I'm shooting the World Singlespeed Mountainbike Champs next month (http://bikereviews.com/2010/05/singlespeed-world-championship-2010-new-zealand/
). Last time I shot a major race in the forest I was using a different camera, lenses and flash. I don't like last minute decisions so I went out to Woodhill forest yesterday to get used to the current camera and kit and to play with some ideas.
The first thing I learned was that my camera backpack is no good on a mountainbike: it's only good for tramping. It sits too high on my back and upsets the stability of my bike plus puts a lot of strain on my once broken back.
I have a 2 piece Lowe Pro camera bag which I think will be better as it mounts on my hips with a light upper pack for raincoat etc. I'll also mount a handlebar bag on the bike.
This is important as I'm also entering the race.
Not many more chances for a 50 something guy to get a number board that says "World Championships"!
So I've arranged with the organisers to enter the race but to start a little early and get to my first shooting spot in time to catch the front runners as they come by. I'll probably manage to get in just one lap before the race ends and avoid the nasty DNF tag on my results.
Next week I'll go down to Rotorua and scout out the course using a GPS to mark where the most likely shooting points are and try to take a few shots there too.
In the meantime I'm thinking about ways to make my pics stand out from the other photographers. The problem with shooting mountainbikes is light. The action is in a forest and that means dark (well relatively anyway). Also, riders generally have their heads facing down and that results in deep shadows.
The brief from the organisers is to shoot recognisable people in action both during the race and at the pre and post events. The built in shadow detail settings in the A900 are very good but not good enough to get the kind of face detail I need; only careful un-natural light will do that.
I'll use rear curtain sync as I did last time to capture movement with a sharp image as well. But, I don't want to be a one trick pony: i'm probably going to use my three flash units with Falcon Eyes accessories to get the 'right' light
I have a couple of honeycombs, a Stofen diffuser, a set of barn doors, a 'big' softbox with different coloured covers, a fashion/portrait dish, a globe diffuser and a snoot with 2 different honeycomb ends.
Yesterday I decided to try the snoot so I could direct the light to just where I wanted it without light spill elsewhere; I also took the 'big' honeycomb which also helps control light spread.
I'm shooting with a HVL 20AM flash as controller on the camera and have 2x HVL 58AM's I can use as slaves.
The first thing that was an issue is the angle between the master and slave flash. Unless the slave is forward of the master, the slave was not firing. That means I have to be careful not to get the slave in any of the actual pictures.
Next problem was too much frontal light. The master is a 20GN flash and the slave is 58GN. That should give me a 3:1 ratio when the two flashes are around the same distance from the subject. Problem was it didn't!
I tried switching the HVL 20AM to bounce flash and effectively just wasting its flash to fire the slave but that didn't work at all: the slave didn't fire. It seems the tethering between flashes is optical.
I was getting a little frustrated and I was tired: after all I'd cycled in 15 kilometres in energy sapping sand base with a 40lb pack on my back! I wanted to get something!
I reset the camera and flashes with the master firing slave with snoot on the slave. This was Ok but difficult to get decent light ratios and still control the spread of flash.
This is the current NZ Champ. He also placed in the top 15 in the World Champs in Durango last year.
Main light to the left and fill light on camera.
Next I took off the snoot and fitted the big honeycomb. I positioned the slave to the right of the track and I sat on the left shooting as they came around a corner. These are Ok but the ratio between natural light and flash is unbalanced too much in favour of flash (main light to the right with fill light on camera):
I then decided to practice with another lens. I'd been shooting with the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm. I'll definitely use this as I can get close into the action. The other lens I bought was the Tokina ATX Pro 80-200 f2.8. This is a great lens and I like it more than my slower Sony 70-300 4.5-5.6 G zoom. It's built like a tank and is sharp as a tack.
This time I just wanted to get used to the feel of the camera/lens combo so fitted a HVL 58AM to the camera with the Stofen diffuser and shot direct. I shot on shutter priority auto with an exposure around 1/125 at f4 or f5.6.
This is a bit overexposed looking but that's my quick and dirty processing in ACDSee Pro 3 rather than the actual exposure.
A couple of the competitors played ball and pulled a wheely as they came over the bridge:
All in all an average start. I was frustrated first with the weight and high centre of gravity of my backpack. I then spent a fair amount of time working out the master/slave firing angles and light ratios. I've taken a bunch of notes though so I won't have to repeat the same tests.
Kit for the actual shoot is shaping up like this:
A900 body and maybe if I can beg one, a spare body of some model.
Sigma 18mm f3.5
HVL 20AM flash
2x HVL 58AM flashes
Falcon Eyes kit with snoot, diffuser, barn doors plus stofen diffuser.
Tripods for flashes (small lightweight only)
Manfrotto monopod for shooting with under the camera
stacks of batteries
waterproof camera cover
Comments and suggestions most welcome!