Sunday, June 13, 2010

Teva Games: The Rest of the Story

Ahhh... The Teva Mountain Games, does life get any better?   Tons of opportunities for incredible photos are open for any photographer at the Teva Games!  I've been fortunate enough to live in Vail, CO the last few years and capture the games every year.  The games include freestyle kayak, mountain bike, bike slopestyle (huge jumps!)  stand-up river surfing, steep creek kayak with waterfalls, dock dogs (dogs jumping off of a platform and seeing how far they can leap into a pool), and the infamous "mud run".
Here's a shot I captured with a bit of luck, patience, and scouting.  When I took this shot, there were literally about 10 photographers all shooting from the same location.  They all are getting similar images! I cut some ropes and fences when no one was looking to get this angle. (DISCLAIMER: I didn't just say that....)

If you have the opportunity, then head to Vail next year and compete in the photography competition (More about this in this competition in this post.)

The above image is from the Slopestyle event.  Rider's take a lot of air and will do all sorts of variations of flips and spins off the jumps.  Try to set up shots around the scene as opposed to the athlete.  Too many photographers will have shots of just the athlete in the air, with no real depiction of how they got there.  These images are generally not selected as winners.

My approach to capturing stunning images?  Flash.  It's that simple.  Set up off-camera flash and you instantly have an upper-hand over the competition.  I'd say it moves you into the top 5% of the competitors when used right.  On-camera flash is an advantage as well, though only works great for a small amount of fill when necessary.   Get yourself a set of radios or use the in-flash IR triggers to get that flash off-camera.  You can learn about all of this stuff at the Strobist's site here.
Sharp images of dogs jumping at high speed towards the camera can be very tough to obtain.  Set your camera in auto-focus with the minimum focus points and dynamic AF as long as you have a fast focusing camera.  If not, pre-focus on point in the water they will be traveling over, set aperture as high as you can, and fire a burst.  At least one image will be in focus!

Throughout this event I carried an SB-900 and SB-800, along with an AlienBee B1600 and vagabond battery pack.  To ensure that I don't run out of power with my strobes, I brought along 2 Quantum Turbo 2x2 battery packs.  These afford me far faster recycle times, and an extremely large amount of triggers per charge.  (I've never run them all the way down on a shoot!!!)  Also, I carried PocketWizard transceivers for triggering everything wirelessly.

When it comes to shooting extremely fast action sports, there are a couple key things you need to know.  First and most important, exactly what the athlete will be doing.  If you don't understand what the athlete is doing, how could you capture the action correctly?   Second, where the best angle is.  Experiment before the athlete shows up.  View every possible angle and always look around for more.   There are literally a million different angles for any shot.  Third, you will need a high shutter speed, at least 1/500th or greater if you are not using your flash, and even faster if your shooting a side-angle.

To do this, bring fast lenses, and crank your ISO as high as your camera will allow while still retaining very low noise.  With the D3S I found myself shooting at ISO 1000 regularly, an option that was WAY TOO NOISY with most other cameras.  You don't always have to use fast shutter however.  Try and capture some cool motion blur as well!  Experimentation is the best way to come up with some of your most incredible shots ever.

So where do you set up a flash, and if you have multiple flashes, what will you do?  This is scene and sport dependent.  With mountain biking, I typically like to set up my flash low and as close to head-on with the athlete as possible.  For most angles, the face of the athlete is a key component to be well lit.  This way I don't get too many shadows cast, and the eyes are filled with light.  I also like to zoom the flash in a fair bit to give it more power and punch, and keep it focused on just the athlete (overflow can really ruin a shot when used wrong).  All of this will depend on my specific angle that I am shooting from.  Experiment with flash placement if the first try isn't working.  With events like this, your given the opportunity of shooting a similar shot from any angle with different athletes.  This makes it a great place to learn your flash placement.

The courses can be dangerous places for the inexperienced, or the unexpecting photographer.  Athletes are moving at high speed, and sometimes have no announcement before their arrival.  Trying to walk down to a new angle on a singletrack trail with athletes coming up behind you at 25mph around blind corners can be sketchy.  Stay off the trail as much as possible, and look/listen to what's coming behind you.  A crash at this speed can be extremely damaging or fatal.  For the Teva games I start out well before the race has started, and scout the course in advance.  It's so much easier to find a good angle when you don't have to deal with the racers.
Be prepared to clean all the gear off after shooting the mud run.  It will get all over you, but always seems to have some sort of magnetic attraction to the front of lens.  Plus, there are always events afterwards and if you don't bring the right cleaning gear, your out of luck.

One of the best things that I've recently learned to do a bit more (though still not enough) is to look past the action, and see the cool shots of the athletes/spectators just enjoying life.  These are the shots that most people can relate too, and rarely see.
Here's a photo from the freeride bike race.  Athletes race head-to-head as fast as possible over all types of various wooden features, some crazy crashes ensue when athletes occasionally fall form obstacles that are about 8 feet tall.

Some of these shots may or may not be my picks for the photo competition.  I'll upload my 3 with a link to the winning photos once winner's are announced.
This image is from the Steep Creek Challenge.  The river is dangerous, so all photographers are required to supply their own life jacket if they want to get in close.  Bring yours if you want unique shots!

I've been fortunate enough to recover some of my photos from my memory cards to attach to this article. The rest were unrecoverable, and are sitting on my hard drive at the drive recovery store in Denver....

That's the BUZZ for Today!  Please check back soon for more.


Dave Wright said...

Nice! Love the shot of the kayaker with the paddler over his shoulder. Great lighting. I thought we might cross paths up there but I didn't see you. These are the images I got at the slopestyle practice and the freeride qualifiers:

Good luck getting your images back. I hope you can recover them all.

Post a Comment