Brian Dukes Photography

The image begins long before and ends long after the shutter is pressed.
© Brian Dukes

It's all downhill!

No not in a figurative sense, but in a literal sense .. as in Downhill Mountain Biking!! My eldest son Patrick (Paddy) Dukes, has been partaking in his first DH mountain bike race season - season has been going well; so in an effort to build our own mutual portfolios I thought it would be good to spend some time with my son, and try to capture what it is he does!

I can't talk about the skill required to ride one of these machines (I'm much better when it has an engine), in fact the last time I tried DH MTB I face-planted the ground and had to have the inside of my lip stitched up!

However, I can talk about the photographic setup and a little about how I captured the above image, and some of the images that will follow.

The above image was taken in completely natural light - in fact, the sun was my biggest enemy.  This jump was in a partial clearing, and as Patrick jumped, he jumped from shade to light into shade - what helped here was Patrick's ability to repeat the jump, anticipation, focus and the right settings to get the shot all come alot easier, if the setup of the shot can be repeated.  It's a tiring exercise,  I think he did this jump about 4 times in a row for me, here in natural light I used burst-mode to fire 2,3,4 shots -  it still wasn't an ideal setup, but we used it as a warm up.

For this shot, we moved - lugging camera equipment up steep hills is hard work and also tiring, but the reward is worth it.

After a few trial runs, Patrick found the sweet-spot on this berm,  he spread so fresh loam right into the apex just where he knew he could throw most of it up.

I used a Yongnuo Speedlight on a light stand with a black umbrella, silver side reflecting the light down into the corner.  Patrick knowing where the sweet spot was on the corner, I used him as my muse to help visualise the action - without his bike, he stood on the corner, leaned over to where he knew he would be on his bike,  and allowed me to measure the light and get the focus pretty much bang on.  This is also how I setup the first shot above (at a different location) - wham! awesome shot after awesome shot .. this was working well.

The very first image above, was actually taken on the second day of shooting with Patrick, the first shot straight out of the bag.   This time instead of using the umbrella, I used a small square softbox without the diffuser panel;  and I was tethered to my MacBook Pro - first shot wham!!

The beauty of spending the time visualising and setting up the shots, and taking a little effort with some additional lighting - shots look awesome straight out of camera, really required no effort in post!

Make no bones, it's tiring work for the rider, it's tiring for the photographer lugging kit through woodland - but it is great fun!

That defining moment

For the last couple of years I've been very much a hobbyist photographer, and like most I'd take 100's of shots, shooting anything an everything without plan without direction - and if I was lucky there'd be a few images that I could use, mostly with alot of photo-manipulation to hide less than perfect photographic skills.

2014 was a year where I began to really get my act together, I was searching for the inner Artist, searching for my vision. Sadly 2014 began quite badly and there were lots of distractions from being able to get out there with a camera, any personal progression had been pushed out of sight.

So on the 8th June 2014 I visited The Welsh Mountain Zoo, Colwyn Bay, Wales - a lovely Zoo that do loads for animal conservation, a really relaxed place  - recommend a visit if you're ever in the area!

And so just like any other time out with the camera, I began as normal, click, click, click,  and then I began to slow down and to think about the shots I was taking, thinking about the composition, thinking about the image that I was just about to take.

At The Welsh Mountain Zoo, they have a Lemur enclosure that you can walk through, plenty of space for the Lemurs to run around and enjoy themselves - and this Lemur was very kind, sitting and posing for the camera and kindly allowing me to take his portrait.

The real *defining moment* came when I reached the Chimpanzee's - they were busy playing, having alot of fun, and then suddenly most of them disappear inside (I think it was lunchtime), apart from one, who began to go inside, but then paused - and in that moment, I saw a look on his face, a body position and had a 'Eureka' moment - I saw this image in my head, of the Chimp almost cowering in a dark corner; I envisioned a dark image, with the Chimp huggled up in a corner with just a little light on it.

Here is a 'crop' of the original image from camera:

Taken through some dirty and scratched glass window into the enclosure - certainly not the greatest photograph - and the scene I had in my head couldn't have been further from the truth,  it was a bright sunny day, the Chimps were happy, had been playing, were very well looked after.

So when I returned home, with some rather crude Photoshop and Lightroom skills, I took the source image, and created "Fear of The Dark" - I like titling my images, they help to set the scene for the story i'm trying to tell with my image.

For me "Fear of The Dark" was my defining moment, the first time I had an image appear in my head before pointed the camera and took the shot.

Those that know me (Hey Audie  -  I have to thank Audie because he bought an Aluminium print of this image, he loves it and as Audie will confirm I was worried over the print quality - but he loves it, and i'm thankful) will also know that I'm actually not totally happy with this image either - and that I don't see as a bad thing, i'm trying to push my work harder and harder;  at some point in the near future I want to recreate this image, with a better skill-set and a better idea of what i'm looking for, I will take time to create the image, and perhaps be finally happy with the image.

It is because of "Fear of The Dark" that I began photographing animals in 2015, pushing myself even harder, learning from previous mistakes and making the post processing steps simpler and yet more effective.

In the beginning..

The first blog is always the hardest - but this is not just the first blog, but also the start of a photographic journey for me. This is where I begin to transition into a professional photographer; where I continue my search for Art, using the medium of photography and the imagination that I've developed over my lifetime.

Hopefully along the way there'll be plenty of fun, and plenty of Art.  Sit back and enjoy!