I remember sitting at home every Summer when I was growing up and watching the X Games, ESPN's marquee event for extreme sports. I remember Bob Burnquist's vert run in 2001 when he needed a 95.51 to win and he scored a 98, Travis Pastrana scoring a 98.60 after landing the first double backflip for Moto X Best Trick, and Big Air making its debut at X Games which Burnquist also crushed. So it made sense that when I started taking photos that I would want to shoot X Games some day.
ESPN announced some time ago that the Summer X Games, after being in Austin, TX for three years, would be coming to Minneapolis, MN for 2017 and 2018 at the brand new US Bank Stadium. For me, it was something I targeted ever since the announcement and after weeks of wondering and finally conceding that I wasn't going to get in, I got the email days before the event saying that I was going to get credentialed for the weekend. I screamed when I read it, because this has been one of the major bucket list items for me that I've wanted to shoot.
So, covering X Games itself. It was very convenient because the bulk of events were held inside the stadium itself, the only competition that took place outside was skateboard and BMX vert finals which in my opinion, were some of my weakest photos I took. The spot that they put media for competition was not great to shoot because with the way the vert ramp was situated, the buildings in the background made things less than flattering. It was also an overcast day, so the sky was completely blown out. Practice rounds were the best way to get on top of the vert ramp to get the best images, so I took advantage of that and was able to get up top to snap a few photos.
Some photos from the competition rounds
Friday I ended up working I think close to 13 hours, there was a lot of stuff going on. BMX Dirt, BMX Big Air, Skateboard Big Air Qualifier, and Moto X Freestyle took up most of my time. I thought my Big Air stuff turned out ok and I tried to get creative with my angle but it just didn't work out the way I wanted it too with the light and everything. However that's one of the reasons why I liked shooting this event, the designated spots to shoot weren't the greatest so it forced me to walk around and find different angles. So Big Air was a case of experimenting and trying to find something where it'd work.
So, why this didn't work. It's incredibly backlit since US Bank Stadium is half natural light from all the glass and the other half is dark from the ceiling. Most of the athletes as well were wearing all black so getting detail out of that while it's backlit was a little difficult. What I was hoping for too when I got to the balcony to shoot from this angle was that they were going to go high enough that I could potentially silhouette them against the glass ceiling, but that wasn't the case so they get a little muddled in with the stands in the back. This could've gone better for sure, so something to improve on for next year.
Friday night was Freestyle Moto X. Lots of death defying stunts with riders flipping, hanging, dangling, you name it from their bike. It's so crazy to see how much FMX has progressed. 11 years ago, the double backflip became a reality when Pastrana landed his. It's still a big deal now if someone can land one, but it's more accessible and doesn't need the set up that Pastrana needed to do his in 2006. So you're seeing more and more riders that are able to push themselves and progress the sport. To me, it was fascinating.
The spot where we were supposed to shoot from I thought was pretty bad, since the rider and their bike would be at a slight angle, but coming towards you. In most cases that's what I want and for FMX I think it can work but only for certain tricks, so I wanted to get a little more to the side. Talked to an X Games worker and they said it was cool to stand where I was, so I snapped some frames off before moving again. Shooting low and into the lights, for most shots I tried to frame it like there was a strobe going off but other than that it was just trying to get it framed just right. The only downside to this was the lens flare, which you can see in the image below (didn't have a lens hood, complete user error) and also my photos needed a contrast adjustment. After shooting low, I went up to the launch part of the Big Air ramp and shot from there so I was as close as could be to level at the apex of their jump.
I'll lump in my stuff from Moto X Best Trick since it was mostly the same.
Saturday was awesome because there was the Moto X Step Up event, I was also able to get onto the park to shoot some practice runs. I ended up shooting Moto X Step Up from the park course because I wanted to get the riders coming at me. Step Up is an event where riders try to go as high in the air as they can, over a horizontal pole that is raised in increments. Each rider gets two attempts and if you can't clear it, you're eliminated. If my (poor) explanation didn't make sense, just check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY0xMXZI5Rw
Saturday was also the Skateboard Big Air Final, which I didn't shoot a ton of because I ended up walking around with two other guys since we wanted to find a different angle to shoot from, so we ended up going all the way to the top and to the luxury suites where the people that paid for VIP tickets were lounging about. Grabbing focus on subjects was a little difficult as well because I frankly didn't have as much lens as I wanted. I was basically shooting at 400mm with my 300 f/2.8 when you factor in my camera's crop factor (1.3 x 300 = 390mm). If I was able to shoot at a focal length near 500mm it would've been perfect.
Park images, skate and BMX
Sunday was a really short day, I didn't really shoot much except the BMX Park Final and the Moto X High Air, which is their version of Big Air. To me that seemed more like a fluff event and there was a pretty hard slam that resulted in Jarryd McNeil getting carted off, so I wouldn't be terribly upset if that event was exchanged for something else.
I loved this weekend. There's the good and the bad of it all, and overall I enjoyed myself. Sure, I'd get cranky because of how sore and exhausted I was. And the shooting spots weren't great, but it worked out in a way that it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and try to find something new. Truth be told, I think I did a pretty ok job with the images I made over the course of the weekend. It was absolutely a grind, but seeing my stuff put a smile on my face and got me excited. I'll always be thankful that I had this opportunity.
Canon 1D Mark IV
8-15mm fisheye f/4 (huge, huge thanks to Brad for letting me borrow it)