ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY BY JOHN BASHER
By John Basher
35mm slide film died nearly a decade ago, and with it went the photographer’s propensity to err on the side of modesty when pushing the shutter button. The digital format affords photographers the chance to “spray and pray,” which is to set the camera on high-speed burst mode and fire away until the memory card can no longer keep up. That couldn’t be done with 35mm film without going broke. The spray and pray style of shooting is essentially a crutch for an amateur photographer, unless there’s something so action-packed that it warrants clicking off ten frames a second. As a photographer, I do my very best to avoid the spray and pray approach, because while the pixels essentially cost nothing, the accompanying file sizes annihilate storage space.
At MXA, it’s our job to shoot photos of bikes sitting on stands as much as it is to have some lucky rider crack the throttle and punish berms. People want to see a beautiful bike before it is thrashed; sans dirt, so to speak. In those moments when such photos are being taken there’s no real danger of reaching excess. Things change once the test rider slings a leg over the bike and puts knobbies to track. Action photos speak differently to different people, which is why it’s important to ruminate on unique angles that convey the speed, power, cornering precision, or jumping capabilities of the bike. We target a few spots on the track and start shooting until the intended idea materializes…and hopefully turns into something even better. That’s where the ability of a great photo rider shines. Fortunately MXA has a myriad of Pro-level test riders that know how to displace a berm and drag bar while maintaining composure.
“I OFTEN REMIND PHOTO RIDERS THAT I WILL NOT BE JUDGING THEM ON ANYTHING BUT A SERIES OF MOMENTS THAT TAKE 1/1600 OF A SECOND–THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES MY CANON CAMERA’S SHUTTER TO OPEN AND CLOSE AGAIN. THEY CAN STAND, SIT, SCREAM, RECITE THE CANTERBURY TALES OR WHISTLE AS THEY APPROACH THE SPECIFIED JUMP OR CORNER. I DON’T CARE.”
I often remind photo riders that I will not be judging them on anything but a series of moments that take 1/1600 of a second–the amount of time it takes my Canon camera’s shutter to open and close again. They can stand, sit, scream, recite The Canterbury Tales or whistle as they approach the specified jump or corner. I don’t care. After the point of action they’re free to shout obscenities at me because they (1) got dirty; (2) crashed; (3) are sick of hitting the same corner, or; (4) for any or all of the aforementioned reasons. I’m usually saved from scandalous slander spewed out by angry test riders–mainly because our photo riders are really nice guys–but it does happen.
Drought-stricken southern California is a tough place to shoot bike photos. It takes creativity to capture something altogether different from the normal stuff. I tend to use strobe lighting–battery-powered flashes–to create unique effects. However, lumbering around 30 pounds of lighting equipment isn’t realistic when scaling hills or dealing with 230-pound motorcycles as they zip by. My Hensel flashes have been run over by test riders and blown over by Santa Ana tempests. Not good. That’s why I prefer to shoot with flashes in a controlled setting, such as a private track.
It takes a certain level of trust when shooting with a photo rider. The industry gold standard is to shoot with a 300mm f2.8 lens. It has great image compression, excellent autofocus capabilities, produces razor-sharp images, and a photographer can stand far away from the subject and still capture the action. Unfortunately, a 300mm f2.8 lens can be problematic for several reasons. (1) It costs in the neighborhood of $6000. Break out a hammer and bust open the piggy bank! (2) Photographers often become too reliant on a 300mm lens. Put it this way, I always admired the fearlessness of the troops on the front lines, rather than the snipers hiding in the bushes. Hence, I don’t have a 300mm f2.8 lens in my arsenal of equipment. I’ll happily get covered in roost by shooting with a wide angle lens instead.
This brings me to this week’s “One Photo & One Story,” which features a photo taken of my good buddy and MXA’s Managing Editor, Daryl Ecklund. Daryl and I put in overtime when we drove out to a private track in the desert and shot photos of the 2014 Husqvarna TC250 two-stroke. The track was part of Kurt Caselli’s old stomping grounds, so you know it was epic and rough as an Afghan cow trail. I set up two strobes, while Daryl built up a silty berm that could be ready for thrashing at a moment’s notice. We waited until the sun dipped below the hills and cast an array of colors on the sweeping clouds. Daryl clicked second gear on the Husky and exploded the berm as I squeezed the trigger. The strobe lights froze the action, and a 16mm-35mm wide angle lens filled the frame with bright colors. I was filthy, but it didn’t matter once I looked at the back of my camera. Needless to say, the only screaming done afterward was in elation. For this reason, I encourage photographers to break away from the norm and have fun shooting photos with their friends. You never know what you’ll end up with.