That’s the power of resolution when shooting sports

From the muddy tracks of England to the sun-drenched dirt of Spain, extreme sports filmmaker Anton Nelson tells us how he used his Ursa Mini Pro 12K to film motocross rider Jamie Carpenter.

I want to make Jamie Carpenter look like a superhero. There is not a single jump on this runway where you can see the landing; if riders can get over those jumps and not be scared, nothing on the motocross competition circuit will scare them. From framing to composition, all I do is view these extraordinary athletes in the same way Superman does. This is the absolute art of this athletic performance.

I shot my video of Jamie in January, but met him over a year ago, far from the dust of the arid Spanish mountains. Capturing this type of athletic performance has become difficult, with the world in lockdown for much of the past two years. I get excited about all things athletics, performance and people, and suddenly all of those worlds were cut off. I wanted to keep my camera skills up to date, so during the brief times when we were allowed out of the house, I reached out to work with different athletes from different sport spectrums. But it was the British motocross scene that excited me the most.

The scene is small in the UK, but I found that any Wednesday or Saturday morning I could hit a local track and watch people play and roll, and have a great time. And that’s how I met Jamie Carpenter.

When I met him, he was a corsair; someone who doesn’t ride with a team. He is a person who gathers as many sponsors as possible. At the time, he was supposed to have 50 logos on his van, as he prepared to roll for the season. Guys like Jamie realize that content is king.

Motocross rider Jamie Carpenter takes to the skies. Image: Anton Nelson.

Enter the Ursa Mini Pro 12K

See you in January 2022, and Jamie had now joined a team, and I went to film him for a few days in a training camp in southern Spain. It’s a beautiful environment and it’s a great backdrop for me to film. You have never seen such an incredible location for a conventional motocross track.

For four days I photographed Jamie with the Ursa Mini Pro 12K.

When using the camera, I expose to get the maximum latitude of the footage so I can stretch and force a video codec. I guess it comes from my background as an illustrator and designer, which still influences my work. The 12K sensor lets me play with 14 stops of dynamic range, high frame rates, and a raw codec that lets me get every detail from the sensor. It gives me capabilities that I don’t have with any other camera.

There’s a shot in the film of Jamie jumping over a jump. I shot it with a 70-200mm lens in 8K at 120fps. He just whipped the bike over the jump, and it looks amazing. I was so happy when I filmed this because I knew I had the focus but it wasn’t until I came back and put it in DaVinci Resolve and saw the detail that I was struck by what I had captured. It’s a 38 megapixel frame, and there are 120! I can print any of these frames, and it has enough detail to print a billboard! That, for me, was a big moment.

Motocross rider, Jamie Carpenter.  Image: Anton Nelson.
Image: Anton Nelson.

Much of the content I produce is used on many different platforms, but the Ursa Mini Pro 12K means I can shoot anything I need with one camera. I adjusted my framing style to take much wider shots in camera. I shoot wide because it means I can produce a 9:16 video for TikTok or Instagram Reels while producing a standard 16:9 edit for YouTube and a 1:1 square for Instagram or Facebook feed. Having this ultra high resolution 12k master means there is no compromise in image quality.

I also need a camera that is going to be handy. The environments I work in, like in this video, can be dusty, or I can be on wet, icy ground. I want to get close enough for those low angle fisheye shots, but I don’t want to get so close that I’ll be hit by one of the bikes. I push the cameras. They’re not sealed like waterproof cameras, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with them with kid gloves. I had to film a drifting meeting on a rainy day, and the only way to protect the camera was to stick a plastic bag over it. I didn’t do anything else and we kept shooting all day. It has an excellent sturdy construction. It’s a rough and tumultuous type sport that gives a lot of transferable skills to other things that I photograph.

Having built-in ND filters is another big plus for me. This means I don’t have to lug around heavy matte boxes. Again, it all depends on what you can get out of the sensor. Having high dynamic range helps me ensure that I capture every logo in every lighting environment possible. There’s another shot towards the end of the video, taken towards the end of the day. Jamie whips his bike around the track, with the sun quite low and shining through some of the vegetation. I knew Jamie would be in the shadows and was worried about her appearance, but with the dynamic range of the cameras you can clearly see every number and logo on her top; details like these are so important to a motorsport customer.

Motocross by Jamie Carpenter.
Image: Anton Nelson.

Lenses used

For this shoot, I used a mix of Canon telephoto and prime lenses. I have a set of Sigma Prime 20mm, 24mm, 40mm and 50mm lenses and the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. I also used a nice Samyang 10mm lens, creating an incredibly wide image on a Super35 sensor. These are all camera lenses as I want to travel light – I usually only want to take one backpack if I can. I love that Sigma’s photography lenses have the same optical quality as its cine line. Camera lenses are smaller and lighter, so I can pack more options into one bag. I’m horrible like that; I’ll bring four lenses for filming motocross on a dusty track rather than taking a zoom or two – I’m doing it the wrong way. Ultimately, I think it speaks to the look of the work.

I just want to make beautiful content. Motocross is a prime example. There’s not a lot of money in it, but I’m passionate about it. This is my personal project. I will do two or three editions of motocross this year because I love doing it. And I want to give that same cinematic feel to all my work.

I’m known for doing very aggressive work with hard, short cuts. You’ll see a beautifully framed image that looks like a photograph, but then disappears. And then there are ten more shots like that in seconds. I think it comes from years of working with musical artists; I learned to make videos in rhythm. It’s all about anticipation and energy, speed and aggression, and it’s suited to the sports I photograph.

I don’t do yoga videos.

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Wiley C. Thompson