When it comes to action, photography and taking risks, Marcel Lämmerhirt is your man. Discuss anything related to these areas and it’s hard not to notice the anticipation and enthusiasm building in Marcel. With a particular passion for speed, Marcel has photographed everyone from snowboarders to professional cliff divers, and journeyed everywhere from the Swiss glaciers to Tokyo, seeking his perfect shot.
So, in November 2015, it is no surprise that we approached Marcel to see what he could do with the Nikon D500. It didn’t take long for him to come up with an idea: to photograph Alvaro Dal Farra freestyle motocross athletes in the DaBoot Superpark, Lentiai, Italy. It was to be one of the most challenging and exhilarating shoots he’s experienced so far. In this guest blog, he revisits this experience, sharing the unexpected challenges he & his crew came across and how they overcame them.
No such thing as being too prepared
“It was only a two-day shoot, but I planned it for two months. We had to check the locations to make sure we could set up ramps, we had to think about the light, timings and weather conditions, and we couldn’t afford to overlook anything. I wanted this shoot to go perfectly.
We had planned to do four shoots: two during sunrise and two after sunset. The aim of this was to show what the camera can do when shooting fast moving subjects in different levels of light. The Nikon D500 is fantastic for night time sessions because of its high ISO, so it was important that my images demonstrated this.
I needed to make sure I had everything in place before I began shooting. With motocross athletes moving at such a high speed, the shoot could potentially be dangerous and it was my job to make sure everything went smoothly. With a shoot such as this, it is all about planning for that precise moment. You really cannot afford to miss a thing.
Action photography can be very challenging, and for me, one of the biggest issues was the logistics of making the shoot actually work. For example, we discovered there was no means of accessing electricity on site, so we had to use a huge generator, which we were entirely dependent on.
The cold weather also posed many issues. There is only so much you can prepare for with ice and snow. In short, you cannot control the weather, it will do what it wants and you have to adapt and change your plans if necessary. Case in point, despite our planning, on the first day of the motocross shoot, we discovered the ramps were entirely iced over. It was far too dangerous for the professionals to ride, so we had to push the timings back.
Since we had to wait for the ice to melt, we couldn’t do the sunrise shoots, which meant we did not have loads of time. There was a lot of pressure to get the right shot in the time frame we had. This is when having the right equipment is so important. The Nikon D500 is incredibly fast, and enabled me to capture those split-second moments quickly.
I learnt that despite planning, sometimes your shoot doesn’t go your way. It is vital that you do not let this phase you. Move on and re-think how you can get your best shot, and make sure you’re using reliable kit.
Finding creativity and angles
Motocross is an often photographed sport, and I wanted to take shots that stood out from the rest. I had to be creative with my angles, and experiment with the different functions on the Nikon D500 and other equipment in my kit bag.
During one of our day shoots, we had some issues with the weather as it was very cloudy. To ensure we had the right amount of light, I used two Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlights, mounted on my monopod; I had the Nikon D500 in my hand and then used the Nikon WR- R10 wireless transmitter to trigger the flashes. This gave me a great angle and enabled me to take some fantastic images like this one below.
The below image is one of my favourites from the shoot, and was the final photograph I took of motocross athlete, Luc Ackermann. In hindsight, I wish I had taken this shot during sunset, however I was still really pleased with the end result. I had attempted this type of shot before with another subject, and not succeeded, so I was determined to make it work.
In order to get this angle we had to mount the camera to the handlebars, something that a lot of athletes wouldn’t do. Making a jump like this isn’t easy, but it is made even more difficult with an extra 2.5kg attached to the motorbike.
Luc was willing to try it, so we fixed the equipment to the bike and connected the Nikon WR-A10 adapter to the Nikon WR-R10 transmitter. I used the AF DX Fisheye – NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2/8G ED lens and focused it on the seat, taping the lens to make sure it was fixed and didn’t move during the jump. It only took one attempt for us to get the shot we wanted.
When it came to the evening shoots, the sky turned a perfect shade of pink. I wanted to capture the riders jumping in front of this beautiful backdrop. For this shot, I set the AF to single (AF-S) to avoid the focus changing before I triggered my camera. Just before the rider jumped I focused on the point between the ramp and the landing spot, and took a sequence of shots. I ended up with some fantastic images of the riders silhouetted. The Nikon D500 worked perfectly in this light.
Luc Ackerman’s final jump at sunset as the sky turns pink & gold
I think it is important to be original with your images. As a photographer, you often have tunnel vision as you are constantly thinking about the next shot. This can be positive in that it helps you achieve your main objective, however it can also restrict you. Mix it up and take risks. You must be flexible and adapt to the situation you are in.
During one of the night shoots, I decided to use the camera’s overlay function to combine a sequence of images of the professionals jumping. This function was fantastic for showing the art of motocross. It created a striking image and one that I had not seen before.
I took a lot of pictures I am proud of on this shoot, but there is one that really stands out for me. I love the story that it tells. I captured this [below] image in a millisecond.
Everything came together perfectly in this shot, the lighting, the framing and the performance of the athlete. I chose not to use flash, so as not to blind the rider during his jump. Instead I used eight Arri lights to light up the whole track. I had a whole team dedicated to lighting. We used radios to contact each other and change the lighting when necessary.
I also used a branch from the trees around me and included it in the left of my frame, so that the ‘action’ was in the middle, framed by the branches. As I said before, it is important to be creative with your shots, and the results can be fantastic. The camera worked perfectly in the dark. I would recommend using the Nikon D500 on night shoots.
My experience with the Nikon D500 was fantastic and I am always happy to share my tips. To find out more about my work visit http://www.mlpics.de/ and follow me on Instagram at marcel_laemmerhirt. I’d like to thank my crew for all of their hard work on this shoot: Cristopher Breda – Director of Photography, Baldauf & Baldauf – Light Crew, Udo Baldauf, Frank Baldauf, Valentin Galle, Sam Stauss – BTS camera assistant, K&L Tokyo, Shusuke Nakano, Sachie Yamane, Kenji Akimoto. Takehiro Oda, Alvaro Dal Farra – Manager, Silvano Garbini, Simone Feltrin, Stefano Pescador, Robert Cristina and the two FMX riders Matteo Botteon and Luc Ackermann.
Marcel’s kit bag for the shoot
- AF DX Fisheye NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED,
- AF-S DX NIKKOR 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5G ED,
- AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G,
- AF-S DX ZOOM-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED,
- AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm F/2.8G ED,
- AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR,
- AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G,
- AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II,
- AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/4E PF ED VR,
- AF-S NIKKOR 400mm F/2/8G ED VR
Curious to know how Marcel got started with photography? It isn’t how one you would expect. Stay tuned!