Daily Photo – BMX Aptos

This shot was taken back in April, during a family visit to Aptos, California. There’s a large dirt lot at one end of town frequented by BMX riders, although on this day over 50 of them descended on the site for an informal competition of sorts. The riders were top notch — which probably explains the 30+ photographers also in attendance (and we’re not talking cell phone cameras here…L lenses were de rigueur).

I only had 20 minutes to shoot, but the frequency and quality of the action allowed me to get a few good images. The action in this particular shot isn’t terribly interesting, but I liked the camera angle and lighting.


  • Shutter: 1/4000
  • Aperture: f/4
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 70mm)


Composition and Processing

  • Most of the photographers were trying to catch something from the side that more clearly showed what the rider was doing. I had plenty of those shots and was getting a little tired of that, so I tried to line up dead on with the riders in such a way I wouldn’t also get run over. I also wanted to catch them less than vertical, so I positioned near a small bank turn that followed a large ramp. They weren’t doing much in the turn besides catch a little air, but that was enough to isolate the rider and get this fairly tight shot.
  • If you’ve been reading these (semi) daily photo posts, you’ve probably noticed a tendency for me to shoot dark. Part of that’s habit — shooting sports or low light, I tend to push the camera to the limits of ISO, shutter and aperture that I’m comfortable with. I’m so used to darker images being standard that as long as the histogram isn’t clipped (much), I tend to be shoot underexposed even if it’s unnecessary. The remarkable shadow detail of the 1d mIII only encourages it. In this case I had a little more latitude with ISO (would’ve been fine up to 800), but I didn’t want to be any wider than f/4 because of the depth of the bike. I also wanted to shoot at 1/4000 because I didn’t know the sport and wanted to be sure the images were crisp. The histogram for the original is actually nowhere near clipping at either end.
  • Amping the contrast and converting to black and white really separated the rider from the background and accentuated the strong side lighting. I considered going to an all white background, but without the faded buildings in the back the rider would have appeared more vertical in the frame.
  • With the way the rider was turning his arms and shoulders, I wanted to get him closer to the right edge of the frame. But I had no room to work with on the left, and I didn’t like how it looked if I cropped into the subject itself. So I shortened the height of the image and narrowed it as much as I dared without turning it into column. It’s still a bit skinny, but tolerable.

August 07 2008 | Photography | No Comments »