So, what do you do when your location proves to be a stretch of pitted tarmac baked into desert? You stand there of course, in the blasted sun, with squinted eyes and a certain compressed, rueful expression on your face, realizing you had said yes to the location and now would have to make it work. The sun above is a freight train, baking your skull and barreling noisily through anything you might try to construe as a thought process. The only sources of open shade are wasted pieces of stubborn shrubbery, and none of them are higher than your kneecap, so to access any measure of open shade you would have to revert to macro photography. You are standing in what is known as the Dubai Velodrome. Let’s say the word velodrome has been loosely interpreted.
But, there are positive things. Power lines crackle overhead, and in the dusty distance, a real life blend of Oz and Gotham, glitters the skyline of Dubai, punctuated by the silvery slice of the Khalifa tower. You have lenses and lights. Best thing to be done, and the best lesson a location like this can teach you, is to be patient and carve out the pieces of this initially bleak vista into something that might work as a picture. Luckily, we had Miguel, an excellent triathlete, not to mention a bunch of speed lights. I was teaching a class called Fast Flash, Bodies in Flight at what has come to be a revered slot on the photo calendar, the estimable gathering of photogs and instructors known as GPP.
First thing, as always, was to find the field of frame, or, your point of view. Strip out the unappealing elements of the location. Keep it simple. We lined up the bike parallel to the skyline. Cali positioned himself at the rear wheel to stabilize Miguel, which meant he was about to get wet. Which wasn’t a big deal, as the giant sponge of the Middle Eastern sun dried him out instantly. He actually had the best job in the bunch of us.
Once Miguel’s position was defined, placed the lights. It being a workshop, we had a bunch of speed lights at our disposal, so I placed three and three at either end of the bike, just slightly behind Miguel’s profile. I call this position, for whatever reason, three quarter back light. That’s not an official, sanctioned term. Just my own convoluted sense of the language of location. The three apiece deal perched atop a pair of Manfrotto stacker stands via a Lastolite ratcheting tri-flash, which is a handy thing in an environment like this, as you can swing the sensors around to maximize their angle of reception for the commander pulse. We were working line of sight TTL, so these units proved handy.
Then, we simply blasted Miguel with light and got to 1/125th @ f22. Enter Jon and Ali, with multiple cups of water in hand. One, two three, splash! The pic above was the first frame of four I shot with water. I then turned the scene over to the class, and they happily proceeded to continue to drench our patient riders. The shutter speed/flash combo gave us a slight bit of motion to the water, and the depth achieved by f22 kept the city, which was far off, reasonably discernible.
Speaking of the tri-flash above, there’s a whole new group of additions to the Joe McNally range of Lastolite light shaping tools just coming on line now. I’ll be blogging about them over the course of the next few weeks, but if you want to take a look at some videos of them in operation, and what they can do, hit this link. It will take you right there and you can check out a couple of new ideas for light management that we conjured with Gary Astill, Lastolite’s resident genius designer, and mad scientist of the workings of light. Huge kudos to Gary and the crew at Manfrotto/Lastolite. They are good folks, and wonderful to work with.