Felix Shumack is an Aussie photographer, based in the UK, with a passion for sports. He began his career back in Sydney as an assistant. Since 2013, he calls London his home and focuses on portrait, action and sports photography. And that is where this story begins. “I love working with athletes that love what they do”, says Felix.
This shoot is the first part of Felix’s personal project called The Grind, a project with an aim to further develop his visual style and grow his portfolio of sports imagery. “I would describe my photographic style as intense and atmospheric. I always shoot on location with controlled light to create imagery full of texture and dynamic range”, he says. “The Grind is about capturing that which drives an athlete to suffer for what they love.”
Felix began the planning of the project by interviewing an athlete, in this case talented amateur mountain biker Ben Spear, to understand the feelings and emotions he has to master to succeed in his sport. “In the interview, Ben talked about overcoming the ‘fear factor’ and mastering the technical aspects of breaking, timing and balance. I used these comments to create the different scenarios for the shoot.“
Felix grabbed his equipment and headed out to a forest about an hour and a half south of London, near the village of Coldharbour. “I chose this location for its great mountain biking trails. It also offered a large variety of backgrounds for both the action and portrait images. The textures and the way the dappled light came through the tree canopy also drew me to this location.”
One of the biggest challenges Felix faced was to be able to get the right gear up a muddy track to a relatively remote location. Since Felix was also about to shoot a mountain biker riding those muddy tracks, he needed lighting equipment that could freeze that motion. “I spent a lot of time visualizing exactly what I wanted to achieve before starting the shoot. I also needed to control the balance between the ambient light and the studio flash as I wanted to freeze motion and slightly underexpose the background so my subject stood out, which is all part of my visual style.”
Felix brought three Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes with him to Coldharbour. “I already loved the flexibility and portability of the B1’s, but when I heard that the new High-Speed Sync (HSS) feature would be available to achieve sync at such high shutter speeds, I got even more excited. There was now a highly portable, flexible, quality driven product that would allow me to freeze motion and control ambient light using a DSLR and not medium format. It meant I can now creatively achieve a lot of the elements in my work that I would normally have to rely on less portable and more expensive gear to achieve.”
The three B1’s Felix brought were placed in a similar setup throughout the shoot. The key light was generally placed either up high in front of the subject or slightly to the side to create either downward or slightly sideward shadows. Felix then added two rim lights from behind to separate the subject from the background.
For the portraits Felix equipped his key light with an RFi Softbox 3’ Octa, sometimes with and sometimes without the diffuser to vary the hardness of the light. He also varied between using an Umbrella Shallow Silver M and a Zoom Reflector with grids on his rim lights.
The action shots used a similar three light setup, but here Felix equipped his main light with either a Magnum Reflector with grids (used when further away from the action) or the RFi Softbox 3’ Octa (used when the light was able to get closer in to the subject).
“I chose this gear for its portability, flexibility, reliability and for the new High-Speed Sync (HSS) feature”, says Felix. “I was able to achieve a very high standard of creativity, quality and light control in a remote location which would normally have required a much larger budget and crew.”
See more of Felix’s work at his website.