Remote Camera Mountain Bike #Selfies

Whistler, BC-based photographer Dan Carr’s work has been featured in ski and snowboard magazines from Japan to Canada and everywhere in between.  During the winter you will find him shooting alongside the world’s top snow sports athletes and film companies in the never ending quest for perfect images.  After a summer season of improving his mountain bike skills, Dan steps in front of the camera and remotely fires off some images. Here’s how he did it in his own words.

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As summer drew to a close in Whistler, British Columbia, I was about ready to pack the bike away and dust my skis off when I had an idea……

I moved to Whistler nearly ten years ago and I credit its incredible mountain scenery for my first real interest in photography, and certainly for later turning it into my job.  Whistler Blackcomb, the ski resort here, is consistently voted #1 in the world and that accolade extends into the summer where we also have the #1 mountain bike park.  Over my time here I’ve grown to love the sport of mountain biking, perhaps even more so than the skiing that led me here in the first place.  As such, I made a conscious decision to not shoot too many mountain bike photos.  I far prefer to be out riding my bike and having fun, than cautiously peddling around with a 35lb backpack on and $20,000 of gear inside it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to shoot biking, but I wouldn’t call myself a mountain bike photographer…just a mountain biker.

A few years ago for a ski photography assignment I put together a trigger switch and some cables for one of my skiing athletes to use to trigger a camera that was mounted to his back.  Digging through my gear closet I found that cable this summer and wondered what it would be like to use it for some biking photos.  At first I figured I would use some local professional athletes but as my biking skills have improved it occurred to me that I could just ride the bike myself.

There’s a few ways to trigger a remote camera with a PocketWizard but the important thing is to get the correct cables.  You’re going to need a specific cable to go from your receiver to your camera’s remote port.  There’s a handy cable finder tool on the website that will help you find the right one, based on the model of your camera and the model of your PocketWizards.  Once your remote camera is wired to the receiver, it’s as simple as pressing the test button on your transmitter to fire the camera.  For my setup I wanted to be able to trigger the camera while I was riding my bike though so pressing the Test button was out of the question.

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The second way you can fire a remote is to use a simple SPST switch attached to a cable and then plugged into your transmitting PocketWizard.  You can use the PocketWizard BT1 or BT3, or you can make your own cable and switch combination to suit as I did.  There’s no fancy electronic knowledge needed, just a soldering iron, a switch and a mono miniphone cable with a 3.5mm plug on the end.  With the 3.5mm cable plugged into the PocketWizard, a flick or push of the switch will do the same thing as pressing the Test button and fire the remote camera.

 

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I started out with a toggle switch on my cable, the one I’d used in the past with the skiing images.  It worked well on a ski pole and was easy to flick using thick ski gloves but I needed something different to work on the handlebar of my bike.  A quick trip to the hardware store, and $2 later, I had a momentary push switch that would work just fine.  As you can see in the photos below, I McGivered the switch onto my bars just using a whole bunch of zip ties.  Then I simply stuck the transmitter (a Plus II*) to my bike’s frame using electrical tape. (*Editor’s note: The Plus II has been replaced by the Plus III Transceiver.)

 

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For the shot I had in mind though, a rock face at the peak of Whistler Mountain, I knew I was also going to need some fill flash to help me lower the ambient light exposure and bring out the deep blue colors in the sky.  If you want to use remote flash with a remote camera you can’t just put the flash on the same channel as the camera though.  The lag between receiving the trigger signal and firing is different between a camera and a flash so trying to do it on the same channel results in a photo with no flash visible.  Instead you need your camera’s receiver to be in relay mode.  This receives on one channel and then sends out a transmitting signal afterwards on one channel higher.  You need to set the receiver for your remote flash to one channel higher then the receiver plugged into your remote camera and than your flash will be visible in the photo.  For this shot I used my trusty PCB Einstein monolight and a standard 50 degree reflector with the flash just off to the right of the frame, up high on top a 8ft lightstand.

I’ve put together a video below that goes into much more detail on the various possible PocketWizard and flash setups which I’d encourage you to watch.

I’m a big fan of getting things right in camera. I’m far more comfortable out shooting than I am at the computer so the final photo you see is essentially what came from my Canon 5D MK III with only very minor contrast adjustment.  We lucked out on the evening of the shoot and got perfect clouds which I accentuated with a circular polarizing filter.  I also used a 2-stop soft-grad neutral density filer positioned across the sky to lower the brightness of the clouds and really show off those deep blues.  My good friend Rowan Thornton helped me carry all my gear up the mountain and he’s also in the photo riding the trail just below me.  We had to get the timing spot on so we didn’t hit each other as once I’m riding that rock face there was no stopping me!  I’m glad Rowan was with me because once the sun set we had to ride 7000ft of vertical back down to the valley just by the light of our headlamps and weighed down collectively by about 40-50lbs of gear.

A couple of days after the success of this photo we changed the scenery a little and headed into the green and mossy woodland of the Whistler valley.  Below you can see another couple of photos from that shoot where I used the exact same trigger setup, this time without the flash.

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Dan Carr is a professional photographer and educator from Whistler, BC, Canada.  You can find more of his work and writing on the website Shutter Muse, and follow him on twitter @DanCarrPhoto

All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Dan Carr, all rights reserved; story is © PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographer’s rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.

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One Response to “Remote Camera Mountain Bike #Selfies”

  1. Heath Holden says:

    Great idea, good job Dan. I think of things like this all the time, I have some infra-red sensors I might use to do similar shots with BMX and mtb. Heath.