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The Trifecta - It All Comes Together for the Perfect Photo


Joe UmaliIn the world of wakeboarding photography, we have seen some amazing images from photographers like Spencer Smith, Garrett Cortese, Josh Lechtworth, Joey Meddock, Steven Hahn and, for some of you that remember, Mike Isler. What has set these guys apart from others is their portrayal of the sport’s artistry and their creativity. My own work has been inspired by these basic principles, and for this particular shot I wanted to do something that had never been done in the sport of wakeboarding; I knew it wasn’t going to be easy! I had been dreaming about this photo for years and it was going to take more than just finding the right rider and location. I was going to need the ultimate rail/winch setup that was perfectly aligned with Polaris (AKA "the north star") PLUS the meteorological condition had to be perfect with a new moon and perfectly clear skies.

The setupIt wasn't until August 2010 when I spoke to my good friend, David Cervenka of DPC Films, and he filled me in on a video shoot he was planning with Kaesen Suyderhoud in Redding, California. I immediately opened Google maps to check the location and *BINGO* it was perfectly aligned with Polaris. I had the trifecta (rider, location, setup), but now I needed to sell Kaesen on the concept and hope that the weather conditions worked in my favor!

As soon as I mentioned "rail at night" to Kaesen, he was onboard. Kaesen was already in the process of building a three rail setup at Redding Wakeboard & Ski Park. Owner and operator Mark Wilk provided us with full access to the site! I kept a close eye on the weather and once the forecast looked promising, we set the date. On the road I was constantly checking the conditions to make sure the evening was going to be clear. Just one cloud would totally screw things up and days of planning would be out the window. To Camera/flash setupmake things even more interesting, Kaesen was heading back to Florida the next day, so I had only one chance to do this! I was ALL in baby, all in!  
As soon as I arrived I began prepping the set-up. Along with David’s help, I positioned two off-camera flashes on the camera side of the rail, one at about four feet high and the other at about seven feet high. The camera was on a tripod next to the rail near the end [see diagram]. We fired off some test shots of just the rail and everything was looking good. The next test was a shot of the rider to make sure that Kaesen was properly lit. The camera gear and settings info were as follows:

  • Camera – Nikon D70
    • Shutter – 1/800
    • Aperture – f4
    • ISO – 250
  • Lens – Nikon 10.5mm/f2.8
  • Flashes – Nikon SB-24 & Nikon SB-900
  • Flash Triggers – Pocket Wizard
  • 2 Shoot-Through Umbrellas
  • Tripod/Head – Manfrotto/Bogen

Now I know what you photographers are saying. "The fastest sync speed between a camera and a flash is only 1/250." Fortunately, the Nikon D70 is one of the few digital cameras in the world that can sync with a flash with shutter speeds of up to 1/800.
Just waiting for darknessOnce we were happy with the test results, it was game on. With a wireless remote in hand, I positioned myself between the camera and the rail. Each time Kaesen would hit the rail, I would feel his board go right over my head. At any time, I could have had my head taken out. Risky stuff!
Kaesen was definitely a trooper. Even though it was pitch black, he kept hitting the rail over and over again to make sure I got the shot that I wanted. Even after he nailed it, I wasn’t technically done. I left the camera right where it was and hooked it up to my laptop which had an intervalometer application installed. I set it to take images of the stars; 1 shot every 30 seconds. We left to get some dinner and came back a couple hours later. After reviewing the shots, we were all pleased with the outcome. At that point, with a little help from Photoshop, the rest was up to me. 
Kaesen adds creative juicesArmed with my trusty laptop, I "stacked" the star images on top of each other creating one star trails photo, with the shot of Kaesen hitting the rail "stacked" on top of the stars. The shot came out better than I had imagined it to be. Polaris was lined up directly behind Kaesen. Again, the camera on the tripod was never moved. The star trails were never manipulated to line them up behind Kaesen. Things fell into place perfectly. I hope you enjoy the end result as I enjoyed every minute of imagining, planning and preparing to get the shot!

  • Kaesen, for hitting the rail over and over again.
  • Troy Ingola, for driving the winch over and over again.
  • Mark, for letting us use the lake.
  • David, for all of your advice and mentorship…and for letting me use your Pocket Wizards!


    To check out more of Joe Umali's work, go to
    Click here to check out the video of Kaesen that was shot the same day...



Comments (7)

Commented on 8-24-2011 At 02:56 pm

Great photo Joe !
Commented on 8-25-2011 At 12:02 am

Really creative idea! Good job!
Commented on 8-25-2011 At 02:33 pm

The more I think about this shoot, the more awesome I realize it is. Wow!
Commented on 8-26-2011 At 12:49 pm

Nice Joe,you shoot some great stuff.Always fun checking out your shots.
Commented on 8-26-2011 At 07:03 pm

Nice stuff joe. Brilliant creativity.
What did happen to isler? He still in santa barbara?
Commented on 8-29-2011 At 01:14 pm

Sick!!! Congrats Joe... that rules.
Commented on 9-30-2011 At 11:47 am

thanks y'all!

ttrigo, isler lives in new york city now. he's doing very well and on to bigger and better things!
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