Shooting at Red Bull Crashed Ice in a Snowstorm

Words and photos by Ryan Taylor

Nikon D4 300mm 2.8 F5.6 1/1250 ISO 1000

The image above is the result of an ongoing evolution that finally came to fruition one snowy night in Minnesota. Over the past four years I have been covering Red Bull Crashed Ice in my home state. It’s an event deemed “The Fastest Sport on Skates,” in which four athletes race down a track made of ice with features similar to what you would see on a boarder cross track. It’s an intense week of shooting and one that I look forward to every year.

Besides shooting the event, part of my duties were to shoot the qualifiers leading up to the event. Since there aren’t existing tracks around the U.S., athletes qualify by racing on an obstacle course set on hockey rinks across the state.

The qualifiers are fun, but shooting so many of them over the years has allowed me to explore different ideas and techniques in order to keep it fresh and unique. I tend to shoot wide and tight, oftentimes low to the ground. I like to feel like I am part of the action, and I want my images to represent that as well.

With that idea in mind, I broke out my Nikkor 14-24mm and skates and got on the ice. I positioned myself on a hard 180-degree turn that I noticed skaters were having to take super sharp, almost coming to a stop at times. In my mind this was the highest point of action in the course.

Nikon D4 14-24 2.8 F3.5 1/1000 ISO 3200

In order to get the camera low to the ground I had to “shoot from the hip” if you would. Holding the camera by the vertical grip and upside down allowed me to get the lens lower to the ice. As an added bit of stability I would pull on the camera strap on my left hand in order to get the camera in the same position every time. After years of shooting like this, I have gained a bit of muscle memory that has allowed me to shoot confidently without the viewfinder at times.

As I tried to get closer and closer, the spray off the skates would hit the lens. For the most part I was cleaning it off, but there were times that I didn't have time or notice between heats. The addition of the water droplets created an extra layer to the image that I thought added an element of energy. I chose to amplify this energy, at times even dripping water off my fingers to add more in the areas that needed it. I also decided to intensify the drops by adding a speed light shot directly into the lens. The results were great, and I got a ton of great feedback from my editors at Red Bull.

As event day approached, I knew I wanted to do something different from the standard event coverage. I had requested access to the track for a private shoot with an athlete at sunset. Claudio Caluori, a veteran and ambassador to the sport, stepped up and agreed to take part in the shoot. Everything was set and scheduled, but as we got closer to the shoot a giant snowstorm rolled in causing long delays and many setbacks for the event. As I watched the snow fall I started coming to the realization that I might not get permission to do my on-track shoot.

Several hours after the scheduled shoot time, and as I was just about to give up completely, I was asked by one of the event organizers if I still wanted to go through with the shoot. At this point I didn't even know that it was still an option, but I knew that we had to do it.

By now it was dark and the snow was coming down like crazy. I had a feeling it was going to make for a better image than if I shot at sunset like we had planned. The temperature was hanging right around freezing which resulted in that heavy, wet snow that sticks to everything. The track had almost a foot of snow on it and the crew from Hangman Productions was hustling to remove the snow, even though it was accumulating just as fast as they could shovel.

I placed myself yet again on the outside of a sharp 180-degree turn that I had scoped out earlier in the week. Without much time, I dove right into the same concept I had been doing with all the qualifying rounds. I placed an SB800 directly in front of me with the expectation that Claudio would cover the strobe on the turn. Then I placed another SB800 directly to my right about 90 degrees to bring up his face and add a little edge. I didn’t do much for a fill light because I knew that the return from all the snow would brighten him up a bit, plus I wanted him a bit on the darker down side to add some intensity.

Nikon D4 14-24 2.8 @14 F5.6 1/160 ISO800

We got about half a dozen tries so we had to move fast. Everyone was exhausted from the day, and the crew wanted the track back so they could clear it for the event that night. It was safe to say that patience was a commodity at this point. After the first couple of tries, I noticed that Claudio really needed to hammer on the turn. He skated back up to the start and dropped in, this time really going tight on the turn causing a wall of snow to land in the lens. Based on what I had been doing in qualifiers, I decided not to clean the lens and sent him for another run. The results are what you see above. The droplets reflected on the lens added even more intensity. Everyone was stoked.

It’s definitely one of my favorite shots and shoots that I have had. And it’s proof that you should always go shoot during the storm. The results will be better than shooting in the expected, and the story is a memorable one.

RBCI BTS from Ryan Taylor on Vimeo.

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[INFOGRAPHIC] 2015 Custom SLR Survey Results

In February we asked you to take a survey to let us know what you think of Custom SLR and give us feedback so we can improve. Thank you to everyone who filled out our survey! We’re using it to improve and create new products in the future. 

Check out this infographic we created to visualize the results of the survey.

We’ve emailed the winner of the $200 Custom SLR gift card (congrats!).

Stay tuned to see what new products we have this year!

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Anticipating the Moment

Written by: Colby Brown

As a photographer it is our job to capture the world around us. For some of us that involves working in a studio with flashes and models, for others it means traveling around the world and working with whatever light we are given. Regardless of our field of expertise (or passion), it is always good to be prepared. This not applies to having the right camera, lenses or accessoriesbut also being ready for “the” right moment to press that shutter button.

Caption: A Monk Walking through Angkor Wat in Cambodia

On my first trip as a photographer (some 9 years ago), I found myself in the heart of south east Asia traveling throughout Cambodia. One morning I made my way up to the top of the famous ancient city of Angkor Wat and snapped what ended up being the best image of my early career. The truth is however that I got lucky. Being so new into photography, I wasn’t fully aware of how aperture, shutter speed and ISO worked. When I realized this monk was about to walk across this sun light pathway, I simply lifted my camera up to my face and waited, never thinking twice about what settings I was using. In the end it worked out, but I also learned a valuable lesson that morning.

Caption: A dive boat returning to shore in Thailand.

A few months after I took the image of the monk in Cambodia, I found myself on the tropical island of Koh Tao in Thailand. For two straight days, I scouted around the island for various subjects and scenes to photograph, coming up with a variety of images I was happy with. However each evening I noticed that the dive boats would return to shore right during sunset. On the third day, I searched for the perfect spot (which ended up being a slippery group of jagged rocks) that would allow me to capture a silhouette of a dive boat passing in front of the sun as it set on the horizon. I adjusted my settings, shot off a few practice images to be sure and then waited patiently. By the time the sun was getting into the right spot, a dive boat appeared, allowing me to take the very shot I had envisioned two days before.

Caption: Hot Air Balloons move throughout the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar

Years later, I found myself in Bagan, Myanmarwhich is home to thousands of small Buddhist stupas. The trip had been planned months in advance in preparation for the image you see above. I choose the month of November because it was both off season so there would be smaller crowds, but also because the haze in the sky would still make for great sunrise/sunset images at this time of year. I did my research online, knowing full well that shortly after the sun rose each day, hot air balloons would be set off in the north and travel south. Then to wrap things up, once I got on the ground, I scouted out different locations, looking for the best angle (and best temple) to use in my shot. After spending four days exploring the ruins, I finally found the perfect spot. The following morning I woke up at 5am, took my electric scooter to my chosen vantage point and waited. Needless to say, all my preparation and anticipation paid off.

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Behind the Scenes Shooting With Toyo Tires and UFC Fighters

Words and Photos by: John Pangilinan

One of the perks of being a photographer is the ability to work with various companies and people and within different industries. Toyo Tires is the official tire sponsor of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, better known as the UFC, and is able to reach a diverse fan base of MMA fans because all have a need for tires for their vehicles.

Toyo asked me to shoot their latest campaign involving their Team Toyo athletes. The campaign would call for some traveling within a short timeframe and would require some logistical organization. Often, the planning and prep prior to the actual shoot is the most difficult part of the project. The goal would be to shoot three different athletes located in three different areas within a week and keep a consistent look and feel for the images captured. With travel and schedules in place for the photo team, the client, and the fighter, we only had to ensure that the product would arrive to each location on time. Luckily, Toyo was able to take care of this part of the project.


First up was a drive down to San Diego, CA to shoot former UFC bantamweight champion, Dominick "The Dominator" Cruz. With this being the only local shoot, we were able to use this initial session to determine the look and feel for the rest of the campaign in which it called for the athlete to be shown using a new Toyo Tire within his workout regimen. At the time, Dominick was recovering from knee surgery and prepping to return to the Octagon, so we didn't want to ask him to strain himself for this shoot. So it was determined to feel him out and ask what he would be comfortable doing. He said he felt fine and was up for anything. So we asked him simply to jump up and over a stack of tires, similar to a box jump.

In order to get a consistent look and feel without ever having seen each location in person we pre-determined that we would create a dark background with the use of a large black fabric. The reason for using fabric over a roll of seamless paper was the ease of packing for travel for each shoot. It's much easier to fold up fabric than pack and ship or even purchase large rolls of seamless while on the road. The key element for this shoot would be the lighting. Not only did I want to light the athlete for a gritty and raw look, but I also wanted to light the tire itself to show off the tread.

We were given a back room area at the gym in which it was the easiest to turn off the lights without disturbing others that were training at the time. After covering the wall in the back in the black fabric using a lot of gaff tape, we determined an area where we would have enough room to set the tires and have Dominick jump over them while also setting the camera with a 50mm 1.2 L lens. I chose this lens for its low light capability. Next up would be setting up multiple strobes. I shot using a pair of Einsteins and a Canon Speedlite 580EX II. One Einstein was place overhead with a large softbox to light the subject; the other Einstein with grid created a soft rim light; and the Speed Lite was used to light the tires. I always suggest doing test shots with a secondary subject to get the light to the proper settings before using the main subject. This shows a degree of professionalism by not wasting the subject's valuable time. Setting the camera on a tripod ensures a couple things. First it keeps everything consistent and you can pre-set the focus to your liking, especially with moving objects. Second you are able to use multiple shots together using Photoshop if needed.

As a true professional, Dominick was up for the task and jumped multiple times. Each time he moved his body slightly to give various looks and expressions. Sometimes you need to experiment as some natural movements simply don't look the best for the shot, and you need to be able to adjust. I was able to show Dominick a few shots, and he adjusted accordingly.

To utilize the shoot's time effectively, we shot quickly and after getting exactly what we needed for the campaign, we even had the chance to capture additional portraits of Dominick for the client to be used for their social media and website. It's these little extras that keep clients happy.

The second shoot took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the famed Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy with UFC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis. Setup was very similar, but lighting conditions in this new location varied slightly. Anthony was also recovering from surgery, so we wanted to limit his action to avoid any injury. It was decided to have him pull on the tires with a rope to show his strength while training.

Again, not wanting to waste too much of the athlete's time, we pre-shot everything and only had to have a couple takes to get it right, leaving us with time for a couple portraits.

While on location, as a bonus, his management asked ahead of time if I would shoot a couple extra portraits for one of his sponsors, Cyclone Cups. So I was able to kill two birds with one stone, and also gain a new client in the process...not too bad. Of course, I cleared it first with Toyo Tires to ensure they were okay with that. 

The final shoot took place in San Jose, California with UFC #1 featherweight contender Chad "Money" Mendes. This particular shoot would prove to be the toughest.

The area given to shoot was located in the back of his strength and conditioning gym, which worked out perfectly. The concept for this shoot would be to showcase the strength of Chad by having him carry a tire and throw it.

Now for obvious reasons this created a couple issues for the shoot. One was the consistency in setting up Chad's body in relation to the tire and, upon throwing the tire, where it would end up without harming anyone or any gear. Luckily, Chad is another true pro and was able to control his throws and his body each time...

...even when asked to do it over and over again. It's no surprise that this guy is one of the most well-rounded athletes in the UFC, as he didn't even break a sweat. His photos were actually my favorite from the trio.

After the select shots were chosen by the client, the final edits were then done before being sent to Toyo. Toyo produced a beautifully printed poster, which they used at the UFC Fan Expo in Las Vegas. They had each of the three fighters present to sign autographs, creating an awesome collector's item.

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Stop by Our Booth At WPPI for the Big Reveal...and Win Our New Product!

We hinted at it earlier this month, and now our latest product will be revealed in just four days! We’ll be attending the Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Expo (WPPI) held inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas March 2-4.

As if you needed yet another reason to attend WPPI and see us, we’re sweetening the pot with a chance to WIN our new product.

How to Win

Just visit us at booth 1731 in the Marquee Ballroom, fill out your contact information, and we’ll draw a winner at random on Tues., March 3 at 3:30 p.m. Imagine walking out of WPPI being the first and only person to own our brand new product.

How to Register for WPPI Expo

It’s not too late! You can still register on-site to access the Expo. WPPI members and high school or college students/educators get in free; non-members pay $35.

What is WPPI?

Every year, 13,000 professional and aspiring photographers converge in Las Vegas for the WPPI Conference & Expo, where wedding and portrait photographers and filmographers have a chance to network, showcase their work, improve their skills through seminars, and try new products from various businesses.

One last thing: our friends at BorrowLenses will be giving away our Air Straps. Check them out at booth #1339.

It’s going to be one amazing event. We can’t wait to see you there!


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