The last time Brazilian skateboarder Felipe Nunes went to the train tracks near his home, he was six years old. Like all his friends in Curitiba in Brazil, he wanted to try his hand at the dangerous new trend of 'train surfing' – jumping on board a moving train. Felipe's first and last attempt nearly cost him his life, and lost him both his legs.
Now, 11 years later, Felipe is one of the world's leading skateboarders, with a raft of sponsors and competition wins under his belt. Sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Samo Vidic wanted to tell Felipe's story, visually displaying how he'd overcome the odds. To do this, he hired a garage where trains are repaired, used clever perspectives and froze the action with impressive effect.
Samo wanted to shoot a portrait and an action shot of the disabled skateboarder, and thought the tracks in front of a train parked in the garage would make a poignant backdrop.
For the portrait, Samo worked at a low point of view, getting down on the ground to capture Felipe looking imposing in the environment. Standing on his skateboard in front of a train, he is presented as master of his surroundings.
Samo used his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV to take Felipe's portrait. The camera's touchscreen made it easy to handle even when lying down, he says. He also chose to use a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. "That's my favourite lens for portraits because of the sharpness, the colours and the shallow depth of field," he continues.
He placed the main light to the right of Felipe, around three metres away, and a fill light to Felipe's left, highlighting the other side of his face from slightly above, at a distance of five metres.
"I wanted the train in the background to be visible, but I wanted Felipe to 'pop', so I used a shallow depth of field," he adds. "There was no need for fancy tricks on this shoot. I thought a simple portrait on the train tracks would be more impactful because the story behind the location was so strong."
He looked shocked, but I think he was also happy to be there. There were a lot of emotions involved.
On the day of the shoot, Samo and Felipe also visited the area near the train track where his accident happened – it was an emotional experience. "I think the accident was replaying before his eyes," recalls Samo. "He looked shocked, but I think he was also happy to be there. There were a lot of emotions involved, that's for sure."
For Felipe's action shot, Samo wanted to make it look as if he was jumping over a train on his skateboard. Still at the train garage, the team placed some planks of wood on the concrete floor to make it easier for Felipe to skate. Samo crept into a recess in the floor that's normally used by mechanics to slide in and make repairs to the bottom part of the train (pictured above), then lay down on the dirty ground with his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens.
"[In the action shot] the fisheye lens makes it look like he's flying really high, especially with the train in the background," says Samo. In reality, Felipe's jumps were fairly low. The perspective of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens made the sides of the recess in the floor look curved, mimicking the shape of a skate ramp.
Samo used the AI Servo mode so the camera would continue to focus on Felipe as he moved through the frame, and he chose the focus point grouping Expand AF Area, where focus is expanded with four extra points around the photographer's chosen focal point. This setting is a favourite among many photographers capturing moving subjects because the four surrounding points will take over instantly if the camera stops detecting contrast in the main AF point, ensuring pin-sharp and precise focus. In more unpredictable situations, Samo could have chosen AF Expand Surround, where focus is expanded by eight surrounding AF points yet still remains precise even in very detailed areas such as a person's eye. "In this case, four extra focal points were perfect because I knew where Felipe was going to appear in the frame," explains Samo.
To make sure the details in the ceiling would be visible, Samo shot using ISO2000 and placed a studio flash to the side of Felipe to illuminate his face.
Throughout the shoot, Samo's Canon EOS 5D Mark IV was connected to his phone, so Felipe could check how the photographs turned out via the Canon Camera Connect app. "Another benefit of the Wi-Fi capabilities in the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS 6D Mark II is that you can connect to your computer, check your shot and change the settings from your device. With Wi-Fi, it's so much easier to correct things or to shoot," says Samo.
One of Samo's assistants was ready to catch Felipe if anything went wrong – he did crash a couple of times, causing the skateboard to fall on Samo. "I just held my arm up to protect my camera. It was nothing compared to what Felipe did and how he performed. He cut his hand a little bit, but he kept saying, 'It's fine, we can do it.' He was super-motivated.
"I told Felipe that if I had athletes like him on every shoot, I would be so happy. His enthusiasm and energy was incredible. He refuses to use a wheelchair and goes everywhere on his skateboard. He's just a normal, 18-year-old boy who wants to be a professional skateboarder, and he doesn't care what other people think."