Airtime with Steve Lloyd
As a native of Utah, Steven Lloyd is no stranger to winter sports. As an art major in college, Lloyd took a photography course in order to help him capture images he wanted to paint. “I fell in love with photography, and thought it was a lot more fun than sitting in a room all day painting,” he says.
Always an outdoorsman, Lloyd has been shooting professionally for eight years. “I grew up skiing, and always try to shoot far away from the resorts,” he explains. His photography now includes his latest passion, mountain biking, which he’s been involved with the past four years. He enjoys shooting biking at least as much as photographing skiing. This works out well, as they both have their seasons are opposite each other. Also on his list of sports covered is climbing and backpacking. “I enjoy shooting anything outdoors, basically,” Lloyd says, “but my main focus is biking and skiing.”
With year-round subject matter to shoot, Lloyd can usually be found shooting on location. Some of his shots set him apart with the photographer’s equivalent of New Journalism: interjecting himself into his photographs. His portfolio include photos taken over and including a mountain bike’s handlebars. Others seem as if he is skiing with the subject he is shooting. “Growing up in the outdoors,” he says, “I’ve always tried to come up with different ways to shoot, like doing point-of-view shots or including myself in the photo. A lot of times photographers don’t get credit for being athletes themselves. When you’re out skiing and shooting with skiers, you’re on the slope with them. The danger factor is the same. It’s even harder because you’re carrying all your camera gear.”
There’s a reason why Lloyd has a high ratio of dramatic shots with stunning backgrounds. “I like to find cool-looking features in nature, whether it’s a rock, arch, trees or a good view. I look for those things first, and then think how I can put an athlete or skier in the scene; how I can put a biker on a trail where it would look cool with the mountains and clouds. The landscape complements the athlete and the athlete can enhance the photo by putting action into it.”
“The last few years I’ve been working a lot with flashes in nature,” Lloyd says. “I love to hike and get away from people. Using speedlights on a very cool natural feature to bring color and light to it with these tools is very exciting. Now that I have PocketWizards to use with my flashes, doors have opened up for me. I can get very creative and make colors how I see them. Artistically, I can now do more of what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m pretty stoked on the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. There’s no more wires, which were fickle in extreme temperatures. It’s a pleasure to hook up this system and use it.” Before using his current PocketWizard system, Lloyd employed Plus II’s.
Although he has plans to purchase a Profoto system later this winter, Lloyd travels small and light with speedlights. His current rig is two Canon 550EXs, one 580EX and two Vivitar 285s. His body is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. “A lot of the locations I shoot at make it impossible to get large packs there,” he explains. “We often hike two or three hours through the snow up in the mountains. You can’t take a snowmobile or other vehicle there, so it’s all carted by hand. With the smaller systems it’s nice because you can put it in a backpack. If you have an athlete or two going with you, you can divide up the gear and everyone can handle it without stressing too much. You’d be surprised what you can do with those mini-systems.”
Setting up many of Lloyd’s well-composed shots isn’t easy, although the action looks spontaneous. “On the flash-lit set-ups, my prep and shoot time is four to five hours, minimum. To get things set-up, test the lights, get the athletes on the same page and get my exposures dialed-in, it’s a lot of work. The recycle times on the smaller rigs isn’t as fast as the big gear, so I have one chance to get the shot of the athlete in action. You have to be patient when the biker or skier goes off the cliff. You can’t preshoot the photo because they won’t be in the right position. You also can’t wait too long. Sometimes we’re only allowed two or three times before the athlete’s done or the snow is bad. It’s difficult, but doable.”
Another factor weighing on the production of Lloyd’s dramatic night shots is safety. “A guy jumping off a forty-foot cliff at night is a lot more difficult and dangerous than someone doing it in the daytime,” he says. “Skiers can’t really see their landing area well at night, and they have to guess when to absorb the impact.”
Lloyd is bullish on technology available to himself and other shooters. “Digital photography has opened unlimited doors to creating whatever you want,” he says. “That’s especially true of products like PocketWizards. You put these products together and I don’t think there’s any limit to what you can create as far as colors, images, scenes, or whatever you want. It just takes a little time. You get instant feedback, as opposed to the film days. You can get your timing down and know exactly when to hit the shutter as they’re flying through the air. It’s all possible because of the technology we have now.”