In this post, I will break down how I captured the above shot which was part of a shoot I did for Chill Magazine to go along with a story about riding Rainbow Mountain near Rotorua.
The gear used for the shoot was:
- Canon 5D mk II
- Canon 20mm 2.8 lens
- Elinchrom Quadra Flash
- Manfrotto travelstand lightstand
- The Photographer’s Ephemeris Iphone App
- F-stop Tilopa BC backpack
Rainbow Mountain is 25 km outside Rotorua and features a nice little loop ride that has a 3 km climb to the summit (735m) and then a technical downhill trail back down to the car park. (For those of you that follow this blog, the downhill trail is where I killed my lens). This image was shot on the ride up to the summit and it was something I had hoped to be able to get, but was not sure if I would be able to. I had only previously been up Rainbow Mountain once before and that was part of a running race in the middle of Winter, so I was not sure if the trees would allow me to get this shot.
Organizing a shoot with a couple of riders is fairly difficult between various work schedules, family commitments etc… But we finally managed to pin down a time, not that did much good since a couple of the riders ended up getting held up and arriving late, which meant that we lost about 30 min of light which is what I had planned into the schedule as a buffer to get us up to the location I wanted to shoot at.
When we finally got on the trail, things got going. We were making fairly good time going up the mountain and I stopped the crew at a few places to test the lighting and trail to get the shot I wanted, but most of the lower sections were either not facing West enough or the trail was too tight and I could not get the right composition that I wanted.
When we finally stopped for the third time, I knew that this was going to have to be it regardless of the composition. The sun was in the right position, and moving fast so we didn’t have much time to set up. The key to the whole shot was using the sun as a back light and including it in the frame. But the trick when doing that is to get the base exposure right so that the sun does not blow out the sky and then balance the subject being back lit with a flash. I had the riders go back down the trail a bit and stop where I wanted them in the final shot and took some test shots to get the base exposure set before I added the flash. A trick I learned from Ralf Clevenger when I was a student of his was that if you are shooting an image with the sun in the frame and want a star-burst effect, you can stop your lens down to F22 or as small as it will go and then adjust the shutter speed accordingly the sun will have rays of light around it (the number of rays depends on the shape of the aperture in your lens). So I started with my camera set at ISO 100, F22 and shutter speed at 1/250 and the image was underexposed and just too dark. I ended up setting my camera to ISO 100, F22 at 1/160 which opened up the shadows enough, but didn’t totally blow out the sun.
The next thing I had to do was get the fill light dialed in. I set my Elinchrom light up off to the side of the trail so that it would light the riders face as much as possible without having them to worry about knocking it over. I knew that though my Speedlight would give me more frontal light, it would not be powerful enough to compete with the bright sun, that is why I had to use the Elinchrom light, which gives me 400ws which at full power is strong enough to overpower the sun in the middle of the day, even on my 5D mkII which has a syn speed of 1/200. I ended up reducing the power by a full stop for the final shot to make the flash a little less obvious.
When I got the final image downloaded into Lightroom, I spent a fair amount of time processing the image to bring out the look that I had envisioned at the beginning. I was really only able to do that because I was working with a raw file that was well exposed. If the file was a stop or more underexposed, then there would have been too much noise in the image once I got the shadows where I wanted them. If the file was even half a stop overexposed then the sun would have been totally burned out and I would not have been able to bring down the highlights enough without them just going grey.
Here is the original histogram for my raw file when the flash was too low:
And this is what the histogram looks like on the final image:
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