After 2 and a half days of shooting both stills and video with Canon DLSRs, it's time to take a break from editing photos and put some content up. I shot about 3000 photos during the course of the event and I got some great shots. In fact, I got stuff that I liked so much that I've created a new standard for myself. I took plenty of photos that would have previously considered top notch but are now dwarfed by the sheer awesomeness (or what I think is awesome anyways) of some of the other photos I got. This project began with getting in touch with Tom Stevens: frame builder, bike mechanic, racer, coach, and cyclocross course designer. He was happy to have us come down and shoot a the event. We got plenty of video of the course setup on Friday, a big job for the volunteers putting on the event. They drove about a bazillion stakes and must have strung up a couple miles of caution tape to mark the course. Myself, Chris Snyder and John Daaboul then went about shooting the races. Chris and John primarily shot video and I handled most of the still photos.
The speedlights were out in full force for this event. With the sun being so low in the sky all damn day, some pretty harsh shadows needed to be dealt with. Rather than setting up my two 430exII's on either side of the course as I had at Plymouth earlier this month, I placed them both next to each other to maximize their output. By placing them a few inches apart and aiming them in a slightly different directions, I they increased their coverage a bit and I think it also had the effect of creating a slightly larger effective light source. They were triggered by a 580exII on camera with the flash output off. This helped save on batteries and I also didn't need to worry about another light needing to recycle. In addition to the line of site/range/ reliability issues that are part of using an IR sync system, having a 5D with battery grip, 70-200mm f/2.8 and a flash unit makes for a heavy damn camera. Seeing as, for the most part, I like the results I get with the speedlights at these events I'm going to need to invest in some Pocket Wizard ETTL triggers.
Placing the lightstands on a hill created some challenges which were over come by leaning the stands on each other. To keep them locked together I either had them intersect at the locking screws or tied them together with a bongo tie.
The video we shot is still being edited and will hopefully be available in the next couple weeks.
I had another go at my speedlight/High Speed Sync experimentation at this past weekend's Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross. I spent about an hour shooting at the barriers after I raced in the morning. The sun was out and there was no shade to be found in that area so it was a chore to get the ambient light knocked down. I used the same lights as my last post, 2 430EXII's and a 580EXII as an on-camera master. I had my trusty 5D mkII shooting at around 1/4000th, f4.0, ISO 200 which lowered the ambient light about 1-1.5 stops. With my first shots I had my slaves set up close to the barrier which made for some high contrast side-lighting. In camera it looked like shit so I moved the lights after a few frames but after blowing it up I liked the look. I think in the future I'll raise the strobes up a bit to move the nose shadow. Helmets and those goofy hats that roadies tend to wear (don't ask me why) can cause problems with shadows. My biggest problems this past weekend came from focusing. No blasting off a few frames to hope to get the focus right and I couldn't close the aperture because the strobes aren't quite powerful to handle big f-numbers and high shutter speeds. High speed sync is great but it sucks away from the light's available power. Next time I may put the strobes on manual at full power and chimp a few frames to see exactly what kind of f-stop I can shoot at.
For the next shot I moved the lights a little farther back and had decent results.
I also pulled out my wide angle lens to get some very close shots next to barriers. Most of the people that crashed at the barriers did so at the first one. By lying down next to the second barrier I hoped to avoid having someone put a chainring into my head or step on my camera. I had my master pointed up and back at my two slaves which were positioned behind and over me. Again, the biggest problem I had was with focusing. I had to prefocus and hope that the racers ran through the right spot.
All in all, I'd say this attempt went better than the last and I'm learning to work around my equipment limitations. I can't wait to get some big strobes (I'm currently thinking Elinchrom Ranger AS Speed) and play around with those at the races.
Cyclocross is a wonderful sport to photograph. No sidelines, no referees getting in your shot, it is truly a spectator's sport. You can get right next to the riders whizzing past you. You can cross over the course to get to where the action is because the course is only a bunch of caution tape strung between stakes. You get plenty of opportunities for a great shot because you know the riders will be coming back around. A cyclocross race is a great place to experiment. I raced the Orchard Cross race near Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a Cat 4 two weeks ago. Afterwards I went out with my gear and spent a short time playing around with my speedlites and high speed sync. This is my firt time trying this kind of lighting. I was using two 430EXII's as my main lights and a 580EXII on camera as my master and on camera fill. This setup was pretty nice because it was light weight and easy to set up. However, I quickly found the need to keep everything in view of my on camera flash quite limiting. It forced me to re-adjust lights almost everytime I moved my camera's postion, and prevented me from putting my lights behind me. I also didn't like the extra weight of the strobe on top of my camera.
The flashes were kept on ETTL to automatically compensate for the different lines the riders were taking. Here and there I would change the flash exposure compensation on the individual strobes to have them act more as key and fill lights when I wanted to. Pocket Wizard FlexTT5's would have been nice to have especially with their new ST4 adapter to control Elinchrom RX systems remotely.
Another issue I ran into was focusing. I was generally shooting at ISO 200-400 and f/3.2 on my 70-200mm lens to keep the strobes from working too hard. So I couldn't just blast off four frames each time a rider would go by because the strobes couldn't recycle fast enough. I had to prefocus and then hope I tripped the shutter at the right moment. With the shallow depth of field brought by the large apertures I was using I got a lot of out of focus photos. Some external power packs would have been welcome to speed up recycle times but the rechargable NIMH batteries that I use are actually quite good and I can't see the value in external packs at this point.
The first place I photographed was in the shade underneath a bunch of apple trees. I was able to underexpose the ambient light quite a bit here. The other I also went right out into the middle of a field where the sunlight was quite bright and shot some photos. It was here that I kept the ambient only slightly underexposed and helped shape the light with my strobes. I think I had my most successful photos from this setup.