All photographers have familiar subject matter. Maybe you are wedding photographer, a sports shooter or a headshot specialist. You cover similar events and subjects year after year. The natural progression is you start asking yourself, â˜is there a different way to photograph this familiar subject?' Sometimes unique perspectives or new locations prompt spikes in creativity and original ideas. Sometimes new lighting or post processing creates fresh looks. And other times new gear comes along that lets you realize new possibilities.
I've been photographing adventure sports for almost 30 years, and I have watched how trends, techniques and styles have all evolved over time. Just when you think you have seen it all, photographers figure out new techniques and perspectives and things become fresh again. Right now the adventure sports genre is experiencing the â˜drone revolution.' Video and still photographers have a new tool that permits exciting new ways to photograph climbing and kayaking. And combine that with athletes climbing cliffs and paddling off waterfalls that were thought to be impossible, and adventure sports photography is looking good right now.
My own evolution came with a phone call from my friends at Elinchrom. I have shot with Elinchrom lights for as long as I can remember, and nothing makes me happier than hauling my Rangers and Quadras into the woods to light up a rock climber on a cliff. But this time Elinchrom had a new light for me to try outâ¦the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 1000s. These lights are 1000 watt AC unitsâ¦and so much more. What knocked me off my seat was the spec that said "these lights can shoot 20 flashes per second." After crawling back into my chair, I fell off again when I realized, "these lights can recycle as fast as your Nikon D4 can shoot." If the specs were true I could finally realize a shot I had imagined for years; creating a sequence shot with every frame lit by flash.
To test out the lights I headed to Salida, Colorado to photograph pro skateboarder Shea Donavan. Shea has a huge half pipe skate ramp in his backyard, and he spends hours each day perfecting amazing aerials on his board. Shea and his dad Bill are always up for skating shoots; we set up the lights for cross lighting Shea when he caught air off the ramp, and waited for twilight for optimal conditions. But we didn't anticipate one thing; the blinding power and speed of the ELC 1000s.
On the first pass Shea catch huge air. I started shooting at 10 FPS, and the ELCs were popping off every frameâ¦and completely blinding Shea. Halfway through the jump he grabbed his board and prepared for a hard landing. Time seemed suspended for a moment, but somehow Shea landed on the ramp in control (but not on his board!). Lesson learned, we repositioned the lights, and on the next jumps, Shea knew what to expect and hit some amazing tricks well out of the half pipe. I was amazed to see every frame was perfectly lit. Instead of only having one frame illuminated per pass, I now had 10 shots to choose just the right shot from the jump. Bill Donavan and Dangerous Circus Pictures created a video of the shoot.
After seeing these amazing lights crank off hundreds of lightning fast shots, I knew I had the tool for my sequence shot. I had one challenge. Since I often shoot away from AC power, I needed a generator that could power two ELC 1000s strobes and keep up with the fast recycling time. I found that my 2000 watt Honda generator worked great, and better yet, it only weighs about 45 pounds. For my flash sequence photo, I hired a pro BMX biker, Chance, for the shoot. I told Chance well in advance to start with easy jumps since the lights might be a little distracting. But on this shoot we shot in brighter conditions with the lights at about 500 watts. And sometimes you just get lucky; dramatic clouds starting rolling in creating the perfect background for the shoot. I underexposed the background about 1.5 stops from what the flash exposure was on my biker. To help project the lights into the scene, I added sports reflectors to the heads.
Chance started with simple jumps, and then progressed into backflips and more advanced tricks. Each pass I was shooting my D4 at 10 FPS, and every frame was lit perfectly. What really amazed me was the consistency of flash throughout each sequence. We also shot a short video behind the scenes of this shoot:
I later seamed up the individual sequence shots into one frame in Photoshop using layers and brushing in the rider into the shot.
I continued to experiment with new sequence techniques using these lights. The ELC 1000s also have a terrific stroboscopic mode. Instead of combining multiple frames from a sequence, you keep your shutter open for long periods of time while a moving subject is flashed moving across the frame. The end result is one frame with your subject in multiple positions. I experimented with karate competitors and dancers for some interesting effects.
I don't think many photographers are ever satisfied with their work. I know I'm not. I create some images I feel are successful, and I may be complacent for a few days. But then I get restless, and feel the urge to create something bigger, better and more creative. I want to explore new frontiers. This year new technology, the Elinchrom ELC 1000s, have allowed me to explore new frontiers in my photography. But I'm starting to feel restless again. Perhaps this video best explains why I became a photographer, and why I just have to keep on shooting.
You can see more of Tom’s work at TomBolPhoto.com, follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and check out his classes on KelbyOne.
Really great stuff Tom! I know you as not only an exceptional shooter, but a truly nice guy! Look forward to running into you in the field. My best my friend!
Thank you Tom. Experiment. Practice. Perfect. That’s a great strategy for all of us to remember.
love the ballet shots… very graceful…
Exceptional work by an exceptional photographer