Teeing Off with Platypod and a Nikon Z8 with Ellis Vener

Words by Ellis Vener - A Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell


"It started with a question in a daydream… What does a golf ball look like just as it gets smacked by a well-swung club? My inspiration was the pioneering motion-freezing photographs made by the father of electronic flash and high speed photography, MIT Professor Harold 'Doc' Edgerton, and his student, the great photographer Gjon Mili, and the field leading ultra-short readout times of the electronic shutter of the Nikon Z8."
"The impetus for the daydream came as I learned my way around the Nikon Z8 and discovered its ability to shoot stills at 120 frames per second. At that setting, the camera has a couple of mechanical limitations I would need to work around: The Z8, usually a camera capable of shooting full-frame 45.7MP Raw and JPEGs, as well as video, automatically switches to the 16x24mm DX (AKA APS-C) crop and only in the JPEG format. Inside these limitations are a couple more: at 120fps, DX format JPEGs are recorded at JPEG Normal image quality and Image Size Small, 11MP (4128 x 2752 pixels)." 
"At first, I would need to use flash to freeze the action. I even considered shooting at night so I would not have to deal with ambient light. To this end, I did a few days of research into flash units with ultra-short flash durations, but after consulting with a technical advisor at Nikon, I found out that with the Z8, there is no flash sync at frame rates above 20 fps."
"A friend (who works in motion picture production) jokingly suggested that I use a 2kW HMI light. But that got me thinking: Since I needed constant light, why not use the sun? All I needed was a sunny day and a good location."
"With the technical constraints established and lighting problems solved, I enlisted a friend who is an avid golfer and arranged to shoot at a local golf course on a sunny morning." 
"A big key to making this shot work was keeping the camera in a consistent position. For that, I relied on a Platypod eXtreme and Platypall Elite ballhead. While I could have rested the camera directly on the ground, consistency of the camera position was crucial. Even at 120 fps, it would take several attempts to coordinate my timing with the golfer to catch the microsecond the head of the golf club connected with the ball. The eXtreme and Platyball Elite kept the camera locked in place. To create a fill light on the left side of the ball, I used a mirror supported by a Platypod Handle mounted on a Platypod Ultra." 

"Stu drove eleven balls off the tee to get the shot I wanted. The best one was from the ninth attempt. After days of planning, the session took less than an hour from start to finish. Even though the club height was just a little too low to be an absolutely technically perfect drive, the way the tee distorts as it is hit by the club's leading edge says everything conveys the power and speed of his swing."
Technical details:
Camera: Nikon Z 8 in C120 mode, matrix metering
Lens: Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S
Lighting: Key: mid-morning sunlight. Fill: Sunlight reflected by a small mirror
Exposure: ISO 1600, f/5.6 @ 1/16,000th second
Post-processing: none 
To view more of Ellis' work you can visit his website by clicking here and/or by visiting his Instagram page here.

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