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Urban Motorcycle Lifestyle Shoot with Tyler Stableford and the Canon EOS R

November 21, 2018

By: Tyler Stableford

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Canon: It looks like much of the daylight parts of this shoot were done in harsh sunlight. Is your strategy to frequently shoot models and subjects backlit in those circumstances? If so, how did the Canon RF lenses behave in terms of flare, ghosting, contrast and so on?

Tyler: Yes, as part of creating the edgy urban look for this fashion project, I scouted for locations that would have dramatic light and shadow. I really didn’t want to shoot any “safe” scenes in terms of lighting — I find that the most compelling images have dynamic tonal ranges. I don’t always succeed in this type of lighting, to be clear! Even though I have been shooting for decades, it is a constant challenge to capture heavily backlit images, particularly when the talent are wearing dark leather jackets etc.! I feel like I am often coming up short, and even failing, with some scenes; but I prefer to risk failure now and then in return for the potential payback of a powerful and magical scene.

I was truly impressed with the RF lenses in terms of flare and ghosting. I shot some of the scenes with both RF and EF lenses. When I studied the final images, overall the RF lenses had less flare, and a more pleasing flare.

Canon: In the daylight shots, roughly what percentage did you shoot with pro studio strobes? For the less-experienced photographer, any basic thoughts of how they could pull off something similar using Speedlites?

Tyler: I used Elinchrom strobes for about half of the daylight shots, and for the other half I used a reflector. A reflector is much faster to use, and I can shoot at high frame rates; so I prefer to work with a reflector when possible. That said, the large, diffuse light source created from a pro studio strobe and a big softbox really creates a beautiful, soft fill light. Also, a strobe doesn’t make the talent squint the way a reflector does.

If you wanted to work with Speedlites, I would suggest using the largest softbox/diffuser you can find; ideally one where the Speedlite fires backward into the softbox reflector, as this will help create a softer light than if the strobe is firing directly through the diffusion fabric. Keep your softbox as close as possible to your talent; the light source will be larger and softer the closer you are—and you will need less power than if you are farther away.

Dusk and nighttime of course are great times to use Speedlites, as you really don’t need much power to match or overpower the ambient light.

Canon: Flash sync is limited to 1/200th of a second on the EOS R. With the Elinchrom strobes you used, were you able to work within that limit in your sunlit shots, or did you work in any type of high-speed sync mode? If so, can you briefly describe it (since it’s not an in-camera setting)?

Tyler: The Elinchrom ELB 1200 and ELB 400 strobes have high-speed sync capabilities that allow me to shoot up to 1/8000th of a second. This makes it easy to shoot at high shutter speeds while still using a large diffuser. Speedlites also have high-speed sync capabilities of course. I use the Elinchrom strobes over the Speedlites when I need to work with a very large softbox for a soft light source. I also used a bare Elinchrom strobe to create intentional lens flare for some of the midday scenes; I positioned it just out of frame to the side of the talent, firing straight into the lens.

Canon: How did the AF on the EOS R work with subjects like the motorcycles in motion? Did you find for those shots, you preferred any particular type of AF Method (AF Area, or type/size of AF points)?

Tyler: The AF on the EOS R camera worked very well for the pan-motion motorcycle driving scene with the couple. I was on the back of a truck, moving alongside the motorcycle. I used the AI Servo setting and set the AF area to the cross-type sensor; this did a great job of latching onto the talent.

Canon: AF system and Face Detection: Would this be something you’d use in portrait photography, such as the “adventure” and commercial work you do? How did Face Detection work when you used Servo AF, on moving subjects?

Tyler: The Face Detection is surprisingly good, even in heavy backlight and dimly lit scenes. I found that it performed very well in lifestyle scenes and portraiture; speaking unscientifically, I’d say it performed better than the AF system on the 5D Mark IV in these situations. Plus, with the huge focus range on the sensor, I found I could position my subject’s face in the far corners of the frame and still have perfect focus. This worked really well when the model was walking back and forth, moving side to side, and turning her head, etc. I’d say this Face Detection AF system is a new breakthrough.

The AF system on the R camera can struggle with fast-moving subjects and sports, though. When I shot cowboys on galloping horses this season, both the AF system and the electronic viewfinder failed to keep pace.

Overall, I would say that the EOS R camera’s AF system is exceptional for portraiture and lifestyle scenes, often outperforming other cameras. But it can come up short in sports situations.

Canon: Can you talk a little more about the Eye Detect AF, when you had the camera in the One-Shot AF Operation setting?

Tyler: I tested the Eye Detect AF system in my studio before the motorcycle project to make sure it would work on a fast-moving shoot. I was instantly impressed. Using the RF 50mm f/1.2 L lens wide open, the Eye Detect AF system in One Shot Mode focused through a subject’s eyeglasses and hit perfect focus on his eye.

As you play with the AF system, you’ll find that your subject needs to fill a good portion of the frame before the Face Detection system automatically clicks into the more specific Eye Detect AF mode.

I didn’t find a way to select which specific eye the Eye Detect AF system would focus on, i.e., it would sometimes vary on whether it grabbed onto the model’s left or right eye. Most of the time this was not an issue at all as both of the model’s eyes were in the same focus plane. But I could see a potential limitation occasionally, as I didn’t find a way to select which specific eye for the camera to focus on. When shooting close up at f/1.2, it’s possible for one eye to be in focus and the other to be out of focus.

Canon: In your nighttime images, how would you compare the level of digital noise at ISOs like 3200/6400 to cameras you’ve used up to now, like the EOS 5D Mark IV?

Tyler: In my unscientific opinion, I would say the EOS R low-light capabilities are roughly similar to the 5D Mark IV. If I understand correctly, the EOS R uses the same sensor as the 5D Mark IV, and a newer processer. Noise is definitely visible at ISO 3200 and above. Depending on your or your client’s noise tolerance, I would suggest a max ISO of 1600 for commercial work.

Canon: Strictly in terms of the “look” and composition, did you find you tended to use the RF 28-70mm F2 L lens at wider focal lengths, or more at standard/tele focal lengths?

Tyler: Because this was a fashion and portraiture shoot, I tended to work with the 28-70mm F2 L lens at the longer end of the zoom. I find portraiture is more flattering to models’ faces at 50 to 70 mms. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens at the wider settings anytime a scene called for it; this is truly the sharpest autofocus zoom lens I have ever used.

Canon: Any comments about the 50mm f/1.2 L lens, in general? Were you able to work much with it wide-open, at f/1.2?

Tyler: The RF 50mm F1.2 L lens is just stunning! It is easily one of the best autofocus prime lenses I have ever used. It’s perfectly crisp wide open, edge to edge. I can’t think of a single thing to nitpick about it. Sure, it’s heavy, but as with great cine lenses, that heavy glass is necessary to achieve uncompromising optics and faster apertures.

Canon: Any special handling in post?

Tyler: We processed the files with Adobe® Lightroom®. And yes, we put a lot of effort into processing the images. I always spend more time processing images than I do shooting! Sculpting the light and shadow is a big part of the look for my imagery; and it’s a necessity when capturing heavily backlit scenes like we did on this Denver shoot.

Also, on the nighttime shots, I shot with the camera on a tripod for most of the scene. The best-looking sky happened just after sunset while there was still a bit of blue in it. But our best scenes with the talent occurred a few minutes later, when the sky was mostly dark. So we composited the more blue sky into one of our favorite shots of the talent with the bike.

Canon: The urban look works terrifically in this video. How would the average photo enthusiast secure this type of location, in a seemingly public street with private buildings?

Tyler: In Denver, city permits are relatively easy to secure, as Denver is a film-friendly city. A $150 permit lets you film in virtually endless locations. It can be a good idea to hire police officers to help with overall safety of the shoot; the city is helpful in providing off-duty officers for hire.

Canon: How did you source the motorcycles (any tips for people without your connections)?

Tyler: Finding the red motorcycle was quite easy, as our model Rocky owned a beautiful red Ducati. He rode it to set and it worked really well for us in the couple’s riding scene. However, finding another different-looking motorcycle was harder than any of us would have anticipated! We wanted a dark, hip, urban motorcycle for the other bike. My producer and I spoke with dealers, rental shops, bike repair shops, etc., and none had the look we wanted. We posted to forums, and called every friend of a friend we could find. Nothing…and our shoot was just a few days away. Serendipitously, our producer ran into a perfect-looking Triumph bike parked on the street while shopping for other props. She waited for the owner and asked if we could rent the bike for our shoot. I have production insurance that covers prop rentals and vehicles like this.

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