming in to view the image at 100% always helps when determining if the photo has the look you want it to have.

Q: (In reference to the photos from my African safari.) The animals seem pretty chill in the photos. Was there ever a point where you were in any danger?
-Noah Krueger

A. No, we were in a vehicle the whole time with the exception of just a few places. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable about the land and wildlife, and they were always conscious of our safety. All of the safari photos were shot with a 70-200mm lens, and most at 200mm, so while there were a few times we were very close to the animals, most of the time we were pretty far away from them. The animals are used to having safari trucks in their territory, and from what the guides told us, they never threaten or charge the vehicles. However, if we were out of the vehicles, it may have been a different story. There were definitely times when I wanted to test my luck and go walk around, but I was never allowed.

The truck that kept us safe in Maasai Mara while on Safari.

Q: How in the Sam Hill did you sync a 5D MKII at 1/500?
-Bryce Packham

A. I didn’t! But I also didn’t need to light anything at the top of the frame in those photos you see where I shot at 1/500 or even 1/640. When shooting with strobes at anything faster than the natural sync speed of 1/200 the Canon 5D Mark II’s shutters leave falloff at the bottom of the frame. So for every increment past 1/200 you shoot at, you will see more falloff creeping up from the bottom of the image. If it is sunny outside and the subject you are lighting with flashes is at the top of your frame you can shoot at faster shutter speeds and not worry about the falloff affecting your image.

This article on Rob Galbraith’s site explains this concept more in depth and shows exactly how much falloff you can expect when shooting with a 5D Mark II and triggering your slave flashes with various receivers.

However, here are a few things you can keep in mind as well… If you know you will have falloff that you don’t want, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to zoom out a bit when shooting the photo, then crop in during postproduction to remove the falloff. Also, if the subject you are lighting is at the bottom of the frame, and the top of the frame doesn’t need to be lit with flashes, you can sometimes shoot with your camera upside down so the falloff will be at the top of the frame.

Syncing a Canon 5D Mark II at 1/500.

Image from Rob Galbraith's site.

Q: What is your average ISO that you use when shooting with strobes? And what shutter speed and aperture do you use?
-Adam Klempke

A. While you can’t shoot with the same settings in every scenario, when shooting BMX action shots, ideally I like to shoot at 100 ISO, f/5.6 or higher, and 1/500 or higher. I prefer 100 ISO no matter what I’m shooting because it is least grainy and I typically don’t like to have grain in my photos. I like to shoot at f/5.6 or higher because I typically want as much of the image to be in focus as possible. And I like to shoot at 1/500 or higher because I typically do not want motion blur on the rider or his bike in my action photos.

Q: What are ways, as a photographer, that I can generate more income? I feel like sending emails to bands and designers isn’t enough. Any thought of how I can squeeze every last penny out of my camera?
-Robby Klein

A. I think sending out self-promotional emails to past and potential clients is definitely a great way to get more work as a photographer, so that’s a good start. But you are right…it’s not enough. Here are some other things you can do to help you along the way:
– Have a professional Web site that shows who you are and what you do. You should be able to see the information and your work quickly and in an easily digestible manner.
– Set goals of what you want to be as a photographer and how you want people to see you and your work.
– Set goals of how much work you want to do in a certain period of time, and what kind of work you want it to be.
– Know your particular industry inside and out. If you don’t know how your industry works, or if you don’t have solid connections in that industry, it will be very difficult to make any money from it. My industry when it comes to photography is BMX. Yours may be portraits, weddings, commercial, etc.
– Look at other photographers who are successful in your field and see what they do to generate income and how they run their business.

Q: What did you study in college, and how did it influence your work as a BMX photographer, etc.?
– Jeph Chan

A. In December of 2005 I graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design. (My school didn’t have a major for just “graphic design.”) At the time I graduated high school I originally wanted to study graphic design because I thought I wanted to be the art director of a BMX magazine like Ride BMX. In high school I was on my yearbook staff and I got to shoot photos and lay out the pages for the yearbook. Being young and naive I thought I could do those two things for a BMX magazine, too. However, as I got older I realized that in the real world of the magazine industry the photographers and designers were two very different people with very different jobs. The way I saw it was designers sat at a computer all day and photographers traveled the world and did cool stuff. It became very clear which one I wanted to be, so I started to shift my focus from graphic design towards photography.

My actual degree doesn’t do much for me these days in my professional life, but the time spent in college played a huge part in shaping my work ethic and technical skills, and it gave me a ton of free time to learn and grow as a person so I could better figure out what I wanted in life.

An example of my photography and graphic design mixed into the BMX world.

Q: What happened to your Prelude?
– Robert Russo

A. For those reading this who don’t know, from the beginning of my senior year of high school to the end of my second year of college I was big into the import show car scene. I had a 1994 Honda Prelude that I put a lot of time and money into customizing. Through the help of a bunch of close friends and a car club I belonged to I built up my car to be one of the best show cars in the state. I became pretty well known throughout the import car community in Louisiana and won a bunch of awards at various car shows in the South. However, customizing cars was always just a hobby of mine, and BMX was always a passion. By the end of my second year of college I felt that for me to fully pursue what I wanted in life I had to give up my car and focus on what was really important to me—a career in the BMX industry. I sold my show car and bought a cheaper four-door car, a new bike, a good bike rack, and a video camera, then I hit the road and began to travel.

I had a great time with my car and the friends I made through that whole community, and I certainly miss having a car like that at times, but I’ll never miss the constant worry and hassle it created in my life. It was the right time to sell it when I did, and I’m really happy with how things panned out.

Honda Prelude Show Car

My old car.

Q: As an aspiring photographer, what’s the best way to get your name out there, get assignments, and get published. Basically what is the best way to get your name out there so you can start to make some money and start a career?
-Ryan Rose

A. I’m going to assume you are only asking about BMX photography and the BMX industry. BMX is what I know best, so I’m going to answer this the best way I know how…from my personal experience.

I’ll start off by saying that you shouldn’t expect to get published or make any sort of money or career off of photography (especially BMX photography) if you aren’t really, really good at it. So that’s the first way to make a name for yourself…get good at what you do. If you are good, people will notice.

After you are good at what you are doing, it always helps to shoot with professional riders. While unknown guys occasionally get coverage, you will have an extremely hard time getting your work published or selling your work if you only shoot with unknown riders. Once you have good working relationships and friendships with professional/sponsored riders it’s also easier to build relationships with other people in the BMX industry because you may start to sell photos of the pro riders to their sponsors. Like most industries, BMX is a lot about connections.

Before I got published in magazines I submitted lots of photos to magazines that got rejected. Then I started submitting photos to ridebmx.com on a regular basis for Web galleries, even though I never got paid. I figured if I got my work on a major site like that then the company/people behind the site would obviously begin to get familiar with me, and so would the readers of that site. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to have your work published on a BMX site. I post “Photo Portfolios” of aspiring photographers all the time on ridebmx.com, and all it takes is them sending in the photos and captions.

Here is an article Jeff Zielinski did for ESPN that elaborates more on getting your photography published…
Submitting Photos To Ride BMX Magazine (via ESPN)

Other ways to make a name for yourself as a photographer:
– Build a professional Web site that shows off your work and tells about yourself.
– Get active in online forums and communities like bmxperception.com.
– Be dialed at what you do, and be easy to work with. (If you are a pain in the ass to companies, magazines, etc. they will know who you are, but will not be stoked to do anything with you.)

Q: I’ve always wondered what glass you shoot and why, and how you feel about third party lenses?
– Tyler Sladen

I shoot with all Canon lenses. I figure no one can make a better lens for a Canon body than Canon can, and I feel that your photos can only be as good as the glass that takes them, so I will probably always stick with Canon brand lenses. I’ve never used any third party lenses besides a cheap Sigma many years ago, but it was such a low-end model that I can’t possibly try to compare it to the professional level Canon lenses I use now. Here is an archived blog post that details all the gear I shoot with.

My camera gear.

Q: I’ve been following your work for a while and paying a lot of attention to it, especially on the events coverage… As we all can imagine, seeing the Ride BMX Web site, you are the one responsible for making photos, videos, and also the texts about the event. So how can you manage all those activities? How do you set your routine to get everything done, as there are so many good things going on in a big event like Simpel Session? How do you like this kind of work? What are the big challenges or problems you usually face covering big events? And the last one, what are you tips for reporters, photographers, and videographers covering big events?
-Caio Andrade

A. It’s true…I do a lot of stuff during big BMX events while I’m covering them for ridebmx.com. While I can’t teach you all of my secrets in a simple blog post, I can tell you some of the principles that help me out…

First of all, I’m excellent at managing my time, a master of self-control, and extremely proficient when it comes to digital workflow and my speed behind a computer. These things are very important when you are working under stressful conditions and tight deadlines. Also, I have a work ethic that borders on being obsessive…scratch that…it is absolutely obsessive. I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver a lot of content to the ridebmx.com audience faster than any other BMX site out there. And finally, I have been covering major BMX events many times a year for the past four years or so and I have my system down to a science. I assume that’s what you really want to know…my system. So here it is in a nutshell…

My basic formula for BMX contest coverage is: Shoot as many photos as possible during practice, and film the actual competition.

When making posts on ridebmx.com with the photos and videos I collect during the event I typically have two posts per round of competition: I put a small text blurb and a photo gallery with the results in one post, then a small text blurb and the contest video in another post.

Knowing exactly what I plan to do with the content ahead of time allows me to manage my time and energy better while I’m out shooting. Then, knowing a very detailed and calculated system and workflow on the computer helps me manage the photos and videos so I can edit and post them quickly. This workflow comes with lots of practice, of course, and gets better and more efficient over time.

I definitely enjoy and love my work, but don’t get confused and think it is “fun” all of the time. It is definitely a lot of work, and it takes a certain type of person to do this kind of event coverage, especially as a one-man show with no assistance.

Most of the challenges I face aren’t with the work itself, but they are with the technology my work relies on. Sometimes my Firestore hard drive (that my video camera records to) overheats, dies, or has a glitch in it, so I have to resort to capturing footage from the mini DV tapes the old fashion (and very time consuming) way. Also, more often then not I find myself fighting with slow or spotty Internet connections at hotels, which makes it difficult to upload everything as quickly as I’d like to, or makes me have to roam around a city all night looking for a place to steal wi-fi from.

My best tip for others trying to cover big BMX events is to slack off and not do much of anything. That way the work I do for ridebmx.com is the best source of coverage out there!

Here are a few other little tips and tricks I use while covering BMX events:
– I set up folders and files on my computer ahead of time so once I’m done shooting everything is ready for me to jump right into work on my computer.
– I use a Firestore hard drive while filming that allows me to pull an entire day’s worth footage into Final Cut Pro to edit in a matter of seconds as opposed to spending several hours logging and capturing footage.
– I do a good job of talking into the video camera and marking footage during the event. (For example: I always say the riders’ name into the camera as they are riding so I know who is who, and I always record blank clips with my hand covering the lens and talk into the camera to let me know what is going on, etc.)
– I leave the venue as soon as I have exactly what I need to start working, so I don’t waste any time standing around.
– When I’m done shooting photos I put the memory card in my pocket so I don’t have to dig it out of my camera bag once I’m back to the hotel.
– I write rider names and tricks of photos I shoot in my iPhone if I think I may forget someone.
– I use Adobe Bridge to sort, organize, select, and rename my photos.
– I use pre-made action droplets to resize my photos for Web resolution.

Staring into space while covering an event. Photo by Noah Krueger.

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