Some people jump out of airplanes and some scale mountains. I on the other hand like to perch myself just feet in front of a wild bull. All in the name of photography.
Mad Mike and ranch hands captured on the Pentax 645z w/ 55mm lens Camera Settings: 1/80 @ f8 w/neutral density filter Lighting used: Profoto beauty dish as key light w/ gridded profoto heads as edge and fill
One of the most challenging and exciting shoots I’ve done in recent times was for my friend Kristin Cline’s, newest project Driving Line Magazine. I never could have imagined that when I met Kristin in the ghetto of West Oakland nearly fifteen years ago that I would be collaborating with her on awesome editorial shoots for international race car drivers.
Kristin and Driving Line’s talented Editor in Chief, Jonathan Wong, had this wild idea to photograph the famous Red Bull sponsored drifter, Mad Mike, in an all american setting; on a ranch as a bull rider! I loved the concept and was immediately hooked on helping them build up the creative behind the shoot. Mike is an internationally acclaimed drifter, who is making appearances in the US for the first time in many years. On top of that he collects old American Pick Up trucks. So what better setting to document such an extreme guy than at an American bull ranch littered with vintage pick up trucks.
We sought out Judd Leffew, who runs Leffew Bull Riding World on the central coast of California, and booked a full day on the ranch and headed up the coast.
The photo crew and I drove up the day before the shoot with our trusty PA (and one of the hardest working and nicest souls I’ve ever met), Kenzo Cardenas behind the wheel. After driving down an endless bumpy road while listening to our favorite Yacht Rock classics, we arrived at the ranch just at sunset to meet with Judd and his crew to do a light test and run through with the bull for the following day. Unbeknownst to us upon arrival, was that our test shoot would not be with the bull he was planning on using the next day, but rather one of the riled up bulls that needed to be bucked. One of the trainers, who went by the name of Irish, climbed on first. Being the city slicker that I am and not knowing any better, I thought it would be a good idea to hang over the front of the chute that the bull was penned in as Irish mounted him. I guess all of the new people surrounding the bull with cameras made it kind of uneasy, and it started to buck inside the holding pen. This is also a good time to note that Kenzo has blue hair, and I think that the bull had never seen a human being with such a mop, and must have thought he was a threatening alien life form of sorts – thus causing the flurry of events that were unfolding. You know, that or the bright strobes that were going off. But I digress…
After we fled from the pen and the bull was allowed to release it’s hatred for us on the poor intern known as Irish, we came up with a gameplan for the following day, and left the ranch to have the nerdiest photo crew BBQ imaginable.
The shoot itself went off without a hitch and everyone performed at the top of their game. With the exception of the cover shot that was captured at sunset, the entire day was spent capturing Mike in harsh sunlight. To counter this we used a 12×12 1 stop diffusion that we raised above Mike in all of the photos. We underexposed each shot just slightly, and used multiple strobes to create a dynamic and polished look for all of the photos. Although we used a beauty dish as our key light source, with gridded reflectors for fill, on the cover shot; the unsung lighting hero of the day was the Elinchrom Rotalux 39 Deep OctaBox. This is one of my favorite modifiers, as it creates a brilliant focused soft light that almost gives the subject a 3d look due to the elegant shadow contrast and light fall off.
As the day went on Judd shared many stories with us about all the times that Jackass filmed at their ranch, and he confirmed that Johnny Knoxville has balls made of brass. He was kind enough to pull a docile bull for us to photograph, but I can’t imagine being in the pen with an angry bull that wants to rip you to shreds – let alone being tossed twenty feet in the air by one. Hat’s off to you Mr. Knoxville.
Feel free to read the article below accompanied by my camera settings and gear used for each featured shot. I think you’ll really enjoy the read, written by Jonathan Wong himself.
Stay tuned for my next Driving Line shoot featuring the stunt car driver and former host of Top Gear, Tanner Foust.
Mad Mike captured on the Pentax 645z w/ 55mm lens Camera Settings: 1/80 @ f5.6 w/neutral density filter Lighting used: Elinchrom Rotalux w/1 stop diffusion mounted above subject
Mad Mike captured on the Canon 5dmk3 w/ 24-70 2.8L lens Camera Settings: 1/400 @ f5.6 w/neutral density filter Lighting used: Profoto B1 w/beauty dish set to high speed shutter sync
Mad Mike captured on the Pentax 645z w/ 55mm lens Camera Settings: 1/125 @ f8 Lighting used: Elinchrom Rotalux w/1 stop diffusion mounted above subject
My stand off with the bull
Behind the scenes photos by Charles Torrealba