Adam Pretty Weaved Epic Light Trails with a Professional Skateboarder

“It is a crazy good camera in a tiny package,” professes Australian professional photographer Adam Pretty, about Panasonic’s Lumix S5 digital camera. He was approached by the company to produce a set of promotional images for this camera, and Adam decided to go with skateboarding as the choice of sport to photograph with it.

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When you’re doing a light painting project for your portfolio, you can probably afford all the time you need to get it right. That’s not to say commercial work needs to be rushed all the time, but there’s always a lot more riding on getting it right the first time when shooting for a high-priority client. When you’re given limited time with the pre-production model of a new camera, the pressure is really turned up. Adam Pretty dug into his extensive experience as a photographer to develop a set of images worthy of the S5’s product brochure.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Adam Pretty

Adam told us:

I use 35mm equipment primarily, I used to use quite a bit of medium and large format but that has dropped off in the last few years.
I am using Canon for my sports editorial work and then Lumix for more projects and stories and commercial work.

The Phoblographer: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Adam Pretty: I started at high school when I was around 15 years old, did some work experience while at school and fell in love with photography, and decided that was what I wanted to do. I started work right after high school at the Sydney Morning Herald as I deferred university for one year and then never stopped working and didn’t go back to university.

© Vincenzo Buscemi

The Phoblographer: Tell us about how Panasonic approached you for this project.

Adam Pretty: I had done a few other assignments with Lumix. We were both really happy working together, and they came to me with this project which they wanted to be based around sports. Seeing as skating (skateboarding) was going to be new for Tokyo 2020, it seemed like a really good fit to go with the S5 camera as it was a more compact adventure/sport-centric camera. They just asked for a few options, and I pitched a few other sports as well, but skating was the best fit.

The Phoblographer: Was this a project under wraps for quite some time, or was it something conceptualised and produced just before the S5 launch?

Adam Pretty: Not really; it was shot as the first pre-production models were released, and the schedule was really tight. I had only one battery and body, so nothing could really go wrong, so it was pretty stressful.

The Phoblographer: Who came up with the idea for this? Were there other ideas that didn’t make the cut?

Adam Pretty: Skating was suggested by me (along with some other options), and I found a really good athlete (Tyler Edtmayer) based close to Munich and local to me, and he was the perfect fit. I was also really lucky as my son was just getting into skating, and I asked a few skate shops around Germany for recommendations and then found Tyler on his Instagram skating at the Cradle Skatepark in Brixlegg, which was also only a few hours drive away from Munich, and a perfect location.

The Phoblographer: Take us quickly through the production of the final day of this project. What was the mood you were looking to capture and how did you execute it?

Adam Pretty: I just wanted to shoot some really graphic and clean images; that was why I loved the Cradle Skatepark, there was no graffiti, and any branding around was easy to remove. I just wanted to capture some amazing images, and hopefully in a style that hadn’t been done a load of times (at least with skating). I did a few recce days down at the park and found the angles I liked and also spoke extensively to Tyler about what was possible and where he could do certain tricks. But on the day, some amazing lighting situations happened, and because we were a super small crew… just me and 1 assistant, we were able to grab these moments.

Production wise, it was me, 1 lighting/digital assistant (I shot to the card as the camera could not tether yet there was no software). I had an external battery pack plugged into the camera as I only had a single battery from Lumix as they were not in production yet, and just barely made it through the day.
I used 3x Profoto heads with magnum reflectors to maximize output as I needed to balance with the full sun, and I was shooting 1/400 or as fast as I could without getting any flash sync problems. The camera is rated for 1/250, but if you have the subject in a certain spot, you can push this to 1/500 or so…

As for the mood, I wanted it to look clean and graphic, using the shapes and architecture of the park and highlighting Tyler’s body. He is built like a cheetah, and with the hard lighting, I could illustrate this and make him pop from the background. And also just illustrate his style and flow that he has while being so on the edge in terms of performance and flawless at hitting the critical lines in the park.

The Phoblographer: What does the Panasonic S5 do for you, that other cameras don’t? What are some of the features you find most useful and innovative?

Adam Pretty: It is a crazy good camera in a tiny package. The quality of the files is exceptional, probably the most compact body without sacrificing ergonomics and best feature set, and I love the Lumix glass. I am also really impressed with the zooms on Lumix. I was pretty skeptical when they asked me to shoot some of the images on the 20-60 as it was a “kit” lens, but it was seriously good, and I left it on almost all day as it turned out to be a perfect lens for the location and sport I was shooting. I switched to the 50mm f/1.4 for some portraits, and it is my absolute favorite lens, as well as the 16-35mm for some wider shots. For me, the lenses and files are some of the best, or at least the best, when used in combination.

The Phoblographer: How did you achieve the light trail shots with Tyler? Were there many takes done to get these images?

Adam Pretty: There were a few “no action” takes to get the exposure and the line right, Tyler wasn’t doing any tricks just rolling around, and also we planned a route to maximize the light trails and where I wanted them around the park. He was doing the cruise around before hitting the trick, so I was basically painting the park first, and then I would pop the flash once when he hit the trick and either stop the exposure or keep it going if he rode away smoothly.

Once this was ready, and we had the light and exposure set, I didn’t really do more than 5 takes for each shot as it was pretty tricky for Tyler to skate in the darkness just using the torch, and he basically nailed the shot almost right away. Some exposures were over a minute, some around 30 seconds

I attached some small LED lights to Tyler on his ankles, legs and arms just so they could be visible to the camera and also out of his way. He was also holding one or 2 in his hands so he could see where he was going using it like a torch. We didn’t attach anything to the skateboard as it could get caught up on the coping when Tyler was grinding etc.

The Phoblographer: There’s beauty in motion and you’ve managed to capture that neatly in this project. Did Tyler just go through his usual routine for it?

Adam Pretty: Yeh, pretty much it was his routine as he skates the park in a certain way, so I worked around that. When I found some angles I liked, he told me what was possible and what wasn’t, and we made it work, it was a little tricky getting the lights out of my shot and out of his way. He was absolutely amazing and put himself in the absolute perfect positions, so it was almost easy to take the shots once we had things set up, some only took a few takes. For the night shots, it was definitely only a few takes as he was out of his comfort zone and almost skating by feel and memory.

The Phoblographer: You’re an international sports photographer of repute. What was your reaction when a non-traditional sport like Skateboarding was added to the 2020 Olympics?

Adam Pretty: I think it is great that some of the “newer” sports are being introduced to the Olympics as they are also really visually interesting. It keeps things a little fresher after covering quite a few Olympics over the years. It gets me really motivated to take different pictures of different sports, and I think it also broadens the appeal of the Olympics for the next generation.

All images by Adam Pretty (unless specified otherwise). Used with permission. Please visit his website and Instagram page to see more of his work.

Feroz Khan

Never seen without a camera (or far from one), Feroz picked up the art of photography from his grandfather at a very early age (at the expense of destroying a camera or two of his). Specializing in sports photography and videography for corporate short films, when he’s not discussing or planning his next photoshoot, he can usually be found staying up to date on aviation tech or watching movies from the 70s era with a cup of karak chai.