As a BMX photographer, theres a moment when a spark ignites; when you see someone start to try something and you know it could make a good photo. The gears in your head start ramping up and you start looking at the angles, the light, the variables… anything that stands between you and making a great image. This write-up will give you an idea of what goes through my head while setting up a photo, in this case a long ass icepick by Jake Seeley.
Every photo starts with an idea, an angle and a base exposure. The idea for this photo was first and foremost to emphasize the length of the grind, which sorted out the angle as well. Generally, when shooting with flashes, shutter speed controls ambient light and the ISO and f/stop combination controls flash light. Ambient was falling fast but I wanted to retain that rich twilight blue, so I knew I’d have to be dropping the shutter every few tries. I picked a higher ISO of 640 give me a range of shutter speeds to work with and to give the flashes some extra distance out of the frame but still be able to expose well at 1/4 power. So there’s the idea, angle and base exposure, now lets setup some lights.
When setting lights up, the three biggest things I consider are what area do they need to cover, where are the edges of the frame and where they’re casting their shadow. For most BMX photos, the placement of flashes usually begins at the edge of the frame. When the light is outside the frame, what distance does it need to cover to expose the rider and the spot properly and what power is it going to take for it to get there? Shooting at higher ISO’s will always give your flashes a little extra oomph and that allowed my lights to be out of frame and still be at 1/4 power. From there, it was important to angle the lights in such a way that the spread covered the foreground, the spot and the wall and the shadow was thrown out of the opposite side of the frame. To give the ledge a little more dimension, I put the flash on the right in front of it and the one of the left behind the it to give the light in front a nice falloff from right to left. The final piece of the lighting equation was a speedlight on the ground behind the ledge pointing straight at Jake for a rimlight. And now we’re ready to shoot.
Given that I was using a 35mm prime lens, the angle I wanted put me in the bike lane in the street in the middle of rush hour. Being in the oncoming lane with so many cars coming kind of freaked me out so I ended up wearing my bike light light a pinky ring! After every third try I was having to drop the shutter, eventually going from 1/50th down to 1/3rd of a second for the final frame. When shooting BMX photos, timing is of the utmost importance and I knew I wanted to have him nearly all the way down the ledge with that bright white shirt contrasting against the opening of the arch. Jake battled this thing for twenty or so minutes, finally getting the full ice and a frame with his legs in a good position.
Its pretty crazy to think that this took me an hour plus to write, but every single one of those things went through my head in about five minutes and we went from first try to final frame in about 25-30 minutes. I try to setup as quickly and efficiently as I can, relying more on pre-visualization and knowing my equipment and less on a million test shots. The more you get out there and the more photos you shoot, the more those things will seem like second nature.
I hope this was helpful to some of you out there. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.