Without trying to sound cliché, the first word that comes to mind when viewing Erik Seo’s action sports photography is ‘explosive’, and that’s not simply because snow and people tend to be flying all over the place in many of his photographs.
Mostly self-taught, Seattle-born Seo (rhymes with –‘say-oh’) began photographing fellow ski-bums while attending Washington State University with a major in landscape architecture and just enough photography classes on the side to get him hooked for life.
For inspiration and visual direction he read books about lighting and studied the work of others in the field whose work he respected. He also shot a lot and pushed himself to see if he could do it even better. Seo decided to shoot full time about 30-seconds after learning his day job had been terminated. It’s a decision he’s content with.
Winter sports photography is as demanding as location photography gets. Challenges include mountain terrain, extreme cold, snow, ice, rain, slippery surfaces with obstructions – not all of which are immediately apparent – speed, sun glare, or any combination of the above. Add remote-triggered TTL flash into the mix only makes things that more interesting.
Seo’s working tools include Canon EOS 1D and 5D Mark-series camera bodies with a trio of Canon L-series wide zooms, a fast 85mm and the all-but-mandatory 70-200/f2.8L II zoom.
For flash, Seo uses Canon and Nikon Speedlites, Elinchrom Ranger RX AS and Ranger Quadra flash systems, along with Paul C Buff Einstein flash heads in various combinations depending on the scope and parameters of the assignment.
Regardless of whose lighting systems he ends up using, all communications between his cameras and lights go through his PocketWizard remote triggering system, which, as Erik jokingly says, frees him from having to drag along “about 834,234,324-feet of sync cords”.
Erik’s remote triggering system includes FlexTT5 and Plus III Transceivers. He also makes use of PocketWizard PowerST4 Receivers, which enable remote control of Elinchrom RX-series flash systems with PocketWizard ControlTL technologies. Also included in Erik Seo’s PocketWizard triggering kit are AC3 ZoneControllers, which enable three zones of off-camera flash control.
Getting through these challenges requires equal measures of speed, stamina, lightning reflexes, and enough common sense to know when to pull back. (According to Erik it also requires always having a supply of plastic bags and waterproof tape on hand to better ensure moisture doesn’t get into places it doesn’t belong.) It also helps to have camera gear that won’t let you down when things start to rock and roll.
The combination of bright, high-altitude sunlight and blowing snow can easily push contrast ranges off the charts making fill-flash all but mandatory for revealing detail in otherwise blackened shadows.
To freeze the action Seo often requires shutter speeds shorter than the 1/200th and 1/250th-second top sync speeds of his Canon camera bodies. Using PocketWizard’s exclusive HyperSync® feature, Seo has the option of selecting shutter speeds as short as 1/8000th-second, which is far more effective at freezing fast-moving subjects compared to the native top sync speeds of most DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
“PocketWizard radio’s allow me to craft the light the way I’d like, at any time of day. HyperSync allows me more flexibility in overpowering daylight and punching light into the harsh shadows of my outdoor scenes.”
Erik also makes use of the flexible Quad-Zone Triggering feature of his PocketWizard Transceivers, which allow him to quickly switch between flash systems while adjusting power settings on the fly.
More than just a flash trigger, Erik also uses his PocketWizard system for triggering cameras remotely. “I use PocketWizard radios to control my lighting, but also (use them) to wirelessly fire a second or third camera connected to PocketWizard motor drive cables. It’s always good to have another camera blasting away at 10fps when you only get one pop of flash power per attempt… You never know if you will get more than one opportunity to photograph the action so the more cameras you can have covering the action, the better. Some of my best photos including my cover shot of one of Powder Magazine’s Photo Annual have been captured through remotely-fired cameras.”
Seo can also testify to the range and accuracy of his PocketWizard flash triggering system. “Last winter I did a photo shoot for Aspen Skiing Company out of a helicopter from a distance of about 2,000 feet from the subject and we were able to successfully HypersSync with my Elinchrom Ranger’s and Paul Buff Einstein flash units. Both Seo and his client went home happy that day.
“Thanks to people at PocketWizard for creating the tools I need to shape the light to my liking.”
To see more of Erik Seo’s work, check out his website.
To learn more about the benefits of getting your flash off your camera and triggering it remotely, please visit www.pocketwizard.com/freeyourflash
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