Tuesday, August 10

Extreme trials riding

Evel Knievel Days did not merely provide the raw material for a thought provoking post on the nature of extreme entertainment.  It also provided ample subjects in action for amateur photography.  Of all the men riding motorcycles in circles on vertical walls, men throwing down basketballs from a trampoline and motocross races I captured with my camera, this image is my favorite.  One aspect that I particularly enjoy is how Geoff Aaron, the rider, and his bike are the only elements of this picture really in focus. The four people standing behind him don't distract as they aren't entirely in focus.  I think I managed to just turn the camera enough while the shutter opened to follow him and leave those standing still a bit blurred.

I find it more than a touch ironic that of the one-hundred-odd pictures I shot of this man's tricks, this simple wheelie, one of his warm-up stunts, is my favorite. The man did hops over barrels, ran a ramp that was on a seventy degree angle and jumped up and down the three platforms of a steel stage, and the simplest trick is the subject of my favorite picture. Let's consider why.

Aaron is flipping his leg over the bike here while balancing on a steel barrel. The members of the audience make a good framing device, but they are too large and dominate the picture, distracting from the real subject.  It doesn't help either that the dominant colors of his suit, gray and black, are so similar to the barrels and asphalt, and the suit's texture makes good camouflage against the watching crowd and the temporary fence in front of them.

 This should be an incredible picture.  Aaron is taking a jump off a ramp twice the size of a man and at an angle somewhere around seventy degrees yet there is no real drama.  There is no sense of the speed necessary to take the leap, and the crowd isn't exactly demonstrating the appropriate emotion of awe mixed with more than a healthy amount of fear.  The idea with including the stop light in the picture was a bit of a joke, to suggest that maybe he shouldn't 'go,' but that may be too subtle.  Or childish.  Whichever.

These really were the most frustrating pictures for me.  These were amazing tricks.  Each platform could not have been deep enough for both wheels to stand on in a parallel, line and each step up was taller than the individual wheels.  Aaron had to have precise enough control going up to gun the accelerator just enough to launch up another level without shooting off the other end.  There was a pause after every leap as we all waited to see if he could do it again.  And that's all the pictures really capture, a man about to leap again.  Even when the picture is in the midst of the leap, the excitement is hidden.  It just looks like a little jump.

Toward the end of the performance I slowed the shutter to try and show some of Aaron's speed.  I am happy that I managed as he moved between platforms and even that the telephone lines and red pole frame him in the sky, but overexposure of the clouds really takes something away, gives a sense of unreality to the whole things.

All these things considered, though, I feel the greatest reason I prefer the original wheelie is that it's one of my largest pictures of Aaron. I shot all of these with my shorter lens at the full focal length of 55 mm, equivalent to 82 mm on a 35 mm lens. My reasoning for this selection at the time was two fold: first, to provide some context for the height of his jumps and stunts and second, to give me a greater margin of error in making sure he was in the picture. Unfortunately, this also meant that the subject was much smaller within the picture. Using the following picture, let's consider why this was a poor choice.

This could have been a good picture. There is some tension and drama in that he's in the midst of a trick that requires him to be stationary at the moment. That gives a sense of stillness to the scene. Also, there is some humor as he looks back over his shoulder. Unfortunately, the interesting part of the picture takes up about a quarter of the whole because that's what the full zoom could capture. The rest is just empty, distracting background. Judicious cropping could help, but that's not how I roll. Shoving my way through the crowd for superior positioning could help, too, but I'm not doing that in pursuit of a simple hobby.

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