Friday, February 4, 2011

Bike to the Beach




It's always nice in the winter to remember the warm days of summer. So today is a post about Bike to the Beach.


Last year my wife, a speech pathologist, decided she wanted to give cycling a try and what better way to try something out than to go head strong into it. Someone in her community recommended she check out Bike to the Beach, an annual awareness / fundraising bike ride from downtown DC to the Atlantic Ocean (>100 miles) to benefit Autism Speaks. It was perfect, it gave her something to work towards and benefited something she cared about I had other commitments at the time and decided not to train for the actual event (or embarrass myself in trying) but thought I might be able to lend some assistance and volunteer as a photographer. The organizers jumped at the idea.

In preparing for any assignment the most important thing is figuring out what your client wants, even volunteer assignments. And the priorities seemed to be 1) group shot of everyone at the end; 2) documentation of sponsor integration and 3) anything else I can get along the way is an added benefit but not essential.  Luckily my wife's friend was training with her and her brother was going to come along too, meaning we had an extra car and an extra driver making that many more shots possible.

Here are a few shots from before the start I took using a portable light stand.





I started thinking about how to get shots of the start while leaving the the city and at top speeds.  Based on my previous experience.  I knew some roping / harness would be involved.  Because the race started at 4 in the morning I'd only be working with whatever street light ambient there was in addition to whatever flash I could muster.

I knew that the further you can get your flash away from the camera lens axis the better the lighting will be, and the less chance of getting horrible reflections.  But I also knew that once we started moving I wouldn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to adjust equipment for fear of either losing something out of the back of an open SUV.  I decided the best solution was to leave the hatch of the newer model Honda CRV open with two flashes ganged together clamped to the inside handle of the back hatch.  This gave me the flexibility to shut the hatch if we needed to pick up speed and get somewhere and some off-axis flash.  I also kept an on-camera flash just in case.

The thing to realize is that the further your subject gets away from the flash the more apparent on-axis your flash becomes....this is simple trigonometry, take look here:




 So no matter where I put a flash on the vehicle I'd run into on-axis problems the further we got from the riders.   I attempted to get some ambient shots only, but with the moving riders it seemed hopeless, so I attempted to get something more "stationary" trying to keep the capitol dome in focus, but with the moving car and DC potholes even my image stabilization couldn't keep up with the exposures necessary before civil twilight.


So I moved on to my flash. Even though I had two flashes raised high on the right side of the car and I was on the left side of the car, as the distance increased the flatter the image became, but I think this was the best I could have done without a flash on a mo-ped following alongside with the flash and this didn't really have that kind of budget, but I'm open to suggestions.





You can really see how much the quality of the light improves the the closer we get




The event had police "escorts" out of the city, who we were told would be leading the way so there was no real need to know the exact route....fortunately/unfortunately the police stopped to prevent traffic from crossing intersections meaning we were left to lead everyone out of the city, so always be prepared!

One more long exposure shot that I like:



And here's some motion freezing flash with some background trailing, as you can see not all of my flashes were in rear-curtain sync.



As the sun started to rise the lighting situation got a bit easier and we could just have fun along the way, here are a few pictures from the journey, below is more explanation of the group photo










The sky was doing great things that day!



A quick grab out the passenger window


















More of that great sky! Here I used a bit of on-camera fill flash to light up her face while fighting the sun at the finish line.






Here's where I started to scope out for a group photo.  The event had never ended at this particular location, so I had nothing done previously to work with. Nor did I have an opportunity to make the 3-4 hour trip ahead of time to scope it out.  My first thought was getting everyone out on this dock.  I could get some sitting with their feet hanging over, some kneeling, standing etc:




But after discussing with the manager, she said it wouldn't support that many people.  Next option: go high!  We found a ladder that I could use to get onto the roof.  The only problem was the sun was setting directly behind and to the right of my group.  Great for preventing squinting, but not when trying to overpower it with small flashes.  My solution: add more flashes.  Here's a photo a participant grabbed of me directing traffic.  Not an easy job when everyone has been cycling for 8 hours and they're several pitchers into the evening.



Here's My set up.  You can see the shadows cast by the sun below.  I'm the left most light.


The light group camera right is actually a total of three (3) lights all on one light stand pointing to the far end of the crowd (read about feathering and distance here ).  That light tree was my key light.  I also included an on-camera flash as my "safety" flash a stop or two below the key light to lift any shadows of faces that were't hit by my key light.

Here's the final image.  Note shadow cast by the sun and the chair in the bottom right of the image.  Also note the shadow cast by my light tree  and the people in bottom right directly in front of the banner.  As you can see the flashes aren't nearly as powerful as the sun, but still doing a pretty darn good job for late July at the beach.


All in all a great event! They raised a lot of money and I feel good getting to lend a hand.

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