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Behind the Shot with Dan Carr

Behind the Shot
With Dan Carr

Photo by Dan Carr

Photographer:
Dan Carr
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
www.ShutterMuse.com

Camera:
Canon 5D Mark III
EF 17-40mm/f4L
Paul C. Buff Einstein
Pocketwizards
RRS Gear:
TQC-14 Compact Tripod
BH-30 LR Ballhead
B5D3-LA L-plate
Settings:
22mm
ISO 800
F/6.3
1/320 sec

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.

Whistler Blackcomb Bike Park, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Dan Carr

Photo by Dan Carr

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.

Whistler Blackcomb Bike Park, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Dan Carr

A simple button switch tied to the handlebars allows triggering the shot while riding.

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.

Whistler Blackcomb Bike Park, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Dan Carr

One of four Pocketwizards is taped to the bike frame and wired to the button trigger.

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!

Photo by Dan Carr

The finished image, Dan is upper left and triggered the both camera and flash via the Pocketwizard system.

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.

TQC-14 Quick-Column Tripod with BH-30 LR Ballhead

TQC-14 Quick-Column Tripod with BH-30 LR Ballhead

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!

Dan Carr (www.ShutterMuse.com) is an action sports and travel photographer based in Whistler, BC, Canada.
Images and words Copyright ©2013 Dan Carr. All rights reserved.

4 Comments

  1. Ellis Vener says:

    Great shot Dan! Great timing and lighting. Have you tried using a Pocketwizard on one camera to trigger a second camera with a second set of PocketWizards triggering the flashes? The first camera needs a longish shutter speed (you’ll need to experiment) but it works great.

  2. Dan Carr says:

    Hi Ellis,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes there’s many combinations of things you can do if you have time to experiment. If I’m understanding you correctly you are talking about using one set of flashes with two cameras; correct? In that case, it might actually be better to fire both cameras remotely, even if you have direct access to the first one because that would then introduce the same delays to both cameras. It might be possible to get the timing a bit closer instead of using a long shutter speed to catch the flash. Just a thought, though it’s not a setup I’ve used I don’t think. In that scenario though if both remote cameras had Multimax units on them you could program a delay using the delay measurment tool in the Multimax and that might make things even easier again.

  3. Ellis Vener says:

    I have 5 MultiMAX transceivers. I’ve also done it the way you describe but if the ambient light level is reasonable enough (i.e. relatively low) have camera 1 trigger camera 2 and camera 2 triggers the flash works pretty cleanly without the need to sync the MultiMAX delay times for the individual camera delays, especially if the cameras are different makes or models.

    It is just a suggestion.

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