Innerleithen winter series: round 1, practice0
Madness by moonlight0
neil posted in Travel on January 29th, 2010
neil posted in bikes, Trails on January 19th, 2010
The crazed winter carnival that is the Strathpuffer is over again for another year. Tonnes of mud, gleaming with granite, is being washed off battered bikes and battered riders. This event is’nt a competitive race for us, its an excuse. Its an excuse to gather together a group of friends, pile a van full of technical kit, bikes and spares and have an adventure in a forest. It required teamwork of the highest order just to get the campsite set up and the first rider out on a lap this year. There was snow to be shoveled and a van to be “dug in”. The celebrations after successful erection of gazebo and two tents almost crippled me for the next day. Pale faced and sleep deprived I crawled from the tent to register our team to discover that the gazebo had jumped the tent during the night and become bent. There was nothing for it but to attempt to send a picture message to its owner.
James foolishly volunteered for the first lap and I retired to bed. Dave was to take the second lap and Simon the third. The first lap was the hardest with the fastest people coming in at the 50 minute mark. The snow prevented most from riding the lap at any normal speed and extensive pushing was required. James returned to the campsite in 1:21:54 to tag Dave and be greeted by Fraser’s “Experimental” recovery drink. Meanwhile the campsite took shape, the gazebo was ressurected and Fraser put the finishing touches to our snowy “battlements” manned by a pair of recycled Teko monkeys.
Simon laid down a scorching lap and tagged me. The course was mostly familiar after two years, with some refinements. Line choice on fire road was essential as there was a definite speed boost to be had on the firmer ground and a drag to the gloopy parts. The singletrack was a mix of thick mud between granite slabs and snowy/icy ruts down woodland singletrack. I took the bold approach to the singletrack and was rewarded with a series of fast sections until the inevitable rut too far. A several meter long wash out/crash that happily dissipated all the energy in spectacle and flying snow. I was soon back on my bike to complete my fastest lap of the event. A quirk of our post-start transition was that this was recorded as our teams fastest lap as Simon’s batter up the fire-road from start to campsite was included in my time. I was happy to hand off my bike to Bertie who washed it and recieve the “mark 3 experimental recovery” drink from Fraser.
A quick trip to the Frank Nichols garden store netted us a massive bag of coal and all kinds of flammable materials to ward off the cold temperatures at night. Bertie happily spent the day tearing apart pallets and feeding up a fire to keep us warm as darkness set in. Dave and James tag-teamed the first hours of darkness as I huddled in my sleeping bag to rest for the midnight shift. Their laptimes increased by twenty minutes for the last lap before turning in, a symptom of waiting in wet gear and fatigue.
Simon and I wake to the knowledge that Dave and James are out for the rest of the event. Simon responds with a preposterous 54 minute lap, only 32 seconds off our team fastest lap. I’m feeling strong deja-vu and keep a steady pace, keeping plenty in reserve for a long, long morning. The conditions are good, possibly the best they’ll be all event. The singletrack is melted slush and has a definite ridable line and the fire-roads are freezing crispy, reducing drag. We tag-team for three laps, our times hovering around the hour mark. Between laps we sit in a camp chair by the fire, wet riding gear sealed under layers of insulation. Our legs are kept warm by a sleeping bag made of layers of honeycombed foil. We must look like pop-tarts for cannibals. Each time I sit down, I’m looking forward to my next lap, because then I’ll be warm and I’ll be riding. It occurs to me that the brighter the joystick light on my head runs, the more awake I feel. It is obvious we have battery power to burn, so I speed up, riding the entire lap on full beam. The riding is good with the rain-freeze-thaw-freeze conditions changing the circuit significantly between laps. The granite chute near the top eventually freezes and I’m dumped into the mud at the bottom. Meanwhile some of the steeper climbs are icing up from wheelspin and a small tree has blown across a faster section of fire-road. Three of us work to clear the obstruction. The course is becoming familiar now, each part with a habitual line. The stink of a bog means you’re most of the way round. A fast corner after a long descent near the end means its time to scrub off all the speed and roll unclipped around the iciest corner of the course. The iciest corners lead immediately into a deep quagmire of mud. The change is so abrupt it is almost offensive. Ambulancemen and marshalls provide cowbell and tunes, cheering riders as they climb or spin out on ascents. I inadvertantly scare the lap-recording ladies as I drag my burned out back brake to the handle with no discernable effect and accelerate downhill towards them. Fortunately the snow means that my front brake remains largely unused and I stop in plenty of time. A north American accent demands “How are you doing?” and a mobile phone is thrust in my direction. I answer honestly “I’m really just beginning to enjoy myself” and sprint up the hill. Minutes later I’m sitting by a warm fire gazing at the stars.
Simon goes to bed after his fifth lap, seduced by warm dry clothes. As I head out on my fifth, I’m taking it plenty easy. Spinning up fire-road climbs and relying on my forks to take most of the hits. At this point I’m sick of the orange juice I’ve mixed into my recovery drink as my mouth burns with the acidic taste. Bertie informs me that they switched to apple juice hours ago. I can’t tell the difference. For the first time ever at a ‘puffer I’m not cramping and the vinegar sachets in my camelbak remain unused. I manage a sixth lap in the dark, marvelling that the Enduro front light is still going strong after being used since midnight. The piggy-back battery providing the extra charge needed. The half-light is’nt quite as spectacular as previous years and intermittent rain sparks in the light of my headtorch. I arrive back at the campsite with the full intention of going out soon on another lap. Just after some coffee, just after Fraser changes my brake pads, just after I close my eyes for a second. Eventually I realise I’m putting it off and only getting colder. I change the pedals on Fraser’s Scandal and take it for the final lap. I suggest handing the dibber back to the marshalls after the lap, by now I would need to put in a 1:10 lap to allow another lap within the 25 hours. We agree that if someone is up for it, they’ll be waiting for me at the start finish line. Its daylight and I’m confident I can put in one more fastish lap. The course is full of exhausted riders pushing and staggering the final laps. The course is freezing again in new places and some bits of fire-road are slippy. A teenager races me down one fire-road section and I get gee’d up enough to change into middle ring. The gear change requires both hands to push the lever. In time I find my rythm and make solid time on the fire-roads and take it easy over the granite. The descents are completely visible and the rideable line painfully obvious in the light. I’ve got enough left in the tank to make the icy corners and start pedalling through the quagmire towards the finishline. I arrive with fifteen minutes to go before the cut-off and the event staff give me a free coffee. I spill most of it on myself and my hands but the warmth is welcome, the last lap was definitely the coldest as the water on the inside of my gear was chilling my extremities. I meet a flickr buddy “The Flying Pie” whose team beats us by a single place. I have my photo taken. Bertie arrives to take my bike up the hill and we hand in the dibber. We’re done racing for another year.
Four loons, two wheels, single malt
2:06:09 Neil (coffee break)
We dig our van out with help from our neighbours. A chap appears from nowhere with two rolls of carpet for the van’s wheels and the ten of us manage to get the van onto the road. We jump-lead a team from Southhampton with no success and head home via Cairngorm Mountain Sport Cafe. The ‘Puffer is done. We come 33rd out of 79 Quads. All bikes are functional, all people are uninjured if exhausted. I’m not ready to say I’m looking forward to next year yet, but if they need us to send up some of the mud we took home by accident, I’d do it to make sure we can have another shot.
neil posted in Travel on January 15th, 2010
I’ve got another shoot at in half an hour, we’d arranged to meet twenty minutes ago, but there is no sign of Wild Hunt. I’m just packing up to head on to the next assignment when my phone rings, they’re on the Royal Mile and headed over. Graham and I re-rig all the lights and set them up facing the glowsticks we are going to use to position the group on the featureless grassy field. Three lights, snooted & flagged to prevent excessive spill onto the grass. The camera, unusually for me, is on a tripod. The tripod’s head is inverted so that the camera hangs inches above the ground and the 70-200mm lens is clamped into place. This lets me hold a 10 second exposure, f8, ISO 800 to fill in the night sky. Streetlights are reflecting off the cloud give a spooky orange sky, we were’nt that lucky with the clouds, on a good night they provide a wonderful dappled orange fractal background. I missed a trick here, if I’d blue gelled the strobes and then balanced it out, the sky would’ve been a deeper more fun shade of orange. I’m still nailing down focus and testing the lights when the hunters roll up to strap on stilts and pull out swords. We do some static shots with them arranged in a vee, stacked as tight as I can get them. They move a little, creating dark shadows around themselves. If I’d had my creative hat on, I’d have zoomed in after the flash to create a black outline around the performers (next time!).
I know I’ve got the safe shot. I could go now and get to the second assignment, but I’m meeting the next group nearby and I’ve surely got time to make another photo? Plumping for extra credit, I ask the hunters to run through the area defined by the glowsticks. Graham takes charge of the flashes, primed to trigger them when the hunters are in the flash sweet spot and sufficiently spread. This leaves me free to open the shutter and work with the group. After the first run-thru, I show them the image on the camera’s LCD. In seconds the whole group is on hands and knees behind the camera (except the two ladies on stilts), shouting and laughing and totally up for another go. We do three and I notice that one girl hangs back, there is some negotiation and the whole group runs through at her pace, making sure they are all in the picture. Pop! They come through and bee-line for the camera, leaving their shadows on the night sky. Sweet. I’m happy, they’re enthused and want to see it big ASAP.
The next assignment call, its a misunderstanding somewhere, we are’nt shooting until next week. In fact the shoot never happens. That would’ve been a blow, except I took a fun photo already.
Waterfall take 20
neil posted in Photos, Neil, 5Dmk2 on January 6th, 2010
There is a local waterfall which freezes when the conditions are right. With the recent low temperatures, we were pretty sure it would be ready to climb. Last time we tried was in the dark and I struggled to light the waterfall. This time we had bright sunshine in between the snow showers and the whole shoot was more manageable. The icy hike in precluded bringing enough light to work in daylight, so I used my 70-200mm at f2.8 for the entire shoot.
Hundred Meter Club @ Wee Red Bar0
neil posted in Photos, Neil, 5Dmk2 on January 3rd, 2010
Hugh, drummer for The Hundred Metre Club (THMC) dropped me a text message. They were launching three songs at the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh and wanted me to shoot the gig.
“Light the ***** out of it” was one of the messages in the resulting conversation. Hugh happens to be a photographer (check out his stuff here) and understands that being at the mercy of the venue’s lighting rig can be a nightmare. The photos I made of his band in the Ark were ‘meh’ at best and another local photographer suggested that the Wee Red’s rig was worse. So I came to the gig an hour and a half before kickoff loaded for bear. I would prefer to scout the location and have a defined lighting plan before the shoot, but in this case time had been extremely tight. Flash photography during a gig is normally a massive no-no as it reveals the distinctly unsexy location, removes the mystery and the interest and flattens the whole thing off. My plan was to make the lighting look like a really well lit gig. It had to be tightly controlled to keep it from highlighting the beer bottles, set-lists, cables and paraphenalia of the stage. As THMC were running the show, I could put up lightstands and set the lighting beforehand. This is rarely allowed at a gig, I’ve only been asked to do it once before.
Looking at the gig photographs I liked on flickr revealed two things. They tended to be strongly backlit and have well defined strong (almost blown out) colours. I knew the band were planning to use a smoke machine, which gave me another reason to use back or side lighting. Choosing the colours was relatively easy. I hate green gels for producing a colour, ruling that out, and purple and pink did’nt really suit the band. I could’nt see yellow working against blue and it would’ve been boring against red. Red and blue contrast nicely and provide strong thick colours without looking washed out or sickly. I doubled the red and blue gels up on two flashes apiece and set the flashes at the back of the stage while the bands set up. Four flashes may sound like overkill, but I wanted to be able to light the whole band and shoot from a variety of angles without changing the setup. One of the flashes of each colour was zoomed to 105mm and carried a long snoot, aimed towards the opposite corner of the stage. The other was zoomed to 50mm and angled so the edge of the beam would just catch the nearside guitarist.
My backup/rescue/alternate plan involved a 580EX on a Gorillapod at the front of the stage. It was controlled by the ST-E2 TTL unit on my camera, if I needed fill at any time, I just had to turn the ST-E2 on and Canon’s system would take care of the rest. The ST-E2 was stacked onto one of Pocketwizards new TTL radio units which sat in my camera hotshoe. The IR beam from the ST-E2 also helps the camera focus in low light so it was reassuring to be able to use it and the pocketwizard similtaneously.