Colin is a freelance event photographer specialising in motocross and, more pertinently for this talk, an expert in the use of off-camera flash and other lighting. All his images are made with some artificial light – “I use lighting for everything”.
Colin “came into photography” about 13 years ago. His son Chris started to ride motocross and along with that came the photography, taking photographs on practise days, track days and race meetings, always trying to get a better shot of Chris. After a while, Colin got a bike himself and joined in with the riding. But when he retired from that he really started to develop the photography.
He started with “standard event shots”. Then he had seen a marvellous surfing shot in a magazine in which the edge of the wave had been expertly lit. He also realised that all the photos on the covers of sporting magazines were lit. It was a bit of a “eureka” moment. Now all his pictures – whatever they are – get illuminated. The lighting boosts colours, increases contrast, enhances textures, controls shadows, counters unfavourable ambient light, and much more. And it often enables him to get shots he would not otherwise get.
Colin showed us lots of his motocross pictures, explaining what he was trying to achieve with each shot and how he positioned his lights to get the sort of effects he was after. Nearly always he has a light (or lights) at 90 degrees to the camera as he wants to show the texture of the rugged ground (all the ruts etc) and bring out the drama of the sport and the great colours and shapes of the bikes through high-contrast highlights and shadows. Often, he also has a second light opposite the first, so that they are pointing directly at each other. And, by moving himself rather than the lights, he can achieve apparently different set-ups for a single arrangement of lights (especially if he also changes camera/lens). He generally shoots slightly underexposed.
Colin often shoots from low down, level with the track if possible (even standing in the drainage ditches), and uses higher ISO as he wants a fast shutter speed (up to 1/8,000 second) to freeze the action. And, although he uses AI Servo focusing, he almost always takes just a single shot – “I do not do ‘machine-gunning’”. Unlike images for competitions, he aims to show little space in front of the bike preferring instead to show the trail of dirt being kicked up behind it – this is what his customers want to see.
The kit Colin shoots with consists of a Canon 1DX (with f2.8 70-200mm lens), a Canon 7D MkII (with 10-22mm lens), sometimes a 10mm fisheye lens, and lots of lighting. While he started with ordinary speedlites, often arranged in large clusters (held in place with duct tape), Colin graduated to more powerful flash heads such as Godox and Pixapro. He puts them on spikes that are easy to move around the track and position where needed. He also puts them on the end of a decorator’s pole! This enables him to be very mobile – he simply carries the pole around wherever he goes.
Apart from the action shots, Colin ensures he gets a picture of each rider on the line before the start of each race. Usually, there may be 10-20 riders in a race. But there are lots of races so there could be, literally, hundreds of riders at an event. And he also finds time to do rider portraits and other shots around the event, often adding softboxes to the flash heads.
Colin aims to get his images right-in-camera as he has little time available for post-processing. He takes a van (actually a converted coach) to events, fully equipped with computers and printers, so he can cope with all the printing needs of producing pictures for all those riders, their proud families and anyone else who wants to buy them on the day.
In addition to motocross, Colin also covers other sports such as BMX, mountain biking and go-karting. And he has done shoots with gymnasts, dancers, cars with their owners, boxers, and others. He prefers to work “on location” but does sometimes use studios.
Despite a busy working life, Colin has found time to join the Bishop’s Stortford Camera Club and it has definitely expanded his horizons. He has explored the delights of nature photography, macro and even landscapes (though he didn’t think that would be his “thing”). But he still uses lighting for everything he does. He loves the control it affords him as it cuts out the ambient light and allows him to put light just where he wants it. He does not use reflectors as if he wants to put some light anywhere he simply uses another light.
By way of illustrating this side of his photography, Colin showed us first a 100 second shot of a snail making its way along the edge of a piece of black perspex! A flash of light had been added just before the shutter closed. Other images included flowers, insects, a butterfly, a caterpillar, a robin, a blue tit, a long-tailed tit, swans, a barn owl, a red kite, a wild horse (in Iceland), a tame horse (in England), a grey squirrel, windmills, and Bamburgh Castle. All these were taken with added light, often using a flash head on the end of his decorator’s pole – he even takes the pole out into the countryside for his landscapes.
Colin is a fluent and entertaining presenter and his talk was generously illustrated with his high-quality images accompanied with plenty of “how I got the shot” explanation. This was an absorbing evening.
And now we are all going out to buy decorator’s poles.