Rocket7: Prelude

This is the story of a new pair of bike shoes, but it starts with the old shoes.

A few years ago, I was killing time in a local, family-owned bike shop (as one does), and I found myself in the corner where the closeout items were piled. I had been thinking about upgrading from my toe clips to shoes that click into the pedals, and there was a pair of Shimano’s at deep discount, in Euro size 42, which is as close to “my size” as you’re going to find. So I bought them.

It was a while later when I actually bought the pedals to match. I had done absolutely no research on the types of pedals and the shoes that match them, and purely by chance I had bought shoes that work with the SPD pedal system. SPD was developed for mountain bikers, and had two key features: muck tolerance and a sole built up around the cleat on the shoe, which makes walking around easier.

You’ve probably heard the clack-clack of a bicyclist walking in their bike shoes. That clack-clack is not only uncomfortable for the walker, it also contributes significant wear to the cleats on the bottom of the shoes.

So it turns out that although designed for mountain bikers, the SPD system is also ideal for commuters, where there is often an amount of walking around to do once the destination is reached, but before a good shoe-change opportunity.

A fine pair of shoes, looking good after thousands of miles

I have put thousands of miles on those shoes. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds; unless you are impressed by consistency – which is actually pretty impressive.) By the looks of them, with new laces and eventually new straps, they have a few thousand more miles on them easy.

I have come to dislike those shoes. However, as has been said in many a break-up, it’s not the shoes, it’s my feet.

When I ride too many hours in a month, my right foot starts to hurt. When I ride too many hours in a day, my left foot becomes very unhappy. With my fancy bike, longer rides are becoming more common and Lefty has had a few things to say about that.

My feet are different sizes, you see, and while the longer one is very wide, the smaller one is ridiculously wide. I didn’t take the above shoe picture with this in mind, but if you look at the left shoe above you can see that it is pushed out wider just past the strap. That’s where the ball of my foot lands in that shoe, way up on the meager arch support. That also means that the pad of my foot is behind the pedal, and I’m actually pushing the pedal with my toes. It is my toes that get pissed off after 40 miles.

My feet

You know how after you break up you can look back and remember the good times and still be glad that you’ve broken up? Today the new shoes arrived. After less than 15 miles it’s all over. The new shoes are sexy and comfy and made just for me. The next episode will be that story, but I wanted to create the setting first, and pay a little respect for a pair of shoes that have been with me through good times and bad.


New Toys!

Recently I did a shoot with Harlean (who is a fiction), and ended up cranking the ISO setting on my camera up to 1600 just to get shutter speeds in a reasonable range. That left her with some pretty tough cleanup in post production, and meant the pictures were not what they could have been. “That does it!” said I, “We’re gettin’ us some lights!”

After some research I chose Alien Bees for my new strobes. In (sometimes heated) discussions online the only concrete criticism light snobs could downgrade the Bees for was not costing enough. The day I’m good enough to say, “you know, I could really use better strobes,” will be a good day indeed. (Although, I once thought I would never need more camera than the one I have now, and guess what? I think I’ve actually reached the stage where I would get better pictures with a better camera. No one is more surprised by that than I am.)


My new Alien Bees, ready for work.

Anyway, the lights arrived today and I made a shambles of the living room unpacking boxes and setting things up. Pretty slick, huh? I’ll still be looking at accessories — first step, CTO gels to mix better with the ambient light, then maybe a softbox or two. We’ll see. There’s more than enough to keep me busy as it is.

Naturally, I wanted to get to work taking pictures right away, but it would not be fair to ask a human to sit through hundreds of experimental shots while I fiddle around with lights in the “lets see what this will do” mode. I asked my sweetie if I could borrow some shoes to shoot. She has a few pair kicking around. I figured shoes were interesting, and had an architectural quality. I wanted to see if I could capture the curves and forms with well-placed light.


Still life with high heels.

I wasn’t very specific about what sort of shoes, but she came through with four shoes that each presented different lighting challenges. One high-contrast, another very shiny, and so forth.

I took a lot of pictures of shoes, at different angles and with different backgrounds. In some cases, the background was lit better than the shoe, in others, some details of the shoe were lost. In many you can see my reflection in the leather, not just the reflection of the lights (which is problem enough).

Note that I didn’t spend a lot of time choosing the photos to go in this episode — they’re decent examples but not necessarily the “best” — whatever that means. Each of these has something I like, however.

It became apparent pretty quickly that having lots of light is useless if you can’t control it. I knew this intellectually already, but there’s nothing like getting down there in the trenches to bring the lesson home.

more shoes!

Another still life with shoes.

I also got some fun serendipity along the way, like light reflecting off the lining of one shoe creating a great highlight in the heel of another.

I got a bit worried after a while, that I couldn’t turn the lights down enough to let me open the aperture to limit my depth of field. Now, there was a problem I didn’t anticipate. It turns out, as I was reviewing the photos to post here, I realized that my camera was still set to ISO 1600 from the other day. Tomorrow when set the speed down to a safe and sane 100, I’ll get much richer pictures and a lot more options for exposure. So, while these pictures have their flaws, I’m really excited about how my pictures will look after a few thousand more practice shots. Woo hoo!