Photography is a funny thing to me. Every time I go to a shoot, it’s as though I’m opening a brand new box of cereal in order to find that special prize at the bottom. When I receive a job, I will sit down and visualize everything before leaving. I ask myself, how will I shoot this assignment? Do I bring flashes or not, will I have to compete with a crowd for a spot, what will the backdrop be? With so many questions to be answered, it makes it a little easier when you show up on site. Although, as experience has taught me, you can only be prepared to a certain extent. Things change, stuff happens.
Since I primarily photograph Downhill mountain biking, I have to be on my toes, ready for whatever is next. When I receive an assignment, I usually have less than 24 hours before the shoot. I have to scramble to get the details together about the location, and what equipment I should bring. It can be a stressful job at times, but it’s very rewarding.
Back in March, I received an email from my friend Aaron Lutze at Red Bull, saying he needed a photographer as soon as possible. Red Bull Athlete, Kenny Belaey, was coming to San Francisco, California and they needed Action and Lifestyle shots. I was excited but when I found out the shoot would be the next day, I had to scramble to get everything together. I knew the shoot was at noon and the sunlight would be harsh, so I starting contemplating how I would shoot this and what should I bring?
I had decided that I wanted to use flashes because natural night was not going to be an option. Then I started to rethink my decision, am I going to lose a lot of time having to move the flashes around, and will I have to worry about the wind since we would be close to the coast? My softboxes are natural sails. Thankfully, with some quick thinking, I called my friend Thil who was free and was able to be my assistant for the day.
The next obstacle I ran into was that I had never shot “Trials Mountain Biking”. Trials is a discipline of mountain biking where you attempt to get through obstacle without setting your foot on the ground. Kenny Belaey, nicknamed “The Magician”, has 4 Elite World Championships, 6 overall World Cup wins and 3 European titles so I knew I needed to be on my A Game for the shoot. I decided that I needed to do research (google) in order to better understand the sport and the athlete I will be working with.
Chemistry is everything in photography. Whether you are shooting extreme sports, journalism or team sports, we all have to understand the peak moment in what we are capturing. When you are hiking in the mountains or floating in the water for 8-12 hours, life is a little easier when you know your athletes capabilities and often we don’t get second chances.
I am personally a very hands-off person. I like capturing athletes as if I am not there. Things are always easier when you and your subject are relaxed and confident. Kenny was a great athlete to work with and even though he had just came off of an injury, he was focused and ready to get back into riding. As Kenny warmed up, I decided to take some test shots. Before I knew it, I had the shots I was looking for without having him have do much. After I showed him what I had, he was very enthusiastic which made the rest of the shoot even easier because we were confident in each other and were able to just have fun.
We did have some hiccups. Technical issues, angles that didn’t work, bike mechanical issues and lines that took Kenny a few tries. That is always a part of the game. We didn’t let those issues affect us or bring us down. We tried and tried, and if it didn’t work… it didn’t work. No big deal because we still had lots of spots to work with. Plus, most of the time we were laughing and joking around, which helped to keep the mood lighthearted.
Overall, the shoot went really well. Kenny was great to work with and was very nice. I kept it really simple on the shoot and only used one human tripod and flash, Pocketwizards and of course my trusty camera. Editing was easy and done in a lightroom. I lowered the saturation, added some blacks and contrast. We were all pumped by the results from the day. What it came down to was being confident in myself, having fun and sticking to what I know. Be prepared for the worst and have a back-up plan. Trials might be a tad different from Downhill or Slopestyle mountain biking, but if it moves and has two wheels, I just think back to what I know and do my best to create images.
Words & Photos by: Long Nguyen
- 1 Human Tripod (Thanks Thil)
- 1 Alien Bee 1600
- 1 Pocketwizard TT5
- 1 Pocketwizard TT1
- 1 Octabank
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 70-200 F2.8
- Canon 17-40 F4
- Tonika 10-17 F3.5/ F4.5