The Bonneville salt flats near the Utah/Nevada border are so eerily beautiful and spectacular that I’ve wanted to shoot there for years. Me and 10 million other shutterbugs.
The salt flats are one of the most used locations in the US. Everything gets shot on the white flat surface from cars to cellphones to pantyhose. It makes sense of course, you can add immediate natural grandeur to even the boringest of products and it’s practically not possible to make anything look bad out there no matter how large the lack of talent might be in the creative team. And that’s just the bad stuff. There is also a lot of really good photography going on in that spot. Kind of intimidating, really.
So, for quite a while I was mulling over what project I could do here and what my approach would be. I checked out Bonneville the Winter before (during another ski trip) and it had an inch or two of water on it. It looked great and different from most of the pictures I’d seen before. I kept that in mind and when the possibility of shooting BMX riders came up I started wondering what they could do with this place.
I went for a location scout and found (to my relief) that the water was back. The salt underneath was surprisingly firm. I asked Jordan Utley, our local fixer and BMX videographer extraordinaire, if his friends would be willing to ride their bikes in the shallow saltwater and he assured me that they would be up for anything. Nice.
On the first day of our Giddy Up project Jordan brought along his friends Matt Beringer, Cameron Wood, and Tate Roskelley. Fine riders, one and all. We also booked a female model from Craigslist to go lifestyle-y in case the bike pics fell flat. Her day would turn out to be pretty uneventful.
We met up at our hotel in SLC and started the two hour drive West. The location was incredibly easy. There is a rest stop on Interstate 80 that’s architecturally cool and just steps from where the water started. We parked, walked 15 yards, and set up the lights. By the time we were ready the guys were already in the lake hopping around like frogs on payday.
For the next image we moved to the picnic area (another 15 steps) and set up the Profoto 7b’s in a 3/4 circle. We had to rehearse this shoot a bit since the timing was crucial to everybody’s health. First Cameron made a run and hopped on the table with his front wheel up (that’s called a “manual” or “Manuel” if you’re from Mexico), then Matt rode in and jumped on the bench with another Manuel and then Tate came screeching around the corner with his bike dipped low. Everything had to happen right on time and at a fairly high speed. It was amazing how quickly the three guys figured it out and how consistently they could repeat it.
After that shot we moved along to use the striking architecture of the rest stop. The first two pictures I shot with a 250 mm lens on the Mamya RZ from across the parking lot. I liked the look but every communication with the riders involved a 30 yard sprint, then jog, then walk to and fro.
The image with the 3 of them was basically them improvising on their marks. It was amazing how high Cam could pop his bike of the ground.
Here’s a little aside: a while ago a German BMX’er crashed pretty badly during a shoot of mine, breaking his hand and a bunch of bike parts in the process. When I bought him replacements parts he requested pieces from S & M Bikes that had names like “Beringer fork” or the “Beringer stem”. So it was funny to meet the “Beringer” himself on this shoot.
The last set up of the shoot was at the end of a little road that led out into the middle of the flats. While we shot some portraits by the edge of the water the unoccupied talent rode way out into the middle of the lake. In the fading evening light it had all the creamy dreamy quality that I had hoped for from Bonneville.