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Jason Halayko is a native Canadian, but he spends his days living and shooting in Japan. Embedded in the Japanese Freestyle Motocross (FMX) scene for many years, Jason has captured the highs and lows of this photogenic (and inherently dangerous) sport.
Jason’s photo, taken at the “Flynight on Snow” event in Niigata, Japan, was featured on the cover of the Freestyle Extreme Motocross Magazine. We caught up with Jason to get the story behind the shot.
Jason uses a Red Bull Ajna when moving fast, and the Sukha with an XL Pro ICU for more gear-intensive shoots.
About the cover: tell us about how you photographed this shot. Do you have any tips for those looking to capture a similar shot?
This shot of Japanese FMX rider Kota “Gonta” Suzuki was shot at the annual “Flynight on Snow” event held in Niigata, Japan. I’ve been to this event four or five times, and it is always a blast shooting FMX in the snow. As the weather and snowpack are huge variables with this event, you never know what kind of images you are going to be able to capture each year.
FMX is one of “those” sports… you can’t just call up a friend and hit a cool spot you found in the street like BMX or skateboarding. So, if you are interested in shooting FMX and trying to get a shot like this, try looking for local shows or demos in your area. FMX events are still rare in many places… limiting shooting opportunities… but if you do get out to one it’s always an amazing time watching these guys throw down their insane assortment of tricks.
One note of caution, FMX is a very dangerous sport. Later the same day I shot this, Gonta missed a backflip, crashing on the landing. The landing ramp was made of snow with Japanese tatami mats and carpet on it, so it was better than landing on concrete, but he still broke both his legs and was out for most of the season last year. He is riding again now but accidents have stopped many riders from getting back on their bike and have also taken the life of several prominent riders over the years. While less immediate, the danger is there for photographers too. Always be aware of where the bikes are coming and going from, and never turn your back on the riders as surprises can happen, and no one wants an out of control bike in the back of the head
When did you take this shot? What equipment did you use?
This was taken in late March 2015. Niigata is known as “snow country” in Japan but by the time this event rolled around, the weather was so nice I was shooting in a t-shirt and jeans.
As you can see in the background of the image there is a large snow-capped mountain. I had decided early on in the day I really wanted to use this mountain to emphasize the unusual snow/winter element of the event. The mountain was actually quite far away so I used the Nikon 70-200 to bring it forward. Shooting at 160mm gave me the size balance between the mountain and the rider [Gonta] that I was looking for. I really like the bokeh of this lens wide open, so I was shooting at f2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 at ISO 50. Shooting in the snow on a sunny day, the snow acts like a giant reflector, so you get lots of light coming from every direction, making the use of a flash unnecessary.
Shooting with my Nikon D4s, I could have used the camera’s 11 frames per second burst to shoot the image, but as I have been shooting FMX here in Japan for 8-9 years now, I was able to time this right with just one shot. While there’s nothing wrong with blasting off a bunch of images and picking the best one after, I try to avoid that when I can. It helps save time when sorting through all your images at the end of the day.
For those that aren’t familiar with you or your work, tell us a bit about yourself and your photography.
I am Canadian born and raised but have been living and working in Japan for over 13 years now. Although based in Kyoto, my work takes me all over Japan, and at times the world. My main work is action sports, portraits, and lifestyle for companies such as Red Bull, G-Shock, Puma, and other smaller companies and local universities. I also love to capture the beauty of Japan with my images, and living in Kyoto is perfect for that. Saying that, I’m planning to move to Tokyo this year to further challenge myself.
For those looking to find out more about you, where can they go?
To find out more about the Sukha please visit: http://shop.fstopgear.com/us/product/sukha.html
To find out more about the Red Bull Ajna visit: http://shop.fstopgear.com/us/product/redbull-ajna-shell.html
Interview by: Andrew Kelly, f-stop Brand Manager - Japan
You recently switched your Kenti to the new Guru UL, how does the Guru UL work for you and what are the main advantages?
I love the Kenti, and I dig the side pockets for fast access while on the bike without having to dismount the bike. But with such a light camera kit, I found that my Kenti was half empty, and I was carrying extra weight and padding I didn’t need. With the new GURU UL, I can fit a smaller ICU, like the "Small Pro ICU" and cinch the external straps of the backpack to make it smaller and less boxy while on the bike. The remaining space not occupied by the small ICU can be used to carry super lightweight items that take space, for example my emergency Patagonia puffy Jacket that always comes with me in all assignments, be it snow, bike or urban. We usually book a hotel close to the airport as a "base camp" to store the bike carrying bags, our computers, etc. so when we are back from the 3 days on the bike, I can make the GURU UL "big" again by adding a few small ICUS and bring everything fragile with me as a carryon onto the airplane. Sicily was the first test for the GURU UL backpack on a XPDNT3 trip, and it worked as I expected! Definitely my new favorite backpack on the bike!