I’ve been hit a few times while shooting extreme sports. Some have knocked me on my butt, some have ruined cameras. I used to joke that my middle name is “Impact Damage” (term from Nikon repair) and the truth is that I’ve broken more cameras than most photographers will ever own. This particular story is no exception.
I was shooting BMX dirt jumper Freddie Chulo for his sponsor at the famous Sheep Hills in Huntington Beach, California. Typical shoot, getting some good shots of him riding and doing what he does best.
My mother was out visiting for Christmas and wanted to come along to watch her son work. She used to get really, really nervous watching me ride and at shows, and loved that I was now mostly photographing, not riding. I figured there was no harm, I was going to be on the ground and around trained professionals. What could possibly go wrong?
The art director came along, and to give him something to do I handed him my video camera. He liked the idea and shot the behind-the-scenes stuff, including what was about to happen.
I had just taken my cameras out, I was warming up and shooting Freddie while he warmed up. On the first pass I decided to shoot, he was going for a simple 360, a full spin in the air where he’s on the bike and they both rotate horizontally 360 degrees. Nothing fancy, just kinda cool to catch mid-spin. So I was near the landing and shooting with a fisheye and some simple lighting. We were both warming up. But he miscalculated a little and hit the eject button halfway through the rotation. This allows the rider to land on the down side of the landing ramp, at worst taking a small roll in the dirt.
Unfortunately, this also sent the bike toward me. And the way it rotated in the air flipped the bike and sent the handle bar end right at my camera. Shooting with a fisheye, seeing 180 degrees to the sides, I didn’t see that the bike was coming directly at me until it was basically full-frame, i.e. inches from me. You can see in the video that I ducked it just at the last second, reacting in time to remove my eye from the viewfinder and path of the battering ram that was his flying bike. All that force, probably 30 or 35 lbs with a modern dirt jumping bike, concentrated in that flying square inch of steel at the end of his handlebar.
The force of that blow hit my camera and ripped the prism off the top of it. Expensive repair. But nobody was hurt. At all. Miraculous! I had spare cameras and lighting, so the shoot continued and we got exactly what we needed. I was happy nobody was hurt, but my mom was still nervous the whole rest of the day.
The funny epilogue to this story is that after I had the camera fixed, but not the one flash I had on top of the camera, it was all working well. But apparently that had damaged the flash unit. I was shooting shortly afterward, and smelled something burning. Didn’t relate it to my gear. Then when it didn’t go away, I noticed that my flash had smoke pouring out of the top. I quickly took it off and disconnected it from the Quantum battery I’d been using and set it on a pile of dirt. It finally stopped smoking and that was its end.
I don’t know if I’m lucky or just experienced, but I’m grateful either way!