Behind The Shot

Happy Trails

Conor Macfarlane - Action Pano
Nikon D5, Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 @ F6.3, 1/1250s, ISO250, 35mm

with Jay French

Jay, tell us about yourself and your journey with photography…

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by images, trying to document everything I experience and want to share. Since 2015 I’ve been lucky enough to make my living from this. I’m based in Christchurch and work internationally (when allowed).

I started off in editorial, and came up shooting in the mountain bike world; that’s where I got my start. However, these days I tend to shoot predominantly advertising, focusing on lifestyle, adventure and action. I work with amazing people, being part of some awesome adventures, whether that be for personal projects or campaign work.

Tell us about this action image…

This particular image was shot as a series of pre-opening imagery for a new bike park down in Wanaka that was under construction (now Bike Glendhu). The imagery was planned for the end of Spring when we’d still get the nice light, but the conditions would be more settled. We knew that the best place for the image would be at the highest point, where the views out towards Roys Peak and the lake are the best.

This image is a little special in the way it was created. It’s actually a 5x image panorama. I wanted the stacked/compressed look of shooting at 35mm, which captured the action nicely; however, it didn’t show off the amazing scenery around us. What I did as a workaround was shoot the action and the scenery as a kind of “action panorama”.

I found the frame I wanted to capture the action in, captured the climax of the action as a 3x shot burst without moving the camera at all, then constructed the scene around where the action had happened, a photo up and left, down and left, down and right, and lastly up and right. Without changing any of the settings and making sure each frame overlapped the other by approx 25%. Later I took this into Lightroom, found the key action frame from the burst and the 4x frames that captured the scenery and used the ‘create panorama’ function to create what you see here.

What were you shooting with?

I’ve always shot with Nikon gear. This image specifically was shot with the Nikon D5 and a second-hand 16-35mm f/4.0 lens, strangely enough. At the time, I was running Marumi Lens Protect filters, and a Peak Design strap with Peak Design Anchors and Anchor Links. 

What was happening behind the camera?

The shot was taken at 6:38 am, just as the sun cleared the peaks. It took us the best part of an hour to get up to this point at the time, as we needed some time for the talent to warm up and get a few runs in.

Other than me rushing everyone around to get it done, it was pretty calm behind the camera. With sunrise shoots, the sun isn’t going to wait for you to get prepared and into position, so you need to be on it with your crew and be ready to go when the time arises.

Did you have a fixed idea of what you wanted to achieve ahead of time?

We knew the location, the backdrop and the view. We had a solid idea of the action through our recce and prep in the days prior. The idea to shoot the super wide multi-image panorama only came out of necessity during the shoot.

What planning or preparation did you undertake for this image?

About a month before the shoot, there was a recce day of the area, where I could check out all potential viewpoints and spots to create the image. I wandered around with my PhotoPills sun app and TPE 3D to work out where the sun would be coming up on the day and when. This helped me plan the look of the shot before the day.

The day before the shoot, one of the athletes, Conor Macfarlane and trail builder Tom Hey went up to the spot (where it happened to be snowing, unexpectedly). We built a small kicker to give the riders something to jump and cleared a landing for them, then it was an early night before a very early start.

What does this image mean to you?

This shot has lived in my portfolio for a while. I genuinely enjoy the look achieved by shooting the panorama, giving the more compressed look to a wider frame. I think it would make a nice landscape shot; however, the action helps give it something extra. The action isn’t necessarily the best that the rider Conor and I have ever shot, but given the small feature we were shooting, it’s decent.

What editing did you do?

There’s not as much editing in this one as I thought there would be. I lined up the overlaps well, and everything came together pretty nicely in Lightroom. Then I did my basic adjustments and got the colours to where I liked them. That’s pretty much it; this image never even went to Photoshop.

What would you do differently if taking this shot again?

I’d start with a bigger jump to get the rider a little higher in the frame and allow more time in the air to offer us a bigger variety of tricks. I love the outlook from this angle, so I might look at a different trick that has a more aesthetic side profile. I would probably shoot it even more compressed with something that gave me less distortion, such as a 70-200mm (as I feel the horizon and lake aren’t properly straight in this image, which could probably still be corrected in Photoshop anyway if it meant that much to me).

What tips can you share with readers for achieving a similar action shot?

Practice shooting handheld panoramas by eye, using guidelines in your viewfinder and lining them up with background features. The correct amount of overlap and keeping the camera straight help when you’re assembling the panorama.

Make sure that the focus point doesn’t change at any stage after the key action; otherwise, you can end up with one of the background frames being in focus - meaning you can’t stitch them together (and it would look weird), so you’d need another go. Also, I find that removing as much lens distortion and vignetting as possible before creating the panorama can help your chances of a better outcome.

Obviously, being at a super scenic location where you’ve got permission to shoot, with a jump you’ve built prior, at sunrise on a beautiful day, with a pro rider is helpful as well!

What else should we know about you, this photo, or your photography in general?

This photo still fits my style well, I tend to describe my look as dark, bold and dramatic. I find myself gravitating to silhouettes often. The content of the image is still relevant to what I like to shoot as well. Over the last few years, I’ve created a couple of projects together with the rider pictured here, which you can view at 


Jay is a global photographer who calls New Zealand home, creating campaigns and imagery for a host of prominent brands such as Nikon, Red Bull, Macpac, Montane, Tourism New Zealand, and many more. Jay’s dramatic style has led him to be a Red Bull Illume grand finalist and a NZ Geographic Photographer of the year finalist on multiple occasions, amongst other achievements. He’s a big fan of coffee, dark beer and gets excited by sunsets. When he’s not at work, and sometimes when he is, he can be found in the mountains, running, biking, hiking or travelling with his wife, Nicola.