10 World-class skydive photographers share their perspectives
Just like Fine Art, photography lends itself to personal interpretation. One person’s masterpiece can be another person’s rubbish. Similarly, skydiving photography is no exception to this rule. With that in mind, Kian Bullock decided to ask a bunch of professional camera flyers to provide a selection of their own images. Each has taken the original image, edited in post-production and compared the results. Sounds cool, right? We thought so too! Read on for 9 world-class photographers sharing perspectives in photography.
If I am honest with myself, skydiving or event photography is ‘artistically’ safe for me. Like many photographers, I have tried landscapes, wildlife and portraits. However, I struggle with the competitiveness of someone being able to recreate a better image. I am often too critical of my own work and it can become paralysing.
With skydiving photography, I am the only one there to capture the jump. I have the exclusive rights to how that jump is presented and remembered. If I miss a shot, use the wrong settings or have a complete camera failure, nobody will know because there is no alternate perspective. This is safe and makes the challenge personal. I need to push myself to find new ways to explore my own style. As a result, I am never really challenged or pushed. This will always be a comfort and a limitation for me.
Finding the challenge
In considering this and wanting to be challenged, I reached out to a number of photographers in the industry with an idea to share our RAW (unedited) images. We would all edit each other’s photos and then compare the differences (or similarities). This would give the opportunity to study different perspectives as well as exploring our own. The response was incredible, and I had 9 world-class photographers willing to share and take part. If you appreciate the articles to come, please go to the photographers’ social pages (at the bottom) and give them a follow.
The photographers sharing their perspective
To name drop the contributors, we had Ewan Cowie, Kuba Konwent, Chris Stewart, Elliot Byrd, Steve Fitch, Scott Paterson, Sam Millington, Tim Parrant and Roy Wimmer participate. A total of 36 images were supplied, edited and selected for this article. Whilst we won’t be sharing all of the edits (a total of 339), I will try to provide some insights into what we discovered from the activity.
It should be noted that the photos requested from the photographers were ones that had options for different composition or lighting. They aren’t necessarily a representation of their best work. In saying that, the quality of the image has been fantastic.
Sharing Perspectives: Cornfields, triangles & a Queen
So let’s start at my favourite, Chris Stewart’s canopy shot over the fields. Shot at 40mm, F6.3, 1/1000 and ISO 100, the histogram is mostly on the left and is a little underexposed. Being a structured person, I loved the lines in this shot and the detail. However, I felt like I wanted a bit more room to the top of the frame. The splash of colour in the canopy (SLeia) gives it character. The detail in the land makes it look like a crumpled newspaper. It was interesting that whilst this was my favourite, a couple of the more artistic photographers stated that they had difficulty with this shot.
“I thought that we would edit the shots in a similar way which wasn’t the case at all. It showed me that I do see things differently and have my own style that I am happy with. It can be daunting to handover your raw work, but I am glad I did.”
Ewan went for a vertical composition. He wanted to place the cross and the jumper’s body at the intersections of the grid using the rule of thirds. He was able to use a 4×5 portrait frame dimensions to achieve this. It also had the added bonus of being great for Instagram.
This is probably a good opportunity to bring up the 3 parts of an image that I look for and try to communicate to the audience. The subject (the canopy in this case), the setting (background) and the detail (something you want to show the viewer). The subject and setting are generally obvious in any given photo. However, it’s the detail that is something that you as an artist have the ability to communicate. For me, this was the tractor just below the canopy which I made sure was framed so that the viewer would notice it.
Sharing Perspectives: Mountain country
This next image was provided by Roy Wimmer and is taken over Bovec in Slovenia. He has used a similar setting to what I generally use: F8, 1/800 and ISO 400 on my favourite lens, 35mm. The original image is exposed well with the histogram being entirely in the middle. It looks like a somewhat cloudy day giving a well-balanced shot with no harsh shadows or burnt sections. There is no obvious horizon or reference to the photo which provides many options for composition. The canopy on the far right is on the edge of the frame, which will make it hard to keep in frame if the image is rotated.
“In the end, we’re all putting our own spin on things. The similarities show more than anything that the big differences are not necessarily in the edit itself. More often, it is in what photos we take and which photos we choose to keep.”
As you can see, there is a selection of photographers that chose to keep the right jumper in frame while others abandoned them and went tighter or changed the composition. Most framed the jumper on the left of the frame to centre the viewer towards the other jumpers. Scotty has framed the shot vertically and comments:
“I’ve started cropping almost solely for Instagram in mind as that is the primary platform the images get shared on. So the go-to crops are 4×5, 1×1 and 1.9×1”
An interesting composition is Kuba’s. He chose to frame the jumper on the right. This opens up the viewer to the detail on top of the mountain to the left of the main canopy. I went for a symmetrical image on the main canopy and a wide crop to pick up the other canopy for depth.
Sharing Perspectives: Tunnel time!
The next image is a tunnel shot from Sam Millington and will always be difficult without artificial light. It was shot at 16mm, F1.4 to let as much light in as possible, 1/1000 to get a sharp image and an ISO 1250. As you can see the original image is underexposed, which is pretty standard for this type of photography. It means you will always be fighting with noise in the image. Sam has done a good job to balance the shot and get the hand and face sharp at a wide aperture.
“Art is subjective and some people will love what you create and some will disagree with what you’ve made too. It’s similar to flying styles, there is no right or wrong way to go about it, just as long as you get it done!”
In editing this photo, I would have suggested that most of us would have been very similar in our composition and style. As you can see though, the shots are quite varied. Some decided to include tunnel detail while others went for a closer crop and vignette to focus the viewer on the subject.
Tim’s edit softened the image instead of trying to correct the noise and simplified the challenging colour palette by going Black and White. Tim prefers a clean image, focusing on removing sensor spots and grain that he puts down to some minor OCD. He chooses B&W if the colours aren’t helping the shot, and finds it can add drama and depth.
With the obvious softening, this is a conscious decision to go with the flow and not fight it. An opportunity to create movement in the photo and avoid the issues associated with noise. We will see a similar approach to another shot later but a great perspective on the shot from Sam.
For me, I opted for a tighter crop, removing the net to take away the awareness of how high the flyer is and then a vignette to focus the viewer on the subject.
Sharing Perspectives: Head down for dayz
This next shot is from Elliot Byrd and is a really interesting one for composition. The image is a balanced photo, shot at 35mm, F4 and 1/1600 at ISO 100. In looking at the original, the subject is small in the frame, which gives plenty of opportunity for different editing styles. We can go wide or tight and rotate the image without losing any detail.
“In general I expected everyone to have their own specific look and for that to be consistent. It was surprising to see that certain pictures elicited a need to divert from their style and edit in a completely different way.”
There is a relatively clear background/setting and horizon, so for me, I want to immediately level the photo. I also become aware of the 2 coastlines that converge on the subject and the small islands peppered along the inner coastline.
I get the feeling that Elliot saw something similar and has set the group on the left of the frame. This picks up more of the coastline and takes your eye along the coast to the subject. I will talk about colours and balancing the shot in Part 2, but we are starting to see Elliot’s style with that rich blue vibrance in his shots.
If we look to the other shots, Chris has gone for a wider profile and drawn out the detail of the clouds. He has then used a vignette to focus us back in on the group. Scotty has gone for the vertical profile which picks up the detail of the houses and gives a scale to the jumpers. The other compositions were similar in style.
I was the only one to opt for the tilted composition in the end. I tried a few variations with this shot but wanted the group at the 1/3rd point and still quite large in the frame without losing the leading lines and detail in the coast. By tilting the shot, I transitioned the setting from the horizon to the coast and was able to keep the subject slightly larger.
Sharing Perspectives: Wingsuits and tight mountain lines
Now here is a shot that I think every photographer wishes they had taken! Scott Patterson is getting some amazing opportunities to capture these images and his composition is awesome. This shot was taken at 25mm, F8, 1/800 and ISO 1250 with the histogram a little on the right due to the clouds. This is a very well-balanced shot with no cropping required. The left side of the image has the wingsuiters perfectly placed with depth against the white background. The viewer is then led towards the detail of the mountain that gives context and tells a story. An incredible shot!
“It’s been awesome to see the differing approaches to the same images, this exercise goes to show that the post-production of a picture can completely change the look and feel of a picture and how important that can be.”
For me, there wasn’t a lot to do with this photo as it was framed perfectly. I felt that I wanted the viewer to start at the main wingsuiter (subject) but quickly follow towards the right. So I tried to place the subject as far right as I could. I went for a narrower crop which generally seems to be my preference.
Looking at the different images, it is amazing how in some photos you feel higher above the subject looking down on them, while others you feel like you are lower. It really shows the power of perspective and how much the cropping can influence it.
It is also worth noting the use of a vignette in this shot. I find that a vignette is great for focusing the viewer on the subject. It is especially useful if the subject and the setting are within the frame. Generally, if I want the viewer to be more aware of the setting (background) I will avoid a vignette so that you take more of the image in.
“I like to darken or lighten the photo corners asymmetrically, this is not a classic vignette. For this purpose I use the graduated filters tool, it has many possibilities and can be used very creatively giving the photo even more depth. My approach depends on the photo and its climate. I definitely like contrasting images, although this style does not suit all pictures. To emphasise the contrast I usually use the “curve” and clarity.”
Sharing Perspectives: Flags and Sunsets
This next image and the last for Part 1 is provided by Steve Fitch and was shot using a 25mm, F5.6, 1/400 and ISO 1250. It is a well-balanced photo using the full histogram and providing enough detail in the flag without burning out the sunset. There is great detail in the sky and the shot is composed perfectly on the horizon.
In this example, it really shows the different editing styles between each photographer. Some people chose to lift the shadows and others to saturate the colours. Steve has flipped the image horizontally, so the flag is orientated the right way.
“It’s confirmed my belief in how creative people can be, and that there is no right or wrong, just different approaches. Some of the edits I really like, it’s entirely subjective.”
A few images that differ somewhat include Chris’s where he has cropped to show the detail in the sky. He says that he loves contrast and bringing out detail in the subject. His preference is to show the path of a river, channels carved in sand dunes or the epic-ness of a cloud. Elliot’s edit enhanced the blues in the sky and increased the vibrance which he was somewhat unaware he was doing until he saw how the others edited.
Conclusion to Sharing Perspectives in Photography: Composition
Ewan raises an important aspect of post-production in relation to how the camera and eye see an image differently. For instance, he knows the human eye picks up shadow better than a camera sensor. So he always likes to bring up shadows in post-production. Most times when he sees a photo that he has taken, it doesn’t look as vivid as he remembers. He feels that he needs to bring up the shadows and reduce the highlights. He also wonders if it is just the adrenaline talking which is why he likes to saturate the colours a bit as well.
Similarly, Sam defines his style as to how he remembers it to be on that day of shooting. He tries to recreate what he saw with his eyes.
“I try to have a well-balanced image from the highlights to shadows and keeping the colours as they are without making anything too oversaturated.”
As a photographer, it is important to note that the human eye will see a range of colours about 3 times more than a camera sensor. It is normal as the photographer to want to recover highlights and bring out detail in shadows. It’s what you saw when jumping, so makes sense. However, just remember that sometimes a silhouette or a burnt-out sunset can simplify a photo. Even try bringing out the detail of the subject or simply allow the viewer to use their imagination.
It’s interesting to note that regardless of who, why and how these images are edited, each photographer is immediately able to identify their own. Many of us coming into this saw our style as just how the photo was edited. We didn’t necessarily appreciate how the same image could be presented differently. Each photographer expressed their own artistic impressions and offered different perspectives.
Many photographers are showing a preference to crop or compose their photos specifically for Instagram. I do wonder if the wide panoramic photographs that once decorated houses are being lost and our perspectives are becoming narrower.
And one last thing…
One final tip to close out Part 1 although it’s not related to perspective or editing. Once you have found the shots you want to use, don’t forget to do a spot removal or repair. Most software packages these days will have one and are very good. Push your micro-contrast, dehaze and clarity to their limits or even invert the image to help you find them. It will take a little bit of time but is worth it.
If you have ever seen me on an aircraft, you would have seen me cleaning my lens. Back home I am checking my sensor for dust, giving me the best chance of having a clean image. Jumping outdoors and going through the air that changes temperature and humidity will always produce spots. Just be sure to check and repair in post-production.
And there we have it, the end of Part 1 of Sharing Perspectives in Photography. Part 2 is coming soon… Don’t forget to hit up the socials for these legends.
Socials & further reading!
Follow our contributors! Or better yet, send them a DM & book them for your next event 😉
Sam Millington Instagram & Facebook
Ewan Cowie Instagram & Facebook
Chris Stewart Instagram & Facebook
Scotty Patterson Instagram
Elliot Byrd Instagram & Facebook
Roy Wimmer Instagram
Kuba Konwent Instagram & Facebook
Steve Fitch Instagram & Facebook
Tim Parrant Instagram & Facebook
Check out Kian Bullock’s previous blog article ‘How to take great photos‘
Follow Ki’s socials –Instagram & Facebook
Ki is a finalist in the Sony Awards again! Read more here & see the full gallery of finalists here