A pleasant day in March saw 3 of us heading to the Alpine Bikes Winter DH Series round 3 at Innerleithen (a downhill bike race) for an afternoons photography. Neil is a mountain biker and has covered such events before, but for Dave & I it was a first. The weather was good and it even stayed dry!
The event took place on a track that snaked between trees, down drops, over jumps and generally challenged the riders – though given the speed they travelled at I’m not sure they really noticed the trees!
We arrived in time to walk up a fair bit of the course and were just about in position as the first riders appeared. The only real indication of their arrival was the stewards whistles and given their speed vigilence was the order of the day.
Their speed also meant that the autofocus systems couldn’t keep up – even the 3D matrix focussing – so it was back to the old school manual prefocus and press the button at the right time. Having done this before it only took me a few attempts to get close. I tried to keep the aperture around f8 or higher to give myself a more tolerant depth of field, but given that I also needed a fast shutter speed of 1/250th this wasn’t always possible.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that the conditions would need a higher ISO than the D300 can really use without noise/grain becoming an issue, so I started using one of the SB800′s I’d brought to provide some extra light. This limited me to a shutter speed of 1/250th but the pocket wizards provided me with the range and meant I could forget about line of sight.
The initial results were OK, but I felt that I could improve by moving out from under the trees, so I started down the hill.
The problem when using flashes is that they need to be setup. Spending a little time and thought on the setup is generally a good idea, so while trying to find I carried on taking pictures without the flash.
As I moved further down the course I found a sharp corner where I could get close to the riders without distracting them. The sun was high and to my right so I set the flash to my left for a little fill light. Sadly I had no lighting stands and this was a rocky bend without anything to rest the flash on, so the flash was just on the ground.
While the pictures were OK, they lacked drama and didn’t really convey the speed and daring of the riders, so I moved on looking for a jump. This time I had my back to the sun and the flash was attached to a tree to provide the fill as the riders went airborne over the jump.
After shooting there for a while, I decided to move along to a point where I could see the riders head on. This meant moving the flash, which almost cost me an SB800 when it fell onto the track as a rider approached. His landing missed it by less than 2″, so I’ll count myself lucky
The setup I was using for my final location allowed me some flexibility to move around, which I used once the gaps between riders grew and it was safer to move along the course.
Overall I had a good day. It felt good to be out and about with the camera and tackling a subject that isn’t really my usual added a nice extra twist.
Thanks to the marshalls for being so patient and understanding with my moving around so much.