I had a unique shoot with parkour specialist (a.k.a. ‘traceur’) and gymnast Brent Steffensen this week at 1320Main Studios in Venice. If you’re not familiar, parkour is urban freerunning, in which traceurs move across typically urban landscapes by running, jumping and climbing over anything in their way. It’s pretty impressive. Check out Brent’s stunt reel to get a taste.
I first met Brent a month ago after photographing him as he was doing corkscrews for a television crew on a grassy berm by the Venice Skatepark. I was just out shooting street photography, not paying much mind to the fact that there was a giant obstacle course set up nearby where contestants were auditioning for American Ninja Warrior. Upon talking to him I found out he was a contestant. The program is based around an extremely challenging obstacle course competition in Japan. Qualifiers in the American version go on to compete in Japan, where few Americans have ever completed the course. That’s an okay description, but follow the link if you want to know more. Anyway, I’ve recently been doing more studio photography at 1320Main and Brent took me up on my invitation to come shoot sometime. To my surprise, when we finally hooked up he asked if I minded if a television crew from the G4 network came along to document the shoot for part of a day-in-the-life segment they were doing on him for the show. Sounded fun to me. And it was. Monday, a crew of 4, plus Brent showed up and we had a great time shooting him doing corkscrews and back flips in the studio and up on the roof. He’s an amazing athlete and it was fun just to watch him go airborne with nothing more than two quick steps. The only thing I wish we had more of was time, as the crew was on a tight schedule. But we’ll shoot again soon. I have several ideas that I think would combine to make a great series of images. And they tell me the show will air on the G4 network and possibly NBC sometime later this summer. I’ll be sure to mention it when I hear.
On a technical note (tune out here if you’re not a photo nerd), the only thing more that I needed was a faster strobe, particularly for the studio shots. Freezing motion with strobes is only possible if the strobes have a fast enough flash duration to only expose the subject for 1/500 of a second or less. This is particularly necessary when someone is doing flips, as the head and feet are whipping around at extremely fast speeds, in which case you need strobes with a flash duration of at least 1/1000 of a second. I shot this with a borrowed Calumet pack as key and my White Lightnings as fill, but I’m not sure that either were fast enough. Thus the motion blur on the feet. It’s not entirely a bad thing, as the blur gives a sense of him flipping through the air, but ideally I would like to freeze it. Should I have done this for a client I probably would have rented a Profoto rig or something similar.