Extreme sports require some pretty serious gear to get some decent enough shots. If you are the only photographer covering the event, the dependency on technology shoots up even more. Photographer Brett Wilhelm arrived at Mammoth Mountain, California, as the sole photographer from X-Games.com to cover Cam Zink’s mammoth backflip:
The 100 foot backflip on a mountain bike required an innovative setup. Being the sole shooter means Wilhelm had to draw deep into his prior experience with shooting at such events, as well as take the best possible technology along with him.
Camera Gear for Covering a Freestyle Mountain Bike Event
- two Nikon D4S cameras (one set up on a tripod with a remote)
- 17-35mm lens
- MultiMax PocketWizard Transceiver with a Nikon 10-pin release cable
- another PocketWizard transceiver attached to his left hand with a thumb-held release trigger. The second PocketWizard allowed Wilhelm to control the burst shoot on the first camera, even while he was focusing and using his second camera, which he handheld (also a D4S).
- two Nikon speedlights (SB-910) with PocketWizards (MiniTT1 and FlexTT5) for communicating with them through his hand-held D4S. These provided wireless TTL and flash high-speed sync. The speedlights were manually zoomed to their maximum 200mm.
- 70-200mm lens
- TT1 transmitter on the D4S for the second set of PocketWizards controlling the speedlights set up remotely.
- Nikon D800
- 24-120mm lens for the D800
- Nikon WT-5 transmitters for uploading the images
The first D4S was set up with a remote with the wide angle lens ensuring Wilhelm was able to capture the shot when Zink was in to his backflip. The wide angle also allowed him to capture the mountains and the crowd in the background. The second purpose of this camera was to capture the sequence shots.
While reading the specs above, you may have wondered why Wilhelm preferred a TTL setup for the speedlight units. Although the above video was shot when the sun was overhead, when the actual jump was to be made the sun would be somewhere toward the upper right-hand corner of the frame. Wilhelm acknowledged that the exact ambient light condition was going to be difficult to guess in advance. Thus he preferred to meter on the fly and get that information down to the speedlights for the shot.
The actual jump was to occur around seven in the evening. With Wilhelm shooting at ISO 1600-3200, 1/800 of a second, at f/4 – 4.5, the speedlights did made sense (just in case you are wondering why on earth he had the speedlights set up in the first place). The ambient light would have dimmed considerably for the speedlights to add a bit of punch to the shots.
Please note, the speedlights would have been able to recycle quickly for a couple of shots only. After, that, however, they don’t really matter anymore as the jump would have been over. This is why Wilhelm set himself up at the finish line and attempted to shoot only a few shots with the speedlights (the few that will record the high points of the jump). After that he switched to his third camera, a Nikon D800, to capture the celebration after the record-breaking backflip.
Wilhelm managed to photograph the whole event on his own, and he made it look easy.
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