(raw images straight out of the camera)
We have a few articles about motion blur, and just from experience you can probably name most of them off the top of your head. You can pan your camera with the athlete moving and have the background blurred or you can have your camera steady while the athlete is moving across the frame…you could also zoom in or out. All these techniques will give you really cool results, but the standard approach is not always enough.
It's been fun using all these techniques but I wanted to take things further, so I decided to mount my camera on my bike and follow or ride in front of longboarders as they are flying down the hill. My idea was to use slow shutter speed to get really cool motion blur. I knew it was going to be risky, so I decided to push my luck even further and add a flash to the mix too. The flash should freeze the motion better, and even out the exposure.
Since the whole idea is a little out there, the location needed to match the setting. I live in Vail Colorado, and there are plenty of steep and windy roads around here, but there's one that's better than all the rest. There's an old highway(Hwy 6) that was turned into a really nice bike path, and it goes form the top of Vail pass to Vail, that's about 17 miles of twisted pavement and almost 2000 feet of elevation difference. Longboarders love this road as there are many steep and curvy sections, with a few spots where their speed maxes out. Not only that but we decided to start really early, around 6am if I remember correctly.
To mount my 1D and a flash, in a few different places on the bike I used a couple bogen magic arms and clamps. I also used a motordrive cable connected to a cybersync reciever and I used the transmitter to fire the camera while riding my bike. The camera had a Canon 16-35mm II L with Slim ND filter on it(to help me keep the shutter speed low and get better contrast and skies). I started with a 430 ex II, since it is really light and small, but I wasn't seeing much of a difference, so later(on our second run) I replaced it with an AlienBee 1600 with high output reflector. The flash was mounted with another magic arm on the opposite side of the camera, and the battery was in the backpack on my back.
I set the camera to aperture priority, so I could control the DOF, and set the ISO to the lowest possible at 50 or 100 in order to keep my shutter speed low. I started riding my bike and followed Mikey(the athlete) really close behind. With the wide angle lens set at 16mm, I wanted him to fill the frame, for more dramatic results. In my right hand I was holding the little cybersync and constantly pressing it's tiny button. Sounds awesome, but the cybersync prevented me form using my rear break, and as I mentioned earlier the bike path gets steep, while I had to precisely adjust my speed to keep myself at equal distance from Mikey. I was able to see when my camera fires because of the flash. At first we were stopping every couple hundred feet, until I got the exposure compensation and flash power right. Then we started hauling ass, it was insane….Mikey was able to slow himself by turning constantly, but he couldn't slide at that time, so once he gets going really fast he has to go until the steep section is over(huge props to him because of that, it just takes balls). There were many times where I'll get too close, or too far and we both had to work together to keep the distance about where I wanted it and not crash. I had a decent amount of my equipment on the line, and crashing wasn't really an option. Overall we were both having a blast and I was getting hundreds of similar images, all while hoping that there would be a few good ones.
We stopped a couple times, and shot some regular photos along the way, since I had a backpack with more gear, flash and everything else I needed. After 17 miles of downhill we got to the bottom, and it was pure joy. I forgot to mention that we had to leave one car at the bottom and another one at the top so we could go back. Unfortunately Mikey left his keys in the fist car, so he hitchhiked back to the top and came to pick me up.
The adventure continued as we decided to do it again, but this time I mounted the camera on the back of the bike. Same configuration, same set up, but I wanted to get photos from the front. I also wanted the camera to be close enough to the ground so I could add motion and drama via the ground blurring. This is when things got even interesting because Mikey was behind me, I had to constantly adjust my speed by accelerating or braking, since he had very little control over his speed. On top of that it was about 9am, and other people were riding bikes and whole families were hiking up the path. I can't even tell you how many times both of us got really really close to crashing….but we didn't!
I ended up with a little over 1000 photos, some of them really bad and some of the really good. A couple of the photos made it in concretewave magazine, and Mikey was stoked on the results. Although it was risky I had a blast, and it was something that I don't get to do every day.
I wouldn't advise anyone to try this, since there is a pretty good chance of hurting yourself, and completely destroying your gear. Also all the longboarders should wear protection when riding. A lot of kids get hurt really badly, and longboarding magazines wouldn't publish photos of athletes without protection. It's a long story, so I probably missed something, if you have any questions about camera setting, gear or anything else feel free to start a conversation in the comment section below!