Shooting Mike and Randy riding bikes down the switchbacks of Rowena Crest, out by The Dalles, was one of the most fun location shoots I have done. We left the Portland area around 7:00 in the morning to get out there before there would be too many other people, and to have a congenial angle from the morning light.
The first thing we did was drive to the top to see what all the turns look like on the way up, and to get a view looking down over the whole road. Naturally, it was very windy, and a little cold at the viewpoint, so we decided to start shooting just below the summit, near a turn that has a nice stone guard wall that I like.
Even though I knew from the moment I was approached about this project that I wanted to shoot out of the back of a moving vehicle with the bikes chasing the camera, our first set ups had the riders pass by while I tried panning the camera with them. I had an assistant hold a single strobe with a Magnum Reflector over my shoulder as a fill light, while the sun provided a nice backlight through the shifting clouds. I got to try some fun experiments with them splitting past me on either side as I lay in the middle of the road, but I didn’t like the results.
Next we moved down the switchbacks a little further where there was a white wooden guard railing, and again had the riders pass by while I panned with them. This time the sun and the strobe, still with the Magnum Reflector, were roughly on the same side. I used the strobe a little lower than the sun, and further around to the front of the riders’ faces to fill in shadows, and to give the impression that the sunlight was wrapping around them a little more. I was liking the results from this set up much more than the first, so I started feeling that excitement which comes along with knowing something you planned is actually working out. From there, we packed back up to the top to get a static portrait of Mike and Randy with a good view of the whole gorge behind them, before attempting the bike-chasing-camera setup.
It took a few minutes to workout a good arrangement of myself, my lighting assistant, and the rest of the gear. I ended up laying on my stomach with my head nearly over the rear bumper, and I used a few sandbags as elbow supports. One assistant was sitting next to me hand holding a single strobe, with the same reflector, just keeping it pointed in the right direction, and another assistant was driving.
We started at the top and by the time we road down the the end of the switchbacks I had been able to experiment enough with finding the correct shutter speed in order to get the right amount of motion blur. I started with 1/45th of a second, which gave me a higher keeper rate of having the bikers be sharp, however going down to 1/30th gave a much better sense of movement. I was using a .9 (3 stop) neutral density filter on my 21mm lens, allowing me to keep my aperture around f/4 to f/8, which I varied depending on the ambient lighting. The power on the strobe, and the camera’s ISO settings were constant the whole time.
To get a second and final pass we all drove back up to the top, except for Mike, who insisted on pedaling his bike up the long winding hill, because he’s awesome like that. Before heading back down again, I showed the guys a few examples of what we were getting, and gave them a few instructions regarding the ideal distances for them being relative to the car and to each other.
By the time we made it to the bottom I realized I couldn’t have asked for this shoot to go any better. What an adventure!