Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What do we do in the winter? Head to the pool!

As Minnesota-based sports photographers who spend much of the warm months shooting for Triathlete Magazine and the ITU (International Triathlon Union), people always ask what we do in the winter! In part, we put on all of the clothes that we own and go out and shoot Alpine and Nordic Skiing. But during the winter, we also sit around and talk about how to get the coolest race shots for the next year.

We always start with the premise that you don’t just take a great shot, you have to make a great shot. It is not enough just to be at an event, a truly great shot takes planning – lots of planning. In addition to planning a great shot often requires special equipment and practice. Even with all of this – you still have to get lucky! But to paraphrase Louis Pasteur – Luck favors the prepared mind.

We first started using Pocket Wizard™ for the Medtronic Twin Cities 1 Mile race in May 2008 (see our July 13, 2008 post). While we got the shot, as sports photographers our primary issue was that the maximum sync speed (1/250) was not sufficient stop the action (keeping in mind that for a 1 mile race at a 4:00 pace, the runners are going at 22 feet / second.) Even with a 4 flash set up; we had trouble getting a clean shot.

In October 2008 as the Official Photographer for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, we were again challenged with difficult lighting conditions – the finish of the Women’s US National Championship 10 Mile race was before 8:00 AM and even if it were a nice day, there would be very strong side lighting. As it turned out, it wasn’t a nice day at all and we really needed the light. Again we mounted our Pocket Wizards and got the shot (see our November 29, 2008 post)

When the Radio Poppers Remotes were announced we had great hope of finally being about to get a high-speed sync, however the Radio Poppers had a confirmation signal that would prevent shooting at a high frame rate (that would be more than 1 frame at a time.)

This spring Pocket Wizard announced the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 for Canon and we were eager to try it! As the race season went on and travel and other commitments took over, we never got a chance to test the new gear in a race situation.

With the 2009 Triathlon race season now in the books, we went to the pool to try the new Pocket Wizards, as well as our new Ewa-Marine housing.

Our goal was two-fold; to develop a new technique for getting some creative triathlon swim images for the 2010 season, and to present some concepts to wetsuit and apparel manufacturers for photos.

With the help of our friend Coach Kris Swarthout of SCS Multisport, we arranged to use their pool. Arriving at 5:00 AM to set up, the athletes arriving at 6:00 ready to shoot. We had to be out of the pool by 7:30.

We used three Canon 580 EX II strobes, two on light stands and one, which was hand-held and used a Honl grid. Although we tried using shoot through umbrellas that were masked to avoid throwing too much light to the front, we found this to be much too soft for what we wanted and ultimately used the strobe with a flag.

As we were balancing the lighting I took a couple shots of Julie at 1/8000; f 5.6. The high shutter speed killed the ambient lighting and created an amazing portrait of a pensive athlete getting ready to race.

Next we wanted to simulate a powerful swim exit shot. Minneapolis Elite Triathlete Curt, was happy to oblige with physical power to spare. We show at 1/6400, f7.1 and had each of the side 580’s at +2 stops, while the hand-held unit was at -1 stop.

Still using the remote lighting, we had the athletes swim past us. We still had three lights set up, although moved in much closer. This was the most complicated shot, not just from the lighting standpoint, but the timing of the position of the swimmer’s arm. Here is our favorite shot of Kim.

For our final series of shots, I took off the Pocket Wizard and mounted the 580 EX II directly on the camera. The good news is that the EWA Marine U-BXP 100 is an easy fit with my Canon 1D Mark III and the 580 flash. There is even enough room for the Pocket Wizard Mini TT1, if I am shooting above water. Even underwater we went with the high-speed sync and shot David at 1/3200 at f7.1.

We can't use the Pocket Wizards here due to the inability to transmit radio signals underwater.

Thanks to our good friend Kerry Yndestad of YndeCam who was on hand shoot some production photos and video, you can get a better idea of what we did. Take a look his really cool video!

In all we shot two separate mornings, had a great time and tested our skills in a new environment. You will just have to wait to see what we get next race season, but with the new high-speed sync of the Mini TT1 and the Flex TT5, my bet is that we will be using Pocket Wizards even more in 2010.

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