Freezing Mountain Bike Action with Cactus and Aurora

Murphy’s Law follows a photographer just as your little sibling did in grade school – “What can go wrong, will go wrong”. We work with technological marvels that can be temperamental: the weather, which is even less predictable; people, who can sometimes be more volatile than the weather! The list of opportunities for disaster is endless. But how we react to that sets the tone for the day.

My task was to highlight the High Speed Sync capabilities of the Cactus V6II wireless flash transceiver and the new Cactus RF60X wireless speedlight.

Since we finally had sufficiently nice weather to hit the trails on our mountain bikes, I had the perfect subject. Cycling is fast, which requires faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion, and the lighting can be unpredictable, which means I’ll need flash to fill the shadows and illuminate my rider. Perfect for High Speed Sync!

We have some amazing trails in the Uxbridge area that I regularly ride – Durham Forest, Dagmar and 3Rox, Glen Major and Walker Woods. There are hundreds of kilometres of twisting, rolling trail through gorgeous forest – heaven on Earth.

I picked a couple of spots that I knew would photograph well – sections of boardwalk that the Durham Mountain Biking Association built a couple of years ago.

Since cycling is an outdoor sport, I had to wait until the weather cooperated. But now I didn’t have a rider available that day and a deadline fast approaching.

One of the things I love about the Cactus system is how all of their transceivers and speedlights since V5 all work together. I hadn’t used the LV5 Laser triggers in a while, so into the bag they went. This would allow me to create a “Camera Trap” – the LV5 emits a laser beam that when broken, triggers the camera!

I had arranged to pick up a new Cannondale Trigger Carbon 1 from my favourite shop: Cycle Life (www.cyclelife.bike). This is a sweet ride: full carbon frame and wheels, Lefty MAX Carbon fork and 140mm of full suspension. And that green!!

Here’s the contents of my Vanguard camera bag:

I pedalled out to the first location – a sweeping 180° boardwalk.

I picked a point where the image would show me riding into the corner, and setup my Firefly Duet with two RF60X speedlights aimed at that spot. The Portaflex mounted on another RF60X provided a touch of fill under the helmet and for the darker parts of the bike – the fork lowers and wheels.

Mounting the LV5 laser triggers was a challenge – I didn’t want to bring extra stands – my plan was to use the clamps to attach the transmitter and receiver to trees. All was great while I set them up – I had a perfect laser line right across the spot that I wanted and exposure was set.

Since I was riding up the boardwalk, I knew I wouldn’t be riding very fast and a 1/320s shutter speed was sufficient to freeze the action. I was all set – and then Murphy showed up.

The wind picked up and the trees I was using for my laser triggers started waving in the wind. My camera and speedlights were flashing like a disco ball at a high school reunion! I had managed to get a couple of shots, but this wasn’t going to work.

On to spot 2.

Further down the trail is a longer elevated boardwalk that snakes and rises through the trees. After picking my spot, I couldn’t find any trees to mount the LV5 triggers.

Thankfully, the boardwalk is very sturdy and doesn’t move. I found a couple of boards that were solid and mounted the LV5 set with the super clamps.

This setup posed a couple of other challenges: I was riding downhill and would be moving faster and the sun was now behind me, so I needed more from my speedlights.

I had to bring my shutter speed up to 1/500 second at f/5, ISO 64 to both expose properly for the sky and freeze my motion. You can see in my test shot just how much contrast there is in the scene and how dark I look with the sun backlighting me.

The Firefly Duet with the Deflector Plate works like a beauty dish when you remove the diffusers: it puts out more light and is a perfect compliment to the sunlight. The Portaflex was again down low to provide a bit of fill under the helmet and on the bike.

Now I could capture a balanced image where the sky is a nice blue and both bike and rider are clearly illuminated.

This setup is great for epic selfies – you can position the LV5 laser triggers almost anywhere. This is also ideal for unmanned camera traps:

  • event and race photographers can capture images from the other side of the course (unless you can clone yourself) or racers as they cross the finish line;
  • bird photographers can freeze hummingbirds approaching flowers;
  • wildlife photographers can leave the setup running through the night to capture nocturnal creatures;
  • freeze splashes and water drops with perfect timing.

For inspiration, visit the Cactus Image group on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/groups/cactus_image/) If you already have LV5 triggers, share your images on PHOTONews Facebook page!


About the Author – Will Prentice (www.capturaphoto.ca) is a professional photographer based out of Whitby, Ontario and Brand Specialist – Lighting for Amplis.

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  1. Gregory Dru says:

    Amazing and thorough explanation of: How to Shoot and Sync a High Speed Flash(s) in any location necessary, to ‘captura’ a moving subject. Well done Will!