Austin 2010: A Natural Light Adventure

2010 was a crazy year for me. For whatever reason, I decided that I would be better off shooting without any artificial light or flashes, and sold them all. I spent a few months in Austin at the OSS house, shooting with the crew while they filmed for “Football”. No one really wanted to do anything serious for my camera, since I lacked the practical equipment, and my demeanor was less than professional. No offense was taken, and I assumed the role of B-sides photographer, shot a lot of sequences and some HD video (Using the 5DII at the time).

Without external lighting, I had to rely on ambient light and composed my photographs using the more basic elements- form, shape, space and color. All of these were shot with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens.


For the entire duration of my stay in Austin, Kareem wore these red pants. This was the only time I was actually excited for their presence. The obvious element here is color- the red plays off the blue pretty strong. The centered composition demands your attention. I also consciously chose a more shallow depth of field so that the background wouldn’t distract too much. Looking at it now, I should have opened up even a little more, maybe to f/2. This ledge slid really nice and I chose to ride it more than shoot it. This is actually opposite for Kareem. 1/3000 @ f/2.8  ISO200



We went to this church so that Mastroni could ride across some jungle gym in the playground nearby. While waiting for him to rake out a path, Jake noticed that it would be pretty easy to get onto the roof. It was tough for him to get speed to make it to the top, but he did it a few times then threw the bars. Timing isn’t perfect- you can’t win ’em all. This image is filled with shapes, most square or triangle. Besides the door knob and deadbolt, which are barely visible, the only other circles are Jake’s wheels. This juxtaposition would have been much more prominent if the timing were better, and you could see more of his front wheel. 1/3000 @ f/4.5  ISO100



I’m pretty sure this was my first night in Austin and it was raining. We hit the local parking garage to do hoodrat stuff and smoke with cigarettes. At this point I honestly had no idea how fucking good Garrett was. He did some stylish hops and tables over the guardrail, but aesthetically a hop over the post looked better. I will admit that I had a camera light directly out of frame to the left to make him pop out a bit. I am really into the geometry of most parking garages and this one is no exception. I think the red flannel makes the photo work so well here. 1/1500 @ f/1.4  ISO3200



This spot was on our ride toward downtown so Craig, Charlie and I would ride it often. There was something else here besides this bank, I don’t remember what it was though. The sun was above/behind this building, setting a darker backdrop while the foreground is still illuminated. The angle of the light works perfectly here to put a rim around Craig, popping him out of the background. I really enjoy the colors here- the blues and greens from the window reflections and the purple of his wheels. 1/2000 @ f/2.8  ISO100



I’m pretty sure this is in San Marcos, not Austin. We drove down there once or twice and pedaled around the campus during the day and hit the city at night. We found this wallride by Taco Bell, I think. I don’t know, for some reason this reminds me of Taco Bell. Jake was boosting it pretty high so I took out the camera. I aimed to have those pillars on the wall perfectly vertical, but obviously it doesn’t always work that way- I used Photoshop perspective control to straighten them out. My favorite part of this photo is the muted colors, due in part to the high ISO I had to use, and Jake’s unusually achromatic outfit (besides that yellow bracelet). 1/1000 @ f/1.4  ISO3200



This photo is largely unsuccessful because of the angle, making a hanger look like a smith. I don’t think I realized this would happen with Kareem’s front foot blocking his back wheel… Something I should have thought of, because unfortunately for me, he did it first try. The best part of this photo is Garrett’s tire marks on the wall from his “Football” ender. 1/3000 @ f/2  ISO800



If you haven’t noticed by now, my go-to angle is perpendicular to the path of action. I’ve found it makes for the best geometry, and especially here, properly displays the distance between two points. I was initially shooting fisheye to try to make the gap look bigger, but it really wasn’t necessary. The colors are great here, with the subtle yellow paint at the exact edges of the gap and Garrett’s mustard-ish colored hat. I really like the framing here, with him just about to reach the absolute middle of the frame. There was a little bit of sky included just out of frame but I cropped it out because it wasn’t important- I think it would have taken away from the composition. I’m almost positive this is a make too, and I think he might have done it twice… Either way, we should have been done for the day because he broke his foot less than an hour later. 1/2000 @ f/4  ISO200



This spot was real fun, with a bunch of driveway launches like that. It was hard to get speed for the ledge though because the of the corner you had to turn. I immediately saw that wall as a perfect frame for the action, and an excellent juxtaposition to all of those meters and pipes to the left. I asked Jake for a few hangers into the wedge- this isn’t actually the best one he did, but for the better one he wasn’t wearing the green hat. That green hat really brings the whole image together, in my opinion. I stamped out some numbers that were on that white door on the left because they were distracting. This is my second favorite image from Austin- it’s cluttered and clean at the same time. 1/4000 @ f/2  ISO400



This is my favorite photo from Austin. Even if I had flashes with me, I wouldn’t have set them up for this shot. This spot was so wild, I still don’t understand the practical use of the satellite dish to turtle shell. There was a ladder scaling the side of the building that immediately caught my attention. The roof was 15 to 20 feet off the ground- a perfect height for framing the riders. On top of that, the sun was in a perfect position to cast that shadow in the cereal bowl. A few people were riding while I was up there- Jake was doing one-footed x-ups, Alex Magellan was doing tire grabs, Garrett was 3’ing it and Greg D’Amico did a one-footed no hander. In the end, it was Eric “Ewip” Whitescarver’s classic turndown that took the cake. There’s a reason why the turndown is the most popular trick to grace the covers of any BMX magazine. The most challenging part of shooting this was figuring out where to focus, because there’s nothing suspended in mid-air to pre-focus on. The second most challenging part was not falling off the roof. 1/4000 @ f/4  ISO100


I moved back to New York and promptly bought a grip of Sunpak 555 flashes. Sure they make your bag a bit heavier, and you usually need to carry light stands as well, but the results are generally worth it. I also learned that people don’t think you can make a serious photograph without them… ha! Well, they might be right- none of these were ever in print.

My time with working with natural light helped me to compose a photograph more carefully, having to focus only on what is already there. It forced me to pay more attention to the sunlight and how some shadows are as important as the light itself. It helped me learn about colors- which ones work with others and which ones don’t. I re-learned the value of depth-of-field and how it effects the viewer’s attention.

I highly suggest shooting with natural light for a little bit- just to get back to the roots of photography. You definitely don’t have to sell all your flashes though, just leave them at home.

One response to “Austin 2010: A Natural Light Adventure

  1. Great post – and great shots!! my favorites are Mastroni on the roof and Garrets wallride which have awesome soft colors – and of course the satellite dish pic is just sick 🙂 IMO a couple of the shots may have been even nicer with flash but i totally get your point about ditching the flashes for a while a just concentrating on strong composition! Im gonna try it 🙂

    thx for sharing

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