A video by adventure sports photographer and filmmaker Justin Olsen is going viral. Shooting in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City, Olsen and pro mountain bike rider Cody Kelley shot some intense footage of Kelley bombing through the terrain. What’s so special about that? They did it at night! Making use of the Sony α7S II and its combination of high resolution video modes and low-light capability, Olsen and Kelley created a hair-raising short film that will make you squirm as you watch.
Just before heading out of town on a different adventure, we spoke with Olsen about the film and just how crazy one has to be to do this kind of thing.
AlphaUnuiverse: When and where did you do the actual shooting?
Justin Olsen: I shot this piece during the June 2016 full moon cycle. We spent 3 full nights, dusk to dawn, filming.
It was shot in Utah on various trails around the Salt Lake City area. There were a few key shots I needed, like the moonrise shot in the first clip, so we had to find trails that would provide the proper perspective. Also, we needed trails that were open enough to let the moonlight in, and fast enough to look good on screen. It was a challenge to find trails with the right combination but in the end it came together the way we wanted it too.
AlphaUniverse: Watching the footage we can’t help but be stunned by just how crazy some if it looks. Who is the rider and is he completely without fear?
Justin Olsen: The rider is Cody Kelley. He’s a Professional Mountain Biker from Salt Lake City. He is currently racing in the Enduro World Series for the Yeti/Fox racing team. I’ve worked with Cody on a number of other videos, and he was my first choice for this project. He’s one of the most stylish riders on the planet and I knew he would be fired up to get on board for this piece. The funny thing is he had never even ridden with night lights before this, so it was a first for him as well!
AlphaUniverse: Was the film a long time in the making or was it a spur of the moment thing?
Justin Olsen: The light of the full moon is truly a magical thing. I’ve always wanted to film what you could see with the naked eye and when the a7S II came out I realized it was finally a possibility. I had seen a few other moonlit videos on the web, some really incredible stuff, but I couldn't really find anything with fast moving action. It seemed like an opportunity to make something unique.
Red Bull has a video series in the Mountain Bike world called the "Raw 100" which is basically a stripped down format for presenting mountain biking. The rules are 100 seconds of footage, with no slow motion, no music, and no camera tricks. Among mountain bike filmmakers it’s considered a challenge and an honor to shoot one of these pieces, because in many ways the series is more about the filmmaking than the riding.
I had worked with Red Bull on many other mountain bike projects, and along came the chance to do a Raw 100. The full moon concept seemed like a perfect fit.
AlphaUniverse: Was this your first shoot with the a7S II?
Justin Olsen: Yes. I’ve been a Canon shooter for years, but I’ve been wanting to get my hands on an a7S II for a while now. I rented one for this project and the first night of filming was literally my first time shooting with it. It was a bit nerve-wracking going into it, but the camera performed flawlessly and I was really happy with it!
I’ve wanted to do a moonlight shoot for a long time, and the camera finally made it a possibility. There was no question this piece had to be shot on the A7sII.
AlphaUniverse: Other than being dark, what other challenges did this shoot present?
Justin Olsen: Every shot was captured at 1/60-sec. at f/2.8 so keeping Cody in focus was tough! It was especially tough in the tracking shots. I definitely didn't nail them all. Some of them are soft, and some of the focus pulls are not timed perfectly, but overall I am happy with how it came out. The tight tracking shot is my favorite one, and I was happy to have Cody coming in and out of focus on that one.
Staying up all night for 3 nights in a row was tough on both Cody and me. We had partly-cloudy skies one night, which put a damper on things. Of course as a photographer you’re always waiting for good light, but waiting for good moonlight was a whole different thing. Thinking about it now it seems pretty ironic. Also the aerials were challenging. Flying a large drone in the dark presented a unique challenge, but the footage was worth it for sure.
AlphaUniverse: Was it just you and the rider or did you have a crew?
Justin Olsen: I didn't have a crew for this. For the first 2 nights it was just Cody and me on the trails. Cody's dad Mike Kelley came along to help drive us around though, and provide comedic relief. On the 3rd night, I had Jordan Overman and Zac Eskelsen of Override Films along to film the aerial footage. Those guys really nailed it too. They were stoked to get out and test their skills in the dark.