by Michael Clark
Whenever I work with adventure sports athletes, I try to rely on their expertise and ability to help me create, rather than just take, the image. Talking to them, finding out what they can and can’t do, often results in images that I might not otherwise get. I’ve had numerous shoots where I thought I was getting something amazing, only to find out that the athlete could take it to another level.
The ability to see an image immediately on the back of the camera plays a big part in the process. I can show the subject exactly what I’m getting, and often the athlete will look at the image and indicate that he can do the maneuver with more style. The other advantage of getting subjects involved is that they get excited about the process and often work a little harder to help me. I see this happen when I’m using Speedlights or sports strobes, which serve to add a lot of drama to the scene and create images that are difficult for the athletes to imagine. Once they see what I’m doing with the light, they’ll open up and give me more to work with, especially when it comes to portraiture.
I always try to discuss with the subjects the images I want to get and how, where and when I want to do the shoot. I’m not just sharing information; in some cases the athletes may know of much better locations for the images I’m trying to create.
I always think of my work with athletes as partnerships, and to create the amazing images we all want we need to trust each other and have confidence in each other’s ideas and abilities.
Here’s how my partners helped me make some recent images.
Climbing on Ice. It’s rare to have sunlight on an ice climb, but that’s what I wanted, and because the light would hit the climbing area early in the morning, I made sure that Thorsten Schwander and I got to the location in the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colorado, very early. I shot straight down, and to create more separation between Thorsten and the background I used my NIKKOR 85mm perspective control lens and set the tilt/shift combination so that only Thorsten’s face was in focus.
Mountain Biking. On assignment for Lifstil, a company that makes protective cases for Apple computers, I set up a shoot with mountain biker Anthony Solesbee near his home outside Los Angeles. Because he knew the area so well, I’d described the type of shot I wanted to create, and he recommended the location. I showed Anthony the images after each jump, and we analyzed the shots and talked about how he could improve his position on the bike to create an even better photo. This was one of the last ones of the evening, and we intentionally made it a motion blur to show how fast he was moving.
Runner’s Portrait. The assignment was to photograph a woman running on a beach in Hawaii, and in between the running shots I worked with my model, Juri Ko, to create some portraits. Good portraiture requires collaboration, and for this shot I asked her to let her hair down, then positioned her to take advantage of the light and used my 85mm f/1.4 lens wide open to blur the background. Because I was shooting with a paper-thin depth of field, I asked Juri to hold very still once I had the shot composed so that her eyes remained in focus. Even a stationary subject needs to be working with you to get the image you want.
Snowboarding. For the Lifstil assignment I also shot snowboarding on Mt. Hood in Oregon with Colin Langlois. In the fading afternoon light, Colin did a number of different tricks off the lip of the jump. We checked the results and decided on a trick that would have him facing the camera. Colin was able to do the jump many times so we could get a variety of images. He’s a pro, and jumping a 50-foot gap wasn’t that big of a deal for him.
That’s it for this workshop session. Catch you next time around.
Check out Michael’s work and his latest book, Digital Masters: Adventure Photography, at his website, www.michaelclarkphoto.com. For more photo tips, you can sign up to receive his PDF-format quarterly newsletter.