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Remote Flash Photography and Street Snowboarding

The image I’ll talk about today was captured at an abandoned building in Eastern Canada while working with the Burton Snowboards film crew and team riders.

Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014

Many steps went into gathering this image, including getting to the location, determining where to shoot on premises, building the terrain, dialling in the cameras, remotes, flashes and tripods and the post processing.

Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014

After hearing about an abandoned building that would suit our street snowboarding needs (think skateboarding in the city, only with snowboards), we contacted a couple of individuals that provided reliable intelligence about getting there and shooting photos. With two vehicles loaded up with athletes, snowboards, lights, generator, winch, cinematography and photo gear, we’d definitely need to drive right up to the spot to make the shoot happen. The first obstacle was the road that accessed the building was covered in two feet of snow, making it impossible to drive through, with the distance being too far to hike all the gear in.

Keeping an open mind about the situation, one of our contacts knew of a person with a front-end loader that had a rear mounted snow blower, which would work perfect in clearing the road. Sure enough, a tractor pulled up about thirty minutes later and started the task at hand, which was getting us to the location! Being around snow full time for the better part of two decades, I knew the snow removal process would involve plenty of flying white stuff, so I grabbed one of the athletes and asked if he’d walk alongside the machinery and snap a few portraits and product shots. Being on board with the idea, Jeremy was happy to bag a few portraits and product images since we’d be sitting there waiting for at least an hour anyhow.

Snow Removal - CanadaJ an 2014
Snow Removal – Canada Jan 2014
Jeremy Jones  - CanadaJ an 2014
Jeremy Jones – Canada Jan 2014
Jeremy Jones - Canada Jan 2014
Jeremy Jones – Canada Jan 2014

Gathering the photo were no problem as we only had to walk alongside the tractor, use the early morning sun to our advantage while taking note of the flying snow everywhere. I used a Nikon 16mm 2.8 to capture the front-end loader in its environment for starters, then hand carried the Nikon D4 with a 50mm 1.4 while shooting the portraits of Jeremy. Even though the machinery wasn’t moving veryrapidly, I wanted to be completely mobile (no backpack) as we punched through the two feet of crusty snow to the sides of the road taking the pictures.I kept my shutter speed setting at 1250 due to the nature of the terrain, a flying snowboard and lots of snow in the air, wanting to keep my images tack sharp and no motion blur. As with all photo shooting environments, be aware of heavy equipment and any other dangers that provide bodily harm to the photographer or talent, so be alert and be respectful of those doing their job.

After the road was opened to our vehicles and crew, we thanked our equipment operator and began the scoping process of finding suitable snowboarding terrain. After an hour of looking at manypossibilities, Ethan decided on a spot that would allow him to gather speed on a flat exterior portion of the building, jump up to the wall, ride the concrete and land on the snow at ground level, then proceed to another obstacle right after that. I decided to focus my attention on the first part of Ethan’s ‘double line,’ as this building offered plenty of compositional goodness via windows and graphics combined with great snowboarding.

Once everybody was on board with Ethan’s vision, the crew pitched in on the construction of the run-in, jump and landing, which collectively took about three hours. As with most street snowboarding terrain, there’s quite a bit of shovelling and snow moving involved, so it’s crucial for everybody to do their part so you can have something to shoot in a timely manner.

Course Maint - Canada Jan 2014
Course Maint – Canada Jan 2014

Once Ethan started to put the finishing touches on his ‘double line’, I began the process of figuring out where the primary angle would be, while finding a suitable location for the second camera. I settled on a primary angle for the Nikon D4 (70-200mm 2.8 Lens, hot shoe mounted Pocket Wizard Flex TT5) that would trigger the flashes and remote camera, then placed a Nikon D3s (16mm 2.8, Pocket Wizard MultiMax Receiver on the hot shoe with a Nikon 10-pin cable release)mounted to a Manfrotto 190CXpro3 tripod on a lower angle behind the landing, as to not be seen by the first angle.

For the building interior flashes, I used two Sunpak 544s trigged with Pocket Wizard Multimax Receivers, sitting atop Manfrotto 190CXpro3 tripods, one unit on the first floor, and the other unit on the second floor. Since the building was solid concrete, which block wireless signals, I used extra long sync cords on the flash units so I could hang the receivers outside the building through the window spaces I’d be lighting up. Since the PocketWizard units are black in color, they blended right in with the metal window framing on the exterior of the building. I also kept the source of artificial light out of the composition as well (aka: don’t show your light source or any equipment in photos ever, unless it’s imagery about equipment or behind the scenes documentation),very important to clean flash photography. Speaking to the power setting on the flashes, it comes down to each individual photo and the result you’re looking for, and this is achieved by doing several test shots which provide you the opportunity to make adjustments and tweaks before it’s ‘go time.’

For the exterior flashes I used a third Sunpak flash unit placed near the remote camera, aimed at a separate concrete structure on the left side of the composition (see opening image). With the interior and exterior of building lit up, I now needed to focus an Elinchrom Ranger Strobe on the action itself, as this artificial light would stop the snowboarding action while spreading wide and high enough to light up this part of the structure as I intended.

Once the lighting was in place and firing during my test shots, Ethan began to figure out the snowboarding action, so he could finish off his day with a solid film clip. During his test runs and initial attempts, I messed with slight compositional changes (horizontal to vertical); a photo without flashes and making sure my remote camera had a solid still image.The remote camera (i.e.: second angle) with thehot shoe mounted PocketWizard and Nikon 10-pin cable release, shot photos anytime I pressed the shutter button on the primary camera, the same exact concept as firing a remote flash.

Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014

Since the snowboarding was moving at a rapid pace, I decided to use the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 for its high-speed flash sync capabilities on the primary angle. Most DSLR camera bodies have a maximum flash sync speed of 200, 250 or 320, but I wanted to shoot this image with a much faster shutter speed (800) due to the pace of the rider and the composition brought Ethan right to left across the frame (more difficult to freeze tack sharp than subject matter moving away from or towards the lens).

Once Ethan gave us the thumbs up he was ready to go for the complete double line, we got into position knowing all equipment was working and ready to capture the radness. After four or five tries, Ethan landed the line to perfection, I was satisfied with my image, which Ethan approved, and then he headed over to the cinematographer to check the MOVI follow footage, which turned out stellar.

Ethan Deiss -  Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss - Canada Jan 2014
Ethan Deiss – Canada Jan 2014
Corey Koniniec - Canada Jan 2014
Corey Koniniec – Canada Jan 2014

With the daylight hours expiring, we moved into evening darkness to continue chipping away at movie clips at this veryunique location. As Jeremy was helping Ethan get his double line earlier, he’d been thinking about what he’d like accomplish during the night and had an idea all ready to go.Ethan’s landing would serve as Jeremy’s landing ramp, but he’d be shooting up one of the ground level exterior walls, flying over another, kicking one foot out of his bindings and landing.

Once again, we all pitched in to build the jump that would provide Jeremy with enough boost and upward momentum to ride the concrete, catch air, kick his foot out and land safely. After shovel time was complete, I grabbed the three Sunpak set-ups from Ethan’s shot, built up a fourth Sunpak unit,then began placing them in exact locations according to my image needs (I wouldn’t be using the Elinchrom Strobe I used for Ethan’s shot for Jeremy’s image).

Flash number one was high above the action where Ethan’s jump was located, which lit Jeremy’s back. Flash number two was next to the landing on the other side of the small wall, lighting his face, arms and legs. The third flash lit the front side of the small orange graffiti wall, with the fourth unit to my right throwing light on the kicker and green wall. I placed a flash on the right and left of me so you wouldn’t see my shadow in the composition, which would happen if I only used one flash to light up this area of the photo. Be mindful of flash placement during wide-angle photos, you don’t need to see the photographer just like you don’t need to see the equipment. Additionally, I was comfortable in setting my shutter speed to the in-camera maximum of 250, firing my flashes with the Pocket Wizard Multimax Unit via the D4 hot shoe.

Jeremy Jones - Canada Jan 2014
Jeremy Jones – Canada Jan 2014

Returning late that evening from an epic all day all night adventure, I backed up my shots to two separate external hard drives, put a third copy on my computer, laid out my gear to dry and checked into sleepy time. For the next few days we kept locating spots, building, shooting and gathering film clips, it wasn’t until after my return home that I had a window to edit the images, which is par for the course on these types of snowboarding photo shoots.

My edit process goes like this: delete unwanted images, then add metadata, rename, manipulate, export and file the keepers. I then back up the DNG and Jpeg files three times, send in a copy to my client and get ready for the next photo shoot.

If you’d like to see Ethan’s double line in motion, check out the nine-minute movie called ‘Burton Presents: Zak and Ethan’ at Burton.comon their video link. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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