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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

#BTS Behind The Scenes | Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 | Action Sports Photography

 Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021  |  The Story of 3 (Almost)

"Spring is just nature's way of saying, "lets party!""   -  Robin Williams   

Images of Brac Raiford and Ahamed Johnson for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

With 41,447 total images submitted to Red Bull Illume this past round, it's mind boggling to think what it took to narrow down the images to the top 56.  Not to mention the category winners and overall finalist.  Cheers to everyone behind the scenes on that one!

When you begin to run the numbers; a single image has a 1 in 41,447 chance of becoming the overall winner if Red Bull Illume was a lottery format.  So you submitted 3 images, like in my case.  That will give you a 1 in 13,825.7 chance of topping the podium.  That does not sound so bad right?  Let's take a closer look at some other odds:

1 in 10,000 chance of being injured by a toilet

1 in 15,300 chance to be struck by lightning (#FloridaMan)

1 in 100,000 chance of dying while dancing at a party (Also a #FloridaMan)

With my calculations, you have more of a chance of injury from "daily activities" than you do of Winning Red Bull Illume, with 3 images submitted.  Yes, there is always the brighter side of things ... Greener grass ...  Light at the end of the tunnel ... I'll stop now.  But, your chances of winning the coveted Red Bull Illume trophy for your desk is a bit better than being struck by lighting! 

A quick fast forward to now.  I did manage to survive all my "daily activities" to make the finals, but apparently my happy feet were just too good to be struck by the Florida Lighting!  It is always an incredible honor to have an image to make the semi-finals and make an appearance in the Red Bull Illume book.  Even more nerve racking to have one hit the finals that "gets it to the party!"  

The Red Bull Illume 2021 Book accompanied by Will Saunders' signature yellow beanie

Final Image of Broc Raiford in the 2021 Red Bull Illume Book

"Do it for the Party"

The #BTS story of the 3 images made for the final run of Red Bull Illume 2021

    I have always been intrigued by architecture that is hidden within buildings.  Working mainly in water/snow sports had, they have never giving me many opportunities to capitalized on locations I have found and saved over the years.

    With the final days of the Red Bull Illume submission process coming to a close; I knew I had to pull out a last minute hammer of an idea for a chance to get to the big party.  3 days before the deadline I pulled a few locations that have been saved on my maps for several years.  I had never been to the locations, but they appeared to have the ability to work for most land based action sports.  Assuming I could find an athlete fast enough, my fly in day would be on the final submission day for Red Bull Illume.  The athlete and I would need to hit all the locations and get the images uploaded that evening. 
    A few text later I found at that BMX athlete Broc Raiford was in the Los Angles area for the day before flying out for a competition in France.  Still unsure of the locations and the ability to make them work, I booked the flights, packed the gear and headed out the next day.

Be a photographer they said ... 

This is going to work .. Right

"Down the Rabbit Hole"

    The original plan was to shoot in the evening to control the light as I thought it would be overly bright most of the day.  The first Location was a parking garage that had a painted spiral in the middle with a perfect open area for an athlete to send one in.  I have actually seen this spot in a few commercial spots as a few instagram post.  This is one of the few garage I have seen that has the area in the middle so open.
    When I arrived to the location  the natural sun light was perfectly bleeding into the garage.  After doing a few "test" and working with the garage owner I decided to do some "maintenance" on the location.  Downtown LA is not know for being the cleanest city and I had some work to put in.  Once everything appeared to be set, I pulled the trigger on having Broc come out to make the magic happen.  Within 2 hours of landing at the airport I was on location, pulling civic duties, and working on the first image!
"This may actually work"

It's not alway crafty and models for photographers

    After a brief ride or two down the spiral garage, Broc Raiford was in the center of the garage and ready.  I had pulled permission from the garage owner before we started so I knew we had all the time in the world to make the image happen.   We managed to get the overall shot fairly fast with the only hold ups being every car taking "victory laps" with their freshly brewed coffee down the spiral garage.

    This was one of my favorite images of the series.  The James Bond like effect of the spiral garage gives with Broc dead center was so unique to me.  The image was lit with a single Elinchrom One strobe head mixed with all natural light bouncing off the buildings above the open roof garage.

Semi-Finalist Image "Innovative by Eyem" -unique never before seen
Raw image of Brac Raiford for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

Secondary Image "Creative by Skylum" - anything goes
"Edited/Cleaned up" image of Broc Raiford for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

The newly released Elinchrom One putting in it's first day of work

"Hexagons Rule ..."

    With only a few hours until Broc had to be at LAX, we crushed some victory waters and went to the second location.  Luckily the spot was only about 15 minutes away from the last one as it proved to be a bit ... more difficult to get into.  The garage is in the middle of a new arts are in Los Angeles that is know for pop up events and commercial spots for Nike, Red Bull, etc.  To say the least it was pretty well guarded as it was a "closed" day for the venue.  With some "artful" parking and the usual ignoring of any signage or gates, we were in and walking the floors of the garage. 

    I dropped off the Elinchrom Stone on the 3rd floor and ran my way up to the 6th floor of the parking garage.  And only after getting to the top did I see the stairs hidden away to the corner.  After 6 attempts at syncing up the tail whip and my trigger finger, we both had exactly what were were looking for.  After a sunset selfie with Broc poncho roof of the building he was off to LAX and I was out to Santa Monica to edit and upload.

    I ended up cleaning up the image to even out the light leaking in from the sun.  After all, it was the Creative by Skylum "anything goes" category.  Upon submission I released that we had shot 6 images, from the 6th floor, with 6 lights and 6 walls!  I was pretty pumped we didn't;t fall short on a 6 to say least.

Finalist Image "Raw by Leica" - straight out of camera
Raw image of Brac Raiford for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

 Finalist Image "Creative by Skylum" - anything goes
"Cleaned Up" image of Brac Raiford for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

Image of Brac Raiford for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 Back Cover

"Wait ... There's More?"

    While celebrating the images being uploaded and out with a few local friends, I received a notification that Red Bull Illume would be extending the deadline by a few days.  Sitting dead in the water with no athlete or locations left, I could not stop thinking that there had to be just one more unique garage. After all, who like an even number of photos.  Instagram sure likes the odds.  

    Fate has it that one of the guys with us had a location scout who had just finished looking for exactly what I needed.  Another round of messages later I had an insane location (that was almost night next to the previous 2) and no athlete.  LA being the land of skip a rock to find what you need, I managed to pull flat land BMX athlete Ahamed Johnson and could not have been happier.

    The next day we met up at the location and lets just say it may have been one of the "more secure" places I have ever had to shoot in.  The building was a very high end tower with the usual full security and "slightly large" bank in it.  That bank happened to use the entrance we need for it's cash drops as well.  This spot would have been impossible to find as it's buried in the middle of the building with little to ZERO access. Veeeery long one short and som e"gaff tape" later we managed to make it happen and Ahamed absolute crushed it in the little time we had.

    I was so excited to have this set of 3 images that are very unique in the same way.  Sadly Ahamed Johnsons' image did not make it to the final cut, but 2 of 3 wasn't so bad.

Submission Image "Raw by Leica" - straight out of camera
Submission image of Ahamed Johnson for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

Submission Image "Creative by Skylum" - anything goes
Submission image of Ahamed Johnson for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

The newly released Elinchrom One putting in it's second day of work

    I would like to end this one with a cliche "moral of the story" ... and go.  I always try to find crazy and almost unreachable places to showcase in my images.  Days on end can be spent on finding a spot, sorting how to get there, even just getting there.  A lot the times you can find out it just won't work.  Better yet you can even get there and it is totally different than what you had expected.  This run of 3 locations was just amazing for me.  To find 3 totally unique locations all within 15 minutes of each other is almost un heard of, unless you're Lorenz Holder! This run just goes to remind me that slowing down to look at usual every day spots could lead to a very unique concept.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Equipment | Focus Tracking and Quick Thoughts with the Nikon Z9 | Also Professional Wakeboarder Shota Tezuka

 Day One  |  The Nikon Z9

"Always remember, your focus determines your reality"   -  George Locus   

Nikon Z9 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S 1/1250 sec at f 3.2

In this case, the Nikon Z9 does all the focusing while the photographer (that's me) is splashing around in reality.  

There is a lot to be said about the Nikon flagship with it’s updated full figured body, lack of a physical shutter, "pro"-res video, buttons that light up with a single touch, and so on.  For the sake of not auditing every bit of character from the Z9; I would like to throw it back to the most basic of camera functions. With Nikon's updated focus tracking/auto detection and over all image quality the Nikon Z9 will .. (just wait for it) .. blow out out of the water.

Please see above inspirational quote

Let's just skip past the "wade in section" if you will, and jump right into the deep end. The Nikon Z9 is a monster step forward from the from it's older cousins.  You can find an endless amount of technical data, write ups, comparison, "how to's" online, but let's just say you will have to try hard not get a solid image out of this machine.

"... and here we go."

It's no secrete that "AI" auto focus has been around the camera brands for some years.  Almost every mirrorless camera has it now.  After switching from dslr's to the mirrorless systems I always struggled with high action/movements keepings the subject tracked and in focus.  Please considered I am usually standing ringside with The WWE or hanging out of a heli chasing some sort of boat at 50 plus MPH with crosswinds.

With the release of the Z9 I can say that the new focusing system is so good that will detect and follow the eyes behind shades! Granted its is most likely running some kind of mathematical equation with facial recognition, but who cares.  The Z9 just grabbed and kept focus while I was hanging on the dock talking to Shota will I had the camera waist level.

Shota Tezuka - Professional Wakeboarder/Billboard

I'll call it eye focus tracking #ShotonIphone

Now it is time for me to finally get my feet with the Z9 and see how it really performs.  And there is no better way to treat a new camera than to put it a few inches above the water with a waist size wave straight for it.  After all, Nikon has said it is "weather sealed" right!? #NoWaterHousingNoWorries

... not a cliche opening shot.

AD ....

Time to get real

The Z9 tracks

... and tracks at 20FPS! 
Nikon Z9 .5 Second burst(ish))

The files also look good

But not as good as this one.  I'm talking about the boat you perv!

Did I mention the "eye tracking" auto focus yet.

@Shotatezuka Looking back at 2021 like (peace emoji here)

We can skip past the "no cameras were harmed" talk and just say I was pleasantly surprised with everything the Z9 has to offer down to the "weather sealing."

Even the overall raw image files are amazing.  I always struggled with the "look and feel" of the mirrorless files.  The highlights and shadows never really separated properly, and the colors never graduated how I liked.  The Nikon Z9 has taken a massive step forward in this by giving me the same look and feel I loved from the D850 or D6!

Down a dirty the Z9 does everything I needed a still camera to do, and updates what it's predisestors were missing. There are also many more features that makes the Z9 more than a camera, but an overall workflow partner. I prefer not to get into every detail within a single blog as I have most likely lost you after my first bad joke.  Lets say, if you can find a way to skip the line and get this Z9 in your hands, please do!  Just maybe pass on jumping directly into a Central Florida lake with it, for a bit at least!

"Shota Tezuka coming into 2022 like..."

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

#BTS Behind the Scenes | Volleyball Sports Photography | Red Bull Intracoastal Beach Affair

Red Bull Intracoastal Beach Affair
The Importance of "Bringing Everything" ... and that too... just in case.

Joana Heidrich showing off the proper curve of the jump serve during the Red Bull Intracoastal Beach Affair with the Beach Major Volleyball Series.
A few weeks back Bradlee Rutledge and I headed down to Fort Lauderdale, FL to shoot a promotional media release for the Beach Major Series and Red Bull.  We were set to shoot the Red Bull Swiss Olympic team of Anouk Verge-Depre | Joana Heidrich and USA based team of Casey Patterson | Stafford Slick.  The overall idea of the series was to show the athletes playing on a private beach volleyball court along the intracoastal waters Fort Lauderdale is known for.
Joana Heidrich contemplating if this will be the last "one more" while serving  up jump serves  of the crew.

As per usual Red Bull fashion we gad to create a few story telling images of the event as well as a few athlete profile images and portraits for Red Bull Content Pool.  The day was suppose to be sunny and cloud free as usual for the coastal city.  With the more natural look in mind I packed up all my reflectors and shiny boards to shot sequences with a evenly natural lit look.  I ended up packing a few Elinchrome battery packs with the Indirect Octa modifier for the portraits and lifestyle images.   At the last minute I decided to Bring 4 of the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD's just in case the sun would be in the wrong spot for the sequences.

The main action images of Joana Heidrich, Anouk Verge-Depre, Stafford Slick, and Casey Patterson.

A very long story short we ended up with almost no boats on the water in the background including the pre set up sail boat teams due to "severe weather."  We were completely surrounded by the usual black afternoon thunderstorms for almost the entire time, except of the little blue patch that you see in every photo.  The court ended up being completely lit by the Elinchrom ELC Pro HDs as far away and high as I could put them for the natural lighting look.   The ELC's were powered by Honda EU200's spoke they could recycle for the strobe sequences.  We also ended up setting up another location with the Elinchrom Ranger inside of the Indirect light bank for the lifestyles.  I left the set up the entire time so we could bounce back and forth with each athlete as the father changed and keep a constant look for all of them.

The Gear:
Nikon Camera Systems

Chris Garrison lounging while Casey Patterson gets his social on of Stafford Slick.  Also a BTS of the gear used. 

The shoot was amazingly fun and a great experience playing some volleyball on the Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal water way.  Of course we had to do the image selection and immediate media release with or without "Man Margs" at the goto Rocco's Tacos on Las Olas!  

NO FLEX ZONE with Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick

Check out a few of the select images/BTS video also at THIS LINK created by the Beach Major Series from the shoot below and always remember the importance of .. "if you think you may want it, just go ahead and bring it, plus an extra!"

BTS video and Link to Video in HD HERE

Joana Heidrich fully extending for the boys

Casey Patterson ... Who did it better?
Stafford Slick ... Who did it better?
Casey Patterson setting on cup for his new sunglasses adverting campaign

Anouk Verge-Depre warming up with Joana Heidrich 
Stafford Slick warming up
Stafford Slick and Casey Patterson contemplating their next social post
Rules of beach volley ball, who hits the ball in must go get the ball, unless the locals come save the day
Locals showing Casey Patterson prop serving form 
Anouk Verge-Depre showing the boys how to crank one down the line 
Joana Heidrich sendung singles to the captain to swoop her up
Chris Garrison and Casey Patterson talking swing form training for the Beach Major  Series 
Chris Garrison Laying down on the job one more time