One of the most commonly asked about shots I’ve taken is without a doubt the Mike Mason remote shot I did at the 2006 Summer X Games in Los Angeles. With these past few weeks being free from shoots I figured I’d do a write up about this shoot with some behind the scenes stuff.

My assistant Guy Rhodes and I met up with fellow ESPN the Magazine shooter Mike Isler and grabbed our credentials and headed inside the stadium. It was Wednesday, which was a closed practice for participants and media. I had wanted to do something really cool for the magazine so I thought of doing a remote camera on the handlebars of a freestyle moto-x rider as he did some wild tricks. Within five minutes of being there Rhodes had spoke with a rider, Mike Mason who was more than willing to participate in the shoot. So less than 20 minutes after getting our credentials we began mounting the Nikon D200 with a 10.5mm fisheye lens that I would be risking total destruction on.

This was my first time using Rhodes as my assistant so I wasn’t sure what to expect but was surprised with the level of knowledge and attention to detail a displayed while safely helping to mount the remote. I had done numerous remotes prior but always threw the setup on the vehicle with duct tape and no clamps or safety cables. Rhodes made sure to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong and prepare for it accordingly.

Photo by Mike Isler 

After the camera was all set up Mike Mason and I discussed the game plan for what type of trick I was looking for out of him. Basically what I wanted was for him to do several superman seat grab tricks. The reason I wanted several attempts is to have more images in which to have a better shot of a winning photo.

Photo by Mike Isler 

Rhodes then stepped in to be my focusing point as we set the focus prior to taping it locked on the lens.

We then walked about 100 yards from his pit area to the entrance to the course he would be performing on. We checked everything one more time prior to heading off to the side to shoot his run.

Now standing off to the side I fired a test shot with the remote camera as he prepared for his run.

One more shot from my handheld of him sitting there with the camera securely mounted on the handlebars.

One thing I always experience with remote cameras is the nervous anticipation as I wait for it to all end (safely I hope). On top of everything going safely I obviously want the shot to come out successfully. If the shot fails AND the gear gets destroyed I am out several thousand dollars as well as the feeling of failure for not getting the shot. I honestly have no problem with destroying the gear as long as I get a great shot in the process. It is my belief that if you don’t destroy a camera here and there you’re probably not trying hard enough. But back to the moment at hand. Mason headed onto the course and I was very nervous as seen by this photo of me.

Photo by Guy Rhodes

Once on course Mason did a few test jumps (no tricks) just to get his speed right for when he actually did the tricks. After two jumps he pulled up to the base of the ramp we were on top of (for better pocket wizard range) and signaled for us to come down.  Rhodes ran down there to see what Mason needed.

To our surprise we discovered that the manfrotto super clamp had broke in half.

It was caused by one of two things. (A) the force of the impact from landing was hard enough to break the clamp (sounds much cooler) or (B) we had tightened the clamp so much that any impact would have broken it (not as cool sounding but certainly more likely). Regardless it left us in a precarious situation of not having the shot yet and in desperate need of a new superclamp. Thankfully Mike Isler had a clamp on him and graciously donated it to the cause. With a quick NASCAR worthy pitstop to change it out we were back in business. 

I had the camera set on aperture priority since the light would be different as he went over different jumps into and away from the sun around the course. The shot would be triggered via Pocket Wizard wireless remotes.

It was a bright sunny day so I had the camera on 200 iso with the f stop at f7.1 to ensure unlimited depth of field with the fisheye lens. I thought for sure that everything would be perfect but failed to account for one thing. VIBRATIONS. With the camera securely mounted to the metal frame of the motorcycle the vibrations would all be felt by the camera.

On some of the shots everything looked fine.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/2000th

On others the aperture priority would meter differently and slow down the shutter speed causing massive blur.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/500th

At one point Mason stopped on course to chat with another rider. I figured it could make a cool photo so I fired off a shot.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/2500th

Then he did another jump.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 200iso, f7.1, 1/1250th

Mason drove back to our position as planned so I could see how the shots were looking and adjust the camera and settings accordingly.

Photo by Guy Rhodes

Noticing the blur I decided to increase the ISO from 200 to 500 to provide me a faster shutter speed thus reducing blur.

These next three shots were in a sequence of the first jump.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 500iso, f8, 1/1000th

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 500iso, f8, 1/750th

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 500iso, f8, 1/4000th

He came back to the top of the ramp and we checked the images out and saw we had some decent stuff so we quickly removed the gear so that he could actually practice his routine as well as enabling us to go download and see what we had. It was a quick walk from the course to the media room but it seemed like an eternity. The best way to explain it is back in the film days when you shot something awesome but had to wait 30 minutes to an hour to see the result. Anyways we finally got to my computer and quickly downloaded the card and began opening the images up in Photoshop to see what we had.

Here is a view of a contact sheet of some of the images with the winner circled.

I was somewhat disappointed with the images because nearly all the best images had some vibration blur to them. Most people that saw them, including my editor, liked the blur in the shots to convey the intensity and action of the moment.

Making my editors happy made me happy so off we went to Chilis for dinner on me!

Photo by Guy Rhodes

The deadline for the issue I shot this for was a week later but here is the tearsheet of the shot they used.

Below is a link to a video shot this year at Mike Masons house where he briefly discusses the photograph.

Go to about 1:10 into the clip.


Anytime I get a doubletruck out of an assignment I am totally happy. So the successful shoot as well as a week in sunny southern California with some of my best friends made it a weekend to remember.

Here are a few other favorite images from the week.

This image of Mike Mason was shot about an hour after we did the remote shot. Without a doubt the clean background and the flare from his goggles made this one a cool image.

Nikon D2x, 400mm, 320iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

The summer X Games takes place at two spots, the Home Depot Center and the Staples Center. Here is a wide shot of the Staples Center. As with all the X Games events they used awesome lighting to really enhance the atmosphere.

Nikon D2x, 10.5mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/125th

Did some shooting from the top of the half pipe which made for a cool angle to shoot from. With the below shot I wanted something different from the standard wide shot with a skateboarder in the air so I slowed the shutter speed way down and popped a flash and spun the camera mid shot to streak the lights around my subject. It is a cool looking effect thats incredibly easy to do.

Also at the Staples Center we got to witness history as Travis Pastrana became the first Moto-X rider to perform a double backflip. While the actual flip looked no different photographically the celebration after he nailed it was great.

Nikon D200, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f4, 1/500th

Did some more shooting the following day at the Home Depot Center of Moto-X freestyle competition. For some reason all my cool shots were of Mike Mason, my remote rockstar. The moon certainly added to the below shot.

Nikon D2x, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/5000th

I moved to the other side of the stadium to try and get something cool with the sun in the background. I ended up getting more than I planned on when I got back to my computer to download the image and realize I had a helicopter in the shot with the rider and the sun. Dumb luck always works!

Nikon D2x, 17-35mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/1000th

The 2006 Summer X Games was the debut of Rally racing. As a motorsports photographer I was very happy to shoot some cars. They did not disappoint. The below shot worked out great because the grandstands in the background were in the shadows while the car was in the sun. I exposed for the bright sunlight and it made the background black.

Nikon D200, 80-200mm, 200iso, f8, 1/2500th

As the cars left the stadium portion of the track they got airborne so I snuck my way into a restricted area and put the camera on the ground to try and come up with something interesting. Since they were in the shade where I was at I threw an SB800 flash on the camera for some extra light. I only got to shoot a few cars before I got booted out but a few cars was all I needed to get the shot I was looking for.

Nikon D200, 10.5mm, 400iso, f11, 1/250th

The last day was the skateboarding big air competition where they flew high above the ground off a massive ramp. For my first angle I laid down in some bushes on the ground to illustrate their insane height as well as using the green bushes for an interesting foreground.

Nikon D200, 17-35mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

I then went on top of the ramp for a completely different angle.

Nikon D2x, 17-35mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

After finishing up there it was across the parking lot back inside the Home Depot Center to shoot the Rally racing final. The late rally racing legend Colin McRae put on an unforgettable show in which he rolled his car and landed on the wheels and completed the race to finish with the silver medal.

Nikon D2x, 80-200mm, 400iso, f8, 1/3000th

A few months later an ESPN the Magazine designer took my whole sequence of the flip and photoshopped it together making for a cool layout that ran as a doubletruck in a special insert to the magazine.

That ends my recap from one of my most successful and fun shoots of my career thus far.

Posted in Chilis, Me, Pocket Wizard, Racing, Remote Camera, Sports, X Games   | 5 Comments

5 responses to “From the Archives- X Games handlebar remote cam (2006)”

  1. Dan Carr says:

    Nice work dude. I’ve got to try and get to X next summer. Looks fun!

  2. Martin says:

    You managed to get some great shots!
    I enjoyed reading the background stories behind the shots.

  3. Very cool post, and I really like all pictures here.
    Thank you!

  4. Speednut says:

    Thanks for making the time to create and document your time at this event. It’s one thing to see outstanding photos, but to learn the back story on how you achieved these photos is priceless. I owe you a beer! 🙂

  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for sharing. I’m hoping to creating a similar setup next year on an adventure touring motorcycle (shooting forward as well as back at the rider). You have given me a good starting point for attaching a camera.

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