If you’ve raced DH in Christchurch or the South Island over the last few years, you’ve probably seen Neil and his cool wide brimmed hat as you scream past.

From Lava Flow in Christchurch late 2012. This photo is all about the amazing sky and the super clean ground features framing the rider. There is very little post processing in this - it's all from the polarising filter on the lens. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/640 - F2.8 - ISO100 - 70mm)

Christchurch based Neil Gardner shoots for a website called nzsnaps.com.
Since an injury forced Neil out of playing the NZ Masters Ultimate Frisbee team at the 2006 World Champs in Perth and into shooting for the event, he’s been upgrading gear, traveling nationally and internationally (Vancouver, Prague and Japan for the three Ultimate worlds events since Perth) and generally having a great time shooting.
Neil says “I would love to travel to a world champs downhill round – although it would have to meet me halfway perhaps – when’s it next in Aussie or here?”

Mt Hutt 2013 - Sophie Tyas illustrates what a nice bright outfit does for a photo. Here I had a flash out of frame to my left to light up the face as we were under trees. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/200 - F4 - ISO400 - 140mm - Flash)

 How many cameras/lenses do you have in your quiver? Do you have a favourite?
My current camera bag is scary. Despite buying 95% of my stuff secondhand, it’s quite an investment. I have two DSLR camera bodies – a Canon 1d3 and 1d4. They are pro bodies with amazing autofocus and speed (10 frames/second) and they can stand the rain and dust that shooting MTB often brings. I have close to a full set of Canon 2.8L glass – a 300/F2.8L IS, 70-200/F2.8, 24-70/F2.8 and a 17-40F4L.

This frame is from a huge accident at Coronet Peak in 2009 when Mads Weidermann fell at top speed at the very end of practise day. He suffered serious arm and wrist injuries as well as concussion. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/2500 - F2.8 - ISO50 - 73mm)

I also have a Sigma 15mm Fisheye which is a huge amount of fun and a Tamron 90mm Macro. Add a couple of flashes and some radio triggers and that can see me carrying 15KG or more around. I rarely take out my full kit anymore though – it’s just getting too heavy! I also have a couple of small point and shoot cameras but don’t use them for sports. I now have a couple of GoPros as well but they are for strapping to my Lotus 7 replica when I go for blats or to track days.

Coronet Peak 2009 - The rider here didn't quite hang onto the drift. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/160 - F5 - ISO50 - 125mm)

I’ve upgraded through a lot of Canon cameras… 10D, 30D, 1D, 1D2, 1Ds2, and 5D – usually keeping 2 at a time. My favourite camera would have to be my current 1d4 and my favourite lens is the 70-200F2.8L. That is unless I am in a situation to use the 300/2.8L. It’s not always a suitable lens but every time I use it I forget the weight and the limitations of a fixed focal length – it produces the most stunning images.

It's not always fun. Living Springs outside Christchurch in 2009 for a secondary schools champs. It was so wet and muddy on one part of the track there were literally only 2 riders that made it through without falling. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/400 - F4 - ISO200 -280mm)

Most frequently used camera?
Hands down the 1d4. Sometimes when shooting field events (Ultimate Frisbee mostly) I will dual wield both bodies (one with the 300, the other with the 70-200) but that is a recipe for bad back so I usually have the 1d3 sitting around as a backup. The 1d4 has no weaknesses so I use it all the time.

Jen Lavoie, playing Ultimate for New Zealand in Japan last year, listens to her captain give some advice. Here I deliberately overexposed everything else to highlight just the facial features. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/1600 - F3.2 - ISO320 - 200mm - Lots of processing!)

Favourite subject/s to shoot?
I don’t like shooting landscapes. It’s odd – I thought that’s what I would use a camera for most when I got one but it turns out I love shooting people and sports. With MTB my favourite approach is to shoot under tree cover if I can so the background is filled with something dark. I use a remote flash whenever possible as it adds a huge pop to the images if used well.

It doesn't always need a flash though - here in a shot from Long Gulley in Wellington from 2010, the face is lit up enough from the ground reflection. (EOS 1dMkIII - 1/200 - F4 - ISO160 - 70mm)

Often the helmets can make the face of a rider just a dark shadow and that is something I don’t like – I love catching emotions and expressions. Wide eyes and gritted teeth do it for me.

Taken in Japan at the 2012 World Ultimate and Guts Champs, a Canadian player just misses the disc after Fraser Stanton from New Zealand had tipped it away. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/1600 - F3.2 - ISO100 - 300mm)

Outside of MTB, my main passion is Ultimate and I’ve traveled for numerous worlds and international tournaments. I used to play at a high level and love the culture and people involved – Ultimate is my favourite subject.

Hayden Paddon, New Zealand's next big hope for success on the world rallying stage is seen here driving a classic Ford Escort in the Otago Classic Rally in 2012. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/200 - F3.5 - ISO400 - 98mm)

Photoshop or no Photoshop?
My use of Photoshop itself is very very limited, but I do shoot in RAW and that means I need to process them all to JPG. When I do this I freely admit I can take a pretty extreme approach to contrast, saturation and shadow recovery. I also often put a gradient across skies to recover some cloud details if the sky is blown out. I don’t mind the use of photoshop at all and I firmly believe that to get the best results you should use whatever tools are at your disposal. This isn’t school and I am not shooting for a news agency – there aren’t any rules – go nuts!

This shot from Mt Hutt earlier this year shows an example of using a digital gradient on the sky to recover some details. Before this treatment, the sky was mainly white. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/1000 - F3.5 - ISO50 - 15mm)

Best piece of advice to budding video/ photographers?
Ask questions, experiment and whenever you can, keep the sun to your back. Frequently my decision about where to shoot will be dictated by where the sun is; Is it behind a cloud? Is it in front of me? Is it lighting up the riders face? Photography is about wrangling light and the sun is usually the only light you have to use – it won’t move for you so you have to work around it.  Of course you can bring your own mini-suns as well which I do to give me more options.

Sometimes the photos are a bit misleading. What looks like a decent crash here is just the rider doing barely more than stepping off the falling bike. (EOS 1dMkIII - 1/500 - F2.8 - ISO800 - 200mm)

Another piece of advice I like to give is be daring. Don’t always take the safe shot and don’t take the same photo of everyone riding past at the same spot. Move around, change your settings, try things! I have missed many crashes because the camera is set for a creative shot rather than a nice fast shutter speed.

This unidentified rider is taking a huge facefirst spill but my camera was setup for a flash shot a few metres further back and the shutter is set to 1/15sec! It was never going to be sharp but I like it. (EOS 1dMkIV - 1/15 - F9 - ISO100 - 35mm)

Who do you usually shoot and who have you shot for?
I shoot almost exclusively for myself and it’s not my day job so I don’t have to go chasing work.  I have had images featured in newspapers as well as numerous books and magazines here and overseas.  The only time I have really been engaged on a professional basis was for the World Ultimate champs last year in Japan.

Jetsprinting is the biggest buzz to shoot - up to 1200HP and I can get so close they could drown me with a wrong turn. In this image the crew is bracing for impact after launching off a gravel bar. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/800 - F4 - ISO100 - 280mm)

How do you think you set yourself apart in this digital age where everyone’s a photographer and go pros are rife?
It’s not the gear.  Sure, great gear makes it easier, but good gear does NOT guarantee good results.  I think about my shots, the light, the reflections, what’s in the background (NEVER SHOOT WITH PORTA-LOOS IN THE BACKGROUND!), whether the AF system will be able to lock on to the rider with them coming out from behind a tree, are the shadows going to make the face dark? And so on.  There is way too many elements of a photo that other photographers don’t always think about.  And then there is the processing and the displaying and so on.  I think about every step of the process.

Another portrait, this time of a wakeboarder wetting her hair in preparation for her competition run. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/800 - F4 - ISO160 - 280mm)

Your favourite photo/video taken by someone else (and why)?
My favourite photo (mine or from someone else) changes all the time so instead I’ll choose a photographer.  Lee Howell is a local Christchurch based full time professional photographer and his work is STUNNING.  Lees work at http://leehowell.com/ (including some MTB Stuff).  Lee first opened my eyes to the importance of the dynamics in an image.  I was shooting some drifting around 1/400 or 1/250 shutter speeds.  Lee noticed this and encouraged me to just try shooting slower, and slower.  Then this happened (below) – and I understood.

After some solid advice from Lee, I managed to get this shot of a drifter at Ruapuna Park in Chch at 1/50sec just as the light became perfect. The original shot is so sharp on the eyes you can tell their colour. (EOS 1dMkII - 1/50 - F7.1 - ISO50 - 70mm)

Check out Neil’s work at nzsnaps.com and Facebook
Neil has also written a three part guide to shooting Ultimate Frisbee – a lot of the advice applies to shooting other sports as well – check out part one here:

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