Utilizing only ambient light and having a good eye for composition, Canada’s Zach Rampen has a signature look to his BMX photos. And we’re excited to present our first photo gallery featuring all Canadian riders shot entirely north of our border. —Jeff Z.
Hometown: Fergus, Ontario, Canada
Years shooting: With a proper set up, I would say five years. I’ve always enjoyed shooting though.
Describe where you are from? And where you are currently living?
I grew up on a sheep, cattle and crop farm in southern Ontario. After living there for 17 years, my family moved across the country to Salmon Arm, British Columbia. Since then, I have spent a lot of my time living all over British Columbia. There are a few other towns that I would consider home: Nelson, Kelowna, Vancouver and Blue River are on the list. I recently moved from Vancouver to a small town in northern BC called Blue River. The plan is to work up here for the winter then head back to Vancouver for the spring.
What is your BMX Background?
I have always been on a bike of some form. When BMX first caught my eye, I was at the Toronto bike show. My friends and I were walking around checking out all kinds of parts to kit out our mountain bikes. Some how we randomly started following a group of people walking into a different part of the building. We ended up stumbling into Metro Jam in full boar. I bought my first few Props DVDs. I ended up watching those DVDs all year, until the next Metro, where I bought my first BMX.
How did you get your start in photography?
I’ve always loved shooting photos or video. I guess I started to take it a little more seriously when I started to shoot BMX. I was struggling to shoot manual settings out of my point and shoot camera. I found menu based settings to be really hard to learn on. The next summer it was between a video camera or a SLR. Since I wanted to have something with a lot of user friendly manual modes for a relatively cheap price, I went to an SLR. BMX was a good place for me to find inspiration. People are always down to pedal around, and more often then not, you stumble across some spot, some person, or some trick that is just too cool to go uncaptured.
Do you have any formal schooling, training, assisting experience?
During high school I was always in the Photoshop, media and design classes. A natural extension from that was going to College in Nelson, BC. There I took the Digital Arts and New Media program at Selkirk College. I studied everything from 3D animation, video production, photography, web design, and graphic design. Over the past three winters, I have been working as a Production Manager for the photo lab at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. I have gained a lot of knowledge from the lead photographer John Schwirtlich. John has helped me out on improving my video and photography work as well as my eye for composition. I was pretty lucky to fall into the position I am in today.
Have you had the opportunity to travel outside of Canada much for BMX?
I have yet to travel out of Canada for BMX. Lately, I have been more focused on traveling within British Columbia, as the province is relatively new to me. I am defiantly not apposed to traveling abroad.
Where are some places you'd like to visit, and why?
Within Canada; Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Halifax are on the list. It would be nice to spend a few months in the summer, in each place to see what they are all about. Outside of Canada I would like to visit Russia and Alaska for skiing. I would be down to go anywhere for BMX. A few places that come to mind are: New Zealand, France, Spain and Portugal. Realistically, weekend trips to Seattle and Portland are probably going on in the spring and summer.
Quick breakdown of your gear…
Pretty bare-bones setup. I shoot a Canon 60D with a 50mm 1.8 and a Opteka 6.5mm 3.5. For Video I carry a Rode microphone, Manfrotto tripod with a 501hd fluid head, a DIY handle and usually a skateboard for filming lines. A few extras are a Canon AE-1, a few rolls of 35mm film, a Canon Speedlite 430EX and Pocket wizard Flex TT1/TT5 set up.
What are some other items on your wish list?
In my dream world, I would pick up a Hasselblad 2000FCW and a proper video camera. Realistically, a Canon 5D MrkIII with a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 15mm 2.8 will most likely happen in the near future.
All of the images in your gallery are shot with ambient light. Is that a preference of yours?
I guess it is a preference out of necessity. The majority of the images in the gallery were taken while cruising around town with friends. I like the idea of being able to ride around with the gear I have instead of carrying around a mobile studio, or driving spot to spot. Shooting video has made my set up a little heavier, but everything I take out with me gets used. Over the past few years, I have started to appreciate naturally lit images more. I understand the amount of work and luck it takes to achieve the desired image with ambient light. There is something to be said about waiting for the right light, instead of just making your own. With natural light there are always the surprise images that you couldn’t have planned for, which makes it interesting. With that being said, if you don’t have the light and need the shot, strobes are mandatory. I also see the value in lights for shooting commercially. Sometimes the logo on the shirt doesn’t pop and you need it front and center. Not always easily achieved with natural light.
Is there one aspect that you obsess over most… sharpness, composition, lighting, etc?
I would say all of the above are in the back of my mind. You always hate to be the guy asking to shoot the trick a couple of times. Having a pretty basic set up lets me have a bit more time to focus on composition. (“Make it look like I’m going huge! “)
If you show up at a new spot and the session is going off, which gets neglected, your bike or the camera?
Right now, I would say my camera bag would be sitting in the dust. I’ve had a broken wrist for the past 6 months and I just got my cast off. I have been itching to ride for a while now.
Who or what inspires you?
I get a lot of inspiration both inside and outside of BMX. Within BMX I get a lot of inspiration from the Defgrip crew, George Marshall, Stew Johnson, Ryan Navazio, and my friends I ride with everyday. Outside of BMX, people like Spike Jones, Jordan Manley, Derek Frankowski and Atiba Jefferson
Beyond BMX, what else do you shoot?
I would like to start to shoot a bit more skiing and snowboarding, but I am usually too busy in the winters. Shamefully, I don’t always have a camera on hand, but when the moons align I take pictures of day to day life.
You always do a lot of video work. I'm assuming that was a natural extension of your photography?
For sure! They seem to play off each other fairly well. There is something instantly satisfying about snapping a photo for me. It might have something to do with the sound of the shutter and the digital image on the LCD. I get the same satisfaction from editing video. When the clip just fits perfectly in the music, you cant beat it.
Do you think that shooting both photo and video helps you become more proficient in both aspects—like maybe you can apply things you learn while filming and apply them to photos, and vice versa…
Yeah, defiantly! Photography really helped with my eye and understanding of video. There is a pretty stereotypical way that most photographers shoot video. Technically the imagery is on point but the motion is a little lacking. As soon as you get over that fear of not having a static shot, video can be really fun. Shooting video helped me understand motion and telling a story a lot better. I think they play off each other nicely.
You have two separate sites for your work, Oh So Visual and zachrampen.com. Why two?
Originally OhSo was a project I made for myself to expand to my portfolio site. At the time I was perusing web design and needed to add something to my experience. OhSo was my first crack at a wordpress site. Since I needed content to fill the pages, I naturally used BMX. Over the past few years my interest in web design faded, and OhSo developed into more of my BMX portfolio. It is a good way for me to keep track of all of the edits I have worked on, and it’s an avenue for me to work on my creative projects. I try to keep my main portfolio relatively BMX free, but there defiantly are a few posts on there. Generally when I’m freelancing I feel most of my clients probably wouldn’t appreciate my BMX work. It's just a URL to attach to my resume.
Are you currently working on any projects? And where can we see more of your work?
Yeah, I have a few more projects in the works. I have been sitting on some footage that needs to be edited. I am planning to do a run of prints to give away to my buddies. I have also been working on a few product feature videos that should be coming out sometime soon. The idea of a photo book has been popping in my head lately. Something that tells a story that you can hold on to—nothing serious, just something to have fun with.