Skip to main content

Variations of the Shot

Lesson 28 from: Advanced Lighting for Adventure Photography

Michael Clark

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

28. Variations of the Shot


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Evolution with Lighting


Why Use Artificial Lighting?


Pre-Production and Pre-Visualizing


Equipment: Overview of the Gear


Equipment: Selecting the Right Gear


Strobes vs. Speedlights


Lighting 101: Flash Sync Speeds


Lesson Info

Variations of the Shot

We're going to jump into the next video here which is variations of the shots. So we just moved to a different place and got a little bit basically where you saw us actually communicating, we shot at that same location and we'll come back and answer some questions after that. So right now we're running and gunning it a little bit just because I wanted to make up an extra shot here. We're not shooting tethered. Online we'll show the images interlaced as we shoot them. Using my Hood Man loop to check the lighting on the back of my LCD. Same deal as last time. We're still shooting HS. We still have the same flash heads. It's the same lighting setup. We have feathered the lights off the ground a little bit. So they're pointing up in the air. So the ground is not lit like a Christmas tree or super bright. We're gonna have Tim come in and roll over this or bounce off this rock. Can I give this to you Tom? No problem. You wanna try one with the light a little further up, just for a little m...

ore across? What was that? Is it flat or is it-- It's not flat, no. Okay, all right. All right, let's let me make sure my auto focus is dialed in. Gotta be aware of my lights. Ready when you are Tim, go for it. So this is the thing when you're shooting with lights outside, you know, it's super hard to see what's actually going on. We do have, the sun came out, which is, as you can see, all around us there's little dappled light everywhere, which is kind of the worst nightmare scenario because we either have to fully overpower that, but there's still gonna be splotchy light on the ground no matter what we do with the flashes. We can darken the splotches, but it also darkens the shadows as well. So in post if you're really getting wacky with it you could dodge and burn it. But essentially, well, no, just a cloud came in, so we're good. So if we just wait two seconds we could probably get a cloud like we wanted, and we check this to make sure that's good. So that's pretty good lighting. Again, it's timing on my part. So, let's have Aaron go for it. And if you wanna boost some air go for it. I'm ready, go for it, whenever you're ready. Nice. That was great. Let's just do that a few more times. And typically with this stuff there's a conundrum here because the lower I get the higher it looks like they're flying off the end of the rock. I mean, it's just a little couple foot rock, but then I get a lot more bright sky behind them. If I get up higher, the motion that they have on that rock doesn't look as amazing, but then I have a darker background right behind them. So there's kind of a catch 22 going on here with this exact location. But it's a little more action-y than anything else we've gotten before. All right. Go ahead and come on in. Ah, I popped it just before he dropped in. All right, whenever you're ready, go for it. I'm ready. All right. The lighting is working great, and actually somehow recovered the light. So what I'm gonna do now is I'm seeing so much sky here I realize that there's more-- This direction it's blocking it out. So I'm just gonna cross because the lighting hasn't really changed that much coming over here. Am I good here guys? Yeah. So, I'm gonna be on this side guys. Okay. When you come in. And again my timing was off. So, go for it Aaron. That was good. All right now we're definitely getting a lot more action-y. Go ahead and reset guys if that's okay. I, I nailed it. The flash? Yeah, so at 14 frames a second can I pick up your flash? You can, if you're lucky. So let's do Aaron first this time. Just so I can perfect my timing a little bit. All right. And ready when you are, go for it. Ah, that was great. Oh that was super cool, very nice. All right, and we'll do with you Tim first. I'm gonna exaggerate it. Yeah, exaggerate it. (crew laughing) Nailed it! (laughing) That was great. We had the mouth open. And the tongue out, and the lip down. All right, Aaron, whenever you're ready. Pop it big. Oh that was cool. (crew laughing) And you know, honestly, that looks pretty stinking good. (crew laughing) Because it really gave me time to like, oh, right there, right there, with my timing. So sometimes I do slow the athletes down, not often, but every once in a while. You know, when you're working people that are really, really good at their sports they can actually slow it down. And what about doing like popping the wheelie? Was that possible, you think, here, or something, or? For Aaron, yeah. Off of it? Or not, well, what can you do off of that, trick wise? Just show us. 360! Well I could do-- Is that kind of sketchy? It's definitely sketchy, but-- (laughing) Okay. I mean-- Yeah, once you're on it, there's really no, whoa. Yeah. (laughing) Hey amazing. (laughing) That's some control. (laughing) This time for you that was nice. Maybe instead of slowing it down, pop it big. Are you comfortable? Sure, yeah, as long as I don't hang up there on that. And you can run in much faster if you want. I mean, whatever you feel comfortable with. So let's have you go first Aaron. Nice. You crushed it! Go for it. Maybe slow it down and really exaggerate like you did but with no lip. No what? No like, you know. Oh. (laughing) Don't like-- Exaggerated but not facial exaggerated. Respect the effort? (laughing) Nice. Nice, there we go. All right, we're done here. All right so you know just a little bit of humor in there. It's always fun to keep it light and fun on the shoot. It's pretty impressive how Tim can do a front wheelie down a boulder. That's how he was turning around back there too was just locking up the front wheel and kicking out the back wheel, and he never unclipped from his pedals, and just rode back up the hill. So always amazing to see what the athletes you're working with can do. You were commenting about how you were ultra stoked necessarily on the location, and how things were turning out. So what are some of your go to things that you might try to kind of spice it up and make the most of what you've got? This, definitely, this location was a little bit better than the other one, I mean, it's still not as epic as I may have really wanted. But because they were getting just a little bit of air it was a little bit more action imparted to the image. But definitely things, I mean, one of things I didn't say earlier is that when I'm doing research for a shot, and most people maybe don't realize this about a professional photographer, is that I'll go and look at everything that I can find. We're talking days of going on Google, going on Getty Images, going on Red Bull, Media House, and look at everything that's ever been shot of not only that athlete but that entire sport. So I think I did a shoot for Red Bull years ago for the X Alps, and we lit a paraglider flying near a ridge line with a strobe, and I technically, as far as I could tell, that was the first time a paraglider had ever been lit with a strobe while they're in the air. It's been done quite a bit more since then, but you know, so I'll go look and see what has been shot and what hasn't been shot and that gives me ideas for how to take the images that much further than what's been done in the industry as a whole. You know, cycle cross has been, mountain biking has been shot, a ton, so it's hard to do anything super new. But I'm also, you know, the location plays such a huge factor that I spend a lot of time figuring out what the location will be or should be for this primo shots that end up in my portfolio. And this location, you know, it might have been better to come back in the evening just before it was getting dark and we couldn't do that here because there was actually a race happening later this day. So we had to be out of there by five o'clock. So we had, the day time was all we had. And maybe that would have, just because dark skies behind the trees would have really cleaned stuff up and then it would have allowed us to really illuminate the trees in a different way. Also, just so you understand, I was teaching a class not only to the participants that were there, the Red Bull photographers, but then to the people online so we could show it here. So, I didn't have time to take it as far as I normally would and I think that's a huge thing most amateur photographers don't understand, just how hard you press to get that image because essentially all I've done in the videos you're seeing here is I've set up the shot, and then I've taken maybe a dozen pictures, but that in my normal process without teaching a class, without a video crew with me, that would just be the first half hour of a day long shoot, and then you can also tell that this is the big mystery of lighting that everybody should understand, especially online, is that it's all an experiment. It's not like a professional photographer walks out there and they know instantaneously what is gonna be this epic amazing image right off the bat. They have to find the shot, they have to find the lighting, and that first test run is probably not gonna be the best shot. It's usually those best shots happen at the very end of the day and typically on my shoots at least you know it's not like I'm not getting good shots all day long but I, you know, I'm hunting around for that shot or that angle and the way the lighting works and it's typically towards the end of the day or the end of the shoot if it's happening in the night, that I'm getting the epic thing that I really came for. And sometimes it doesn't happen on the first shoot. Sometimes you know take for example this recent shoot I did. It was the third day where I really figured out you know when I've tried it from there, I've tried it from here, we've set up the lighting this way, we've done this, that this is it, right here, over here. After three days of shooting I found the shot that's gonna be one of the best images I've ever created, and I think the stress I put on myself, this is a whole other thing that you're not seeing in the video. I impart a huge amount of stress onto myself just because as you've seen my standards are really high and I'm really critical and if I don't have that stress on myself I think I would kind of be freaking out because what you may not realize if you're just an amateur photographer is when a pro photographer goes on assignment it's not just our career on the line, we're, the person who hired us, the art director, the art buyer, their career is on the line as well. The photo editor at the magazine, you know. If you screw up, especially the bigger the money involved, the bigger the consequences, you know. For a magazine if you don't come back with the images that they need or you don't kind of blow away the editor in terms of the quality of your images you may or may not ever get hired from that company ever again or that magazine. You do that more than once and your career is probably over. Now if you're on a big job, you know, let's say you're getting paid 40, $50,000 to go out and shoot, or even more than that. If you mess up that assignment, your career is done, because all these photo editors talk to each other, you know? They know each other. They're asking, how did this person do on that thing? So there's huge consequences to how well you perform as a photographer, and so that's why I impart a little bit of stress onto myself and I went way off topic there but I think that's important to understand just you know I'm not only pushing the athletes. And I'm not trying to push the athletes especially in some sports where they're taking huge risks. I don't need to push them. They understand what's going on, and I'm gonna try and limit how many times they have to do something, as few as possible, especially the riskier it is, the less I want them to actually have to do it, so that I know I get the shot the first time around, which means your pre production and your setup to that point has to be even sharper and more refined. Piggybacking off of your kind of last comment there about safety and your willingness to push it as far as it needs to go, the athletes willingness to push it as far as it needs to go, the client's money that wants to push it as far as it could go, how does safety come into that? Has there ever been a-- Excellent. A time when you've had to just be like, no, cut it. Yeah. We're done. This is not okay, and if so, what were the factors that led you to that decision? Because that's a hard decision to make. It definitely is. So safety, we haven't really talked about it. Communication, you know, typically one of the things I talk about with athletes more so with my friends who are athletes who aren't professional athletes is, look, if you're not 150% sure you can do this thing, then I don't want you doing it while I'm here at least, 'cause often there's the other thing. If I'm paying somebody to do something then I am liable, and in the adventure sports world, I can't, I mean, I used to have some athletes sign contracts saying, you know, you're taking personal responsibility for what you're doing because you can sue me and I don't even have that much money, so you're not gonna, you know, I would be out of business. But, every lawyer I talked to, they're like, you shouldn't even have them sign this. Any lawyer worth their salt can get over this non, what was the name of the agreement? I can't remember, but, you know, whatever agreement I had them sign, in terms of their own liability, and this is an ethic within most of the adventure sports in the outdoor world is that we take care of ourselves to some degree. You know, thankfully I've never had an athlete get injured on a shoot. Maybe they've gotten little cuts or scraped up or something but there have been a few times where I've basically said nope, I'm not shooting that, because I didn't want to encourage the athlete to do whatever they were doing. I mean, I've photographed rock climbers free soloing stuff but I knew if they were willing to do it I'd photograph them enough times that I was like they're gonna be fine. There were some mountain bikers, you know, and there's a thing called camera courage, which affects different sports different ways. You know, that's just my term for it where I show up and they know I've been published in X, Y, and Z, for years, and they realize maybe this is their 15 minutes of fame, and they're gonna push themselves beyond their capabilities. This doesn't happen with Red Bull athletes at all because their capabilities are so far beyond you know the average person that they're also incredibly safe in their different sports. But at this one shoot and it was actually in Moab with some of those mountain bikers, a mountain biker wanted to roll over a 100 foot dead vertical sandstone cliff and it had a roll out at the end. And we had been shooting all day and he had already done some really out there, he had already done 100 foot wall ride where he's doing almost 100 miles an hour coming down this vertical wall, and there was one two foot square place where it was a smooth transition. Everywhere else it was like there was an angle and if he hit that he would die instantly, and he did it five times, and I was, this was back in the film days, and you know, this wall ride ended up being published in Bike Magazine. So he knew some of the stuff was gonna get published and even Ryan who I actually showed a picture of Ryan doing that super bowl where he jumped off at the end and landed on my foot, one of the times, he was with us and Ryan's an EMT. He's a firefighter. He, you know, he looked at this, and he was like, no way am I doing this wall ride. So if Ryan who's an amazing rider is looking at that and saying no way, then I'm like, that's, red flags are going off. But so, and this other rider, who was younger than Ryan, and I'm sure he could have done it, this dead vertical drop, and at that point this is maybe 10, 12 years ago, it might have been the most epic thing done on a bicycle in the history of the world. The only issue was as a climber I look over the edge and there's a one foot step that's sticking out and if he hits that step, if he sneezes on that step, it's over, lights out. So I was, you know, that's pretty cool, but I'm not feeling this, and I didn't wanna ask him to do it, and I said, I'm just going back to the car, and I made it very clear, I'm not even gonna be here for you to do it if you are gonna do it. Luckily his friend Ryan talked him out of it and said hey look, it'd take us four hours to hike around to the bottom and do this. He might have done it two days later, I don't know, but Ryan was like, let's get a helicopter on stand by and then let's really think through this before you do it because I would wanna be down there to help you out if something went wrong. So there are situations like that, and not to, you know, this cyclist was an amazing mountain biker, so I'm pretty sure he could have done it. But when you're dealing with athletes who are doing stuff that are at such epic levels, that's never been done before, that's when I, you know, it's not like don't do it, but you just have to think through it, and make sure that athlete's solid. And typically, you know, when I'm on a Red Bull shoot, I'm not asking the athletes to do anything except maybe do it over and over again. We're already, we already know why we're there and there, we're working together. This last Red Bull shoot, if you go on my website, there's the Red Bull Air Force, you know. We started shooting and we've shot enough together. They know I'm gonna get the shot, and they start dreaming up all these big ideas. We had Felix Baumgartner, we had Kirby Chambliss, we had three planes and a helicopter. So we could do pretty much anything we could dream up, we could pull off, and we had two or three days to do it. So their dreaming up images that they wanna get that are more complex than they would ever normally get and I think one of them, they wanted to jump off the skid of a helicopter, with Kirby Chambliss in his plane right below them. And so they're dropping off, I mean, literally the plane, you could step off the skid and step onto the wing of the plane. That's how close Kirby is. He's an amazing pilot, and now I'm in a third plane, a third aircraft, shooting out the open door, clipped in, and shooting this all happening with the background. So we had to position ourselves on the landscape with them at the right time, and then we did it once and they saw that their bodies weren't in the perfect position, and they're like, we're doing it again, you know? And so when you get to that state where you have these unbelievable athletes, who are really, really working with you and they want the shot just as much as you do, I mean, that's, magic is starting to happen left and right. I went off again on a tangent there, but all good stories. Let's look at the images we shot there. Again, you know, we've got a super busy background, and that's the main issue for this location for me 'cause you asked about the location. I would prefer to have a less busy background, you know. Cycling happens, I mean, mountain biking happens in forests a lot. That's kind of its location. That's why Moab is such a great place to shoot because there's no trees above that red rock and you can get last light, you can get a nice clean background. Here, we're definitely in a forest. That's fine. I think I tried these out in black and white, and I massively preferred them in black and white and part of why I preferred the images in black and white in the forest is because of this, there's a magazine called Dirt Rag in the mountain biking world and they published a lot of black and white images. So did Bike Magazine, so did Mountain Bike, but there's a gritty, graphic feel to black and white images and it's kind of like skateboard photography. It looks great in black and white. So there's a, a feeling I just get when I see a black and white image like this. It looks grittier, it looks more core to that sport. So I tried a few of them. This is Aaron. And then we tried it again in black and white, and I just, you know, I saw some of the Red Bull photographers that we were working with on the set change theirs to black and white and I just really liked that look. That's why I tried it in black and white. And you know, obviously here, Aaron's getting a lot more air, so it has a much more action-y feel. Cycle cross is a different sport, so you're gonna have to work a little bit more to get the nuance of that sport because when a cycle cross rider gets on really rough terrain they get off the bike and they start running with the bike over their shoulder. So he's not gonna get huge air off his, off this rock, because he's on a no suspension, super stiff carbon fiber bike that weighs nothing, like 15 pounds at most. So, it's different with each sport as to how you're gonna capture that sport. And I can't, this wasn't the one where he slowed down but it might have been, no, he didn't slow down, 'cause he's got a little bit of air. So I mean, his front tire is a few inches off the ground here. So he is getting a little bit of air, as much as he can on that bike for us. But it's also, you know, we did a critique during this with him, where he talked about the images he was seeing and he's looking at his body positioning, and if you have a world class athlete, or even an athlete that's really good at their sport, show your images to them and let them critique the images and talk about their body positioning because you will learn so much in that, that it'll help you down the road when you shoot that sport again. You know, if I'm nitpicking this image I've got a whole bunch of weird branches coming in here. I could have, you know, cropped that out, or moved in closer. I think in this instance you know if I was still pushing for that image, I would have moved way in close with that 14. I would have gotten you know so I was sitting right here and he was coming by inches away from my, my camera, you know, still being able to see his whole body. The lower and closer you move in, the more heroic it's gonna be. I might have issues with the sky there, but you know, I would have tried out a whole bunch of different angles if I was really pushing the shot.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Reference Guide
Chapter 2: ABCs of Lighting by Michael Clark
Advanced Lighting Keynote PDF - Day 1
Advanced Lighting Keynote PDF - Day 2

Ratings and Reviews

norah levine

This is a course that I could watch repeatedly and be able to learn something new each time. Michael is a truly an expert in his field and is so generous with his knowledge. This course really breaks down the process of adventure photography, but it's more than that. I don't think you need to even be an adventure sports photographer to get tons out of this course. Michael is really good at breaking down some very complicated technology. Thank you!

a Creativelive Student

Great course that combines the technical aspects of shooting with light in different situations, with the art of making a great image of athletes. Michael is a great teacher and I'm sure his lessons will continue to help guide over and over again!

Jeph DeLorme

Great class with dozens of tips, ideas and lighting strategies for tough outdoor lighting challenges. Advanced class taught in a way that allows even a beginner to get a handle on lighting tough situations. The location videos provide real life examples that make this class a definite must have for my Creative Live collection. Thank you Michael Clark and Creative Live! Jeph DeLorme

Student Work