I live in the arid, pinion/juniper climate of Northern New Mexico. We enjoy 300+ days of beautiful sunshine, and brilliant blue skies. For two months of the year, we’re graced with the summer monsoon cycle and the occasional moody gray weather which were normal fare in my midwestern youth. We still get plenty of that New Mexico sunshine, put for a small part of the day we get some great moody backdrops.
This year, Pajarito Mountain hosted its first enduro race, the Rock n’ Roll Enduro. Lucky for me, great bikers and a misty backdrop combined to create some stellar images.
Driving up to the mountain that morning, clouds hugged the crest of the ridges. My mind started racing, thinking about all the options which were opening up for my day of bike photography. My basic M.O. for shooting races involves running fast and compact, but not necessarily light. My backpack is full of the zoom lenses and speedlites, with a compact lightstand strapped to the outside. Everything carries reasonably well when riding my bike along moderate trails. But I’ll never do the Appalachian Trail, or outrun anyone with my backpack set-up.
Half of my pack’s weight comes from my flash set-up: three Canon’s 600EX-RT’s, a Canon ST-E3-RT radio controller, Lastolite Tri-flash light stand head, plenty of spare batteries, and that aforementioned light stand. The three speedlites provide decent power together, with radio-controlled auto (TTL) flash exposure. The last part is key when you have bikers flying by. I set my camera to whatever ambient exposure I need, and just tell the flashes how they should mix with that ambient (+- about three stops of light). After that, the flashes automatically read the scene and properly expose the subject flying by. I’ve been using the 600’s for a few races now, and I’ve been pumped by the results every time. You’ll see what I mean in every shot in this post.
Even in the mist, I still need all the power and refresh speed I can get from my speedlites. Therefore, high speed sync is never really a great option. I’m stuck shooting at my camera’s native sync speed, which on the 5DIII is 1/200 sec. Such a slow shudder means motion blur for anything lit by ambient light, but the strobes do a great job freezing anything they dominate. Luckily, most bike helmets cast a shadow over the rider’s face, and a properly aimed speedlite fills the shade and creates perfect focus. The above shot shows the result in spades. Almost everything shows a motion blur, except for the steel gaze in the rider’s eyes. How cool is that?!