Neil Davidson’s Parkour Photo Shoot

It always pays to experiment. After an already successful parkour shoot, photographer Neil Davidson decided to throw some flour into the mix – and ended up with some awesome shots. Here’s his account of how he did it.

©2012 Neil Davidson

I recently did a parkour shoot with Kurt and Matt, a couple of local free-runners. One of the things that separates them from other so-called free-runners is that they don’t indulge in somersaults or backflips, ‘tricking’ as it’s commonly known. Their aim, instead, is to traverse obstacles in the most efficient and smooth manner possible, which makes for great images but I’d seen these images with people throwing flour in the air that looked really cool and wondered if we could integrate this idea into a parkour shoot. Kurt travels around Europe doing more performance styled free-running so thankfully they were behind the idea from the start. After five hours of work, it was definitely a fun way to end the shoot!

©2012 Neil Davidson

We didn’t really have any other intentions than to just see what happens when you combine a jump with throwing flour. Initially, the results were a bit flat but after seeing a couple of shots off the camera the guys were soon coming up with more inventive ways to throw the flour. We’re all big fans of the Spiderman films so there were some humorous references and inspiration from those happening during the later jumps!

Sometimes it didn’t work out too well, like the shot where Kurt literally threw flour all over himself.

©2012 Neil Davidson

For me this is the part in photography where several things have to come together in order to create a dynamic image, it often feels like a mix of timing and luck. Each jump is potentially ‘the shot’ so everything becomes important including the trust you have in your gear.

Shooting in near darkness on a windy wet beach I knew I had to keep things simple, my only source of light was a Bowens head with a 27″ silver beauty dish, which gave me enough power and spread of light to get started quickly.

These guys jump and move fast, so shooting with HyperSync is crucial – x-sync, even at 1/320th on the newer cameras, just doesn’t cut it! The camera settings for the final shots were ISO 1000, f/6.3 @ 1/1600.

©2012 Neil Davidson

I used a PocketWizard MiniTT1 radio trigger for Nikon, AC3 Zone Controller and two FlexTT5’s for the shot. One FlexTT5 was attached to a Bowens Gemini head with a large 27″ beauty dish, the other to a Nikon SB900 flashgun.

The Bowens head was wired to the P2 (flash) port on the FlexTT5 and set to group A. I tend to group my lights in such a way that group A is always going to be the main light.

The SB900 was directly attached to the FlexTT5 and set to group B. Again, my secondary or fills lights are normally assigned to group B.

©2012 Neil Davidson

The Bowens head has to be set manually so on the AC3 the settings are set to ‘manual’ and ‘0’ on the AC3. I often make adjustments to the SB900 flashguns by setting them to manual if I’m not happy with the auto output, but on this occasion I decided not to use it and simply set it to ‘off’ without having to leave the camera!

We finally nailed a few magical shots before wearily, but happily, heading home after a six hour shoot, the flour shots being the icing on the cake.

©2012 Neil Davidson

My top tip: I use the PocketWizard Utility to regularly check for firmware updates (and battery status). I often hear of people having issues and it’s the first thing I recommend they do. I’ve never changed any of the unit settings because my experience has always been that the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units work as they should. I regularly switch in and out of HyperSync mode without really giving it much thought.

Thanks for your breakdown of this shoot, Neil! See more of Neils work at his site.

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