Last week, I ordered the new Profoto Acute B 600 battery-powered generator, and have been itching to get out to play with it. We were able to finish up in the office early today, so it was a great opportunity to get out and be creative!

MTB Rider at Wompatuck

MTB Rider at Wompatuck

We decided to drive over to our local state park (Wampatuck) to explore some mixed lighting problems and do some work with motion. Wampatuck is well known in my area for its mountain biking, so it was the perfect place to find a great rider and explore some creative thoughts.

As this is a simple, yet pretty cool effect, I thought it would be a good lesson to talk about, so here goes…..

Whenever you begin to shoot a photograph, it is good to have an objective in mind, so… In an nutshell, the objective was to have motion in the background (to show that the rider was rolling,) yet freeze his face to give it just enough production polish. There are certainly several things going on here, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start, so lets start with the most complex and work our way out of the box.

Securing the camera to the trailer hitch

Securing the camera to the trailer hitch

First: Where will the camera be?

We wanted it low in order to silhouette the rider against the sky, so we started by building our camera platform. This was easily done with 1 Manfroto Variable Friction Arm, 1 Manfroto VFA w/ camera Bracket, and two Avenger SuperClamp (BTW, make sure you spend the little extra cash and get the heavy duty ones. They really do make a difference…) The Magic Arms are a fantastic way to put the camera securely in any position you want. We attached both super clamps to the trailer hitch on the photo truck, and then attached the magic arms to each clamp. Each arm was then locked in opposite directions as to give some stability to the rig.

The real secret here in keeping the camera from bouncing around like a rag doll is to stabilize it from both the bottom and the top. I like to use a little device made by Rycote called the Hot Shoe to 3/8 Adapter. This adapter slides into the hot shoe on the camera and has a 3/8 threaded stud which will screw into the end of the Bogen Magic Arm. Basically, this allows us to have a solid mounting point on the top, as well as the bottom of the camera.

Second: How do we get the desired motion?

If you have a hard time with motion, take your camera and set it to shutter priority. Make a guess as to where you think a good (shutter) beginning might be. If you have no idea, just guess. After a while, you will get a good idea of what works best. We first tried 1/30sec. I set the camera, and then got on the bike and followed the truck while snapping photos with the remote (you can see the pocket wizard in my left hand.) After a quick peek, it was clear that there wasn’t enough motion, so we went down to 1/15th. Another peek, and we knew we were there.

Testing motion...

Third: Where to put the light?

As we wanted some contrast on the riders face and body, we set the light up high to the left. Using an Avenger Mini Boom as the main support, we fixed a Superclamp with a stud to the rack on the photo truck and hung the arm out from the passenger side. We then used two grip arms with more Superclamps and studs to stabilize the main boom arm.

The Acute 600 head was placed on the end of the boom, with a small reflector snooted all the way out. We first experimented with different lighting implements such as the Profoto ProGlobe, and a small soft box, but in the end, the harsh reflector was the thing to go with.

Fourth: What f Stop to shoot at?

We needed to determine the f Stop so we could dial in our sky. This too is no complex trick. All one has to do is change the camera from shutter priority to manual. Set the shutter speed to your desired setting (in this case 1/15) and then shoot the sky until you get a good exposure. Today was f11.

Once you have determined both the shutter speed and the f stop, all that is left is to dial in the strobe. This is where the light meter comes in handy. Since the sky was f11, and we wanted the strobe to be the key light, all that had to be done was to increase the power of the strobe slightly in order to overpower the ambient light. This was done by setting the strobe at f18.

(note: put the light meter by the face of your subject and pop the strobe. Too high, turn down the pack… Too low, turn up the pack. If you cant go any higher, then move the light closer. If you cant go any lower, then move the light further away. SIMPLE!

Fifth: How to fire the camera from a moving truck?

As the camera was going to be as low to the moving pavement as possible, we used the Pocket Wizard to trigger the camera. This is done by connecting the receiver to the camera (you will need to have the special PW cable) and then firing the body with the transmitter. (keep in mind that in this case, as we had the hot shoe occupied with the 3/8 adaptor, we needed to tape the PW to one of the magic arms.)
Sixth: How to sync the camera and the strobe?

In a perfect world, one would think that one could just add another PW to the mix, connect it to the strobe and shazam. Well, we tried that, and after farting around for 10 min, we couldn’t get anything to work. I would love to pretend that we have all the answers, but the reality is we rarely do… and as it was after 5pm here on the east coast, and everyone at Mamiya USA had gone home, we decided to go old school and use a sync cord. (but believe me, one of the first calls in the AM will be to the techs over at Mamiya to see what we did wrong…)

So… Our camera rig is set and sturdy. We have figured the shutter speed to shoot at, and nailed down our f stop for the sky, as well as the f stop of the key light. The only thing left to do is roll out on the road and shoot.

It is really a fun way to make pictures. I urge you to get out, grab a buddy, and experiment! What do you have to loose?