Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Daytime Flash & Action

Since getting back into photography in a more serious way, I've been hunting the internet like crazy for any educational information I can find. I have a long list of photography sites saved on my computer that I refer to on a regular basis. In recent years there's been an amazing upsurge in using portable flash units in just about any photographic situation imaginable. Some of the sites I have listed on this blog provide plenty of information on portable flash use and using what I'm learning from those sites, I've started expanding my lighting skills.

I've been friends with the couple who own and manage the Grand Marais bike shop pretty much since I first moved to Minnesota. They've put on some excellent mountain bike competitions over the years and last summer, knowing that I had a camera back in my hands, they asked if I would be available to shoot the new race they were putting on. It didn't take me long to recognize a perfect off camera flash opportunity.

In my everyday job (the one that keeps the bills payed) I work with a nice young guy, Dan. He readily agreed when I asked if he would help out in shooting the bike race. The race started in town, but finished up on the well known Pincushion Mountain trail system and that's where I concentrated my efforts. I had scouted out a couple of likely locations on the course the day before the race. After the bikers took off from the start, Dan and I drove up to Pincushion, where I got a bit of a surprise. We had barely parked when the first racers came chugging up the hill from town and shot across the parking lot on their way onto the trail system. Man some of those guys are fast! So Dan and I didn't waste any time hoofing it up to one of the shoot locations I had scouted.

With Dan's help, I positioned a Vivitar 285HV flash on a light stand at the edge of the trail just off to one side of where I would be with the camera. I had some new (and cheap) wireless flash trigger units I was trying out, with a receiver hooked into the flash and the trigger on my camera. After some flash meter readings and fiddling with the balance between the ambient light and the flash, I started shooting as bikers came zipping by.

This was the first time in my life I had ever tried such a thing and I was hoping the results would be worthwhile. In the two different locations we shot from, I had an aperture range from f11 all the way up to f22 because of the different angle of the sun. My sutter speeds stayed around 1/15 to 1/20 of a second to blur the background as I panned with the bikers. With some constant checking on my camera's LCD screen and an occasional adjustment of my settings, I started to get the feeling that there might be some good shots when it was all over.

There were, of course, plenty of shots that were marginal, but what was left were some of the best actions shots I've ever made and I'm looking forward to trying these techniques on a lot of future subjects.

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