Behind the Shot
With Dan Carr
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Canon 5D Mark III
Paul C. Buff Einstein
When I moved to British Columbia from the UK it was the snow that caught my attention and skiing was my passion. Ski photography became my sole subject for a while but that also took some of the fun out of it of for me. Anything physical tends to get a little less fun when you have to carry a 40lb pack! I started to mountain bike in the summers and decided that I’d never pursue that subject photographically, at least not to the extent I do with my skiing. I wanted to keep it for myself, as my way to relax and enjoy myself with my friends.
At the end of this summer though I was struck by the idea of taking a self-portrait while riding my bike. Nothing makes me happier than when I’m rummaging though the boxes in my gear closet trying to MacGyver weird photographic contraptions together. The process of pre-planning some photographs (or photo trips) is often half the fun. I didn’t want to do this with a simple timer, or even a trigger trap with a laser beam, I wanted to press the button. From previous projects I’m familiar with all of the possibilities available to you with a collection of Pocketwizards. Everyone is aware that you can use them to trigger strobes and many know that you can also trigger cameras. Triggering remote cameras and syncing remote strobes with them requires a few more tricks on top of that but it’s still relatively simple if you have a big enough collection of Pocketwizards. You can even add cabled switches to the transmitting Pocketwizard to allow you to trigger the system without your hands on the actual unit.
A transmitter with me would fire a remote camera which had a second Pocketwizard plugged into its remote socket via a dedicated cable. In the hot-shoe of the remote camera would be another Pocketwizard which would trigger to fire a remote strobe. Four Pocketwizards in total. You could do it with three, but my method with four gives you increased range and therefore less possibility of a miss-fire.
I picked up a few varieties of switches from my local hardware store and tested them out. Any type of single pole, single throw (SPST) switch will do, all you need to do is close the connection to get the camera to fire. I settled on a small momentary push button switch after trying out a couple of push button sizes and a toggle switch. No specialist electronics skills needed really, just a simple soldered connection to a 2-core wire with a 3.5mm mono phono plug on the end. To attach everything to the bike I just used zip-ties for the switch, and plenty of electrical tape to hold the transmitter to the bike’s frame.
These days for lighting I’m a big fan of the Paul C. Buff Einstein lights. One of those heads and a Vagabond Li-Ion pack is a great solution when you need something that’s portable. The whole kit with a reflector is less than half the weight of my Elinchrom Ranger battery pack. I packed an 8ft light stand as well and brought along a buddy of mine to help carry the lighting gear. To add interest in the image I also wanted to get him in it which involved some pretty precise timing as our two paths met and once I was rolling down that rock there was really no stopping me!
To support the remote camera I chose my trusty TQC-14 with a BH-30 ball head. Living in Whistler with the mountains right on my doorstep I spend a fair amount of my time exploring them and the TQC-14 makes the perfect companion. It’s super lightweight and compact but still study enough to comfortably support a professional camera setup like my 5D Mark III. For this particular biking mission weight was even more of a consideration than it normally is. I knew the best shot would be just seconds before sunset but that left us with the problem of having to descend 5000ft of vertical, on some of North America’s gnarliest bike trails…by the light of only our headlamps! Any saving in weight you can make in a situation like that is very welcome so the carbon fiber TQC-14 was perfect. It also folds up small enough that it can actually fit inside one of my Arcteryx backpacks. That’s a great help when you’re skiing or biking with it since it stops it getting snagged on passing objects and also prevents it from swinging about too much and upsetting your balance.
I’m really pleased how it all turned out and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. I definitely plan to do some more of this stuff once the snow melts next spring and I’m investigating ways to make some new handlebar trigger switches which can be encased within some readily available gear shifters. If I can make a clean and robust enough setup then I can just leave my bike wired up all summer and take a camera in my bag whenever I feel like it!