The story behind Lorenz Holder's architectural action photograph

Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder reveals how he captured a skateboarder in action under a geometric viaduct, creating a striking example of his signature architecture images containing action sports.
A skateboarder performing a fakie kickflip inside the curved brickwork structure of a viaduct, framed so that the brickwork repeats recursively into the distance.

"Fine art action sport photographer" Lorenz Holder had long dreamed about photographing a skateboarder in this red brick viaduct. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 110mm, 1/800 sec, f/8 and ISO2500. © Lorenz Holder

"I'm not a typical action sport photographer – I'd say I'm a fine art action sport photographer," says Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder. "Somebody once asked me what the perfect action sport photo is. For me, it's an image that people would put on their wall even if the athlete was not in it. If you create a great surrounding and manage to get an athlete in there as well, then in my opinion this is the perfect action shot."

Lorenz is well-known for taking the crisp lines and poetic scenes of architecture and landscape, and adding the drama of action sport. His portfolio is bursting with spectacle – shots of skateboarders landing tricks in the middle of picturesque lakes, BMX riders balancing precariously on sculptural buildings, snowboarders leaping above crisp white mountain peaks and more. His fresh style has impressed commercial clients including sportswear brands and car manufacturers and led to interesting projects around the world.

When he stumbled across an image of a viaduct online – complete with concentric shapes that appear like an optical illusion – his interest was immediately piqued. "It just blew my mind because it was so surreal and seemed almost manipulated. When you look at it for a couple of seconds, then you understand what's going on. It got stuck in my head and I knew I had to shoot something there."

The bridge supports of the Balcombe Viaduct in West Sussex, England, are shaped like small halfpipes – it seemed like the perfect spot for a skateboarder to ride. With the sun lower in the sky, Lorenz anticipated that the sun would illuminate one side of the arches, creating a striking pattern. "I looked for angles and made layouts of the way I imagined the shots," says Lorenz. "Most of the time I already have the shot that I want to create in my head. The cameras and lenses are the tools with which to put all the puzzle pieces together."

With the help of leading German street skateboarder and Red Bull Athlete Vladik Scholz, a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM), Lorenz set about realising the picture he had in his head.

Two challenges

Two years after seeing an image of the viaduct for the first time, Lorenz travelled to England. "We had two challenges," Lorenz says. "The first was whether the arches were rideable. The second was technical: I wanted to have the arches in focus, so I had to use a large aperture. We're shooting action sports, so I needed a fast shutter speed as well. When you have a large aperture and fast shutter speed, you have to push up the ISO. It was a thin line between grain, depth of field and shutter speed." He had two days, but only one shot he really wanted to walk away with.

In his kitbag was his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, with both a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens to capture action across the entire depth of the viaduct at a range of focal lengths.

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"The 70-200mm is always in my bag and it's a great go-to lens for every action sport photographer. I've had this lens for 10 years and it still works perfectly – it's a masterpiece," the German photographer says. "The 200-400mm was in case I got a shot through all the arches, 400m away, and needed a really long lens with an aperture of f/4 to get enough light in there. Then I had the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV because of its great ISO performance and big dynamic range."

Skateboarder Vladik Scholz looks up at Balcombe viaduct.

Top German skateboarder Vladik Scholz was the impressive subject of Lorenz's action shoot. © Dan Lightening

A skateboarder leans against the curved wall of a viaduct base.

When the sunlight hit the pillars of the viaduct at the right angle, it created a striking geometric effect. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 125mm, 1/500 sec, f/9 and ISO200. © Lorenz Holder

As the pair got to work, the slopes proved to be harder to skate on than expected, even for Germany's best street skateboarder. With just a narrow space to play with, the pair weren't sure that Vladik could skate the transition, but getting to grips with the unusual location he started to gain confidence and to add in tricks, too. Meanwhile Lorenz, who prefers not to shoot in burst mode, had to time his reactions precisely to capture movement in a single click.

Lorenz wanted natural light to illuminate the left curves of the viaduct's lower arches, highlighting its symmetry, which meant waiting for the sun to fall and capturing 'the shot' within the small window before it fell too far. When the light initially proved to be too harsh, he experimented with positioning his subject skating at the far end of the viaduct, shooting with his Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens. "With a tele lens, you crush down the depth of field, compressing the arches, which gives a surreal feeling to the image," he says, explaining his choice of telephoto lenses.

As the light softened, Lorenz's vision for the image started to crystallise. With Vladik now wearing a red sweatshirt to 'pop' against the background, Lorenz changed to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.

A black and white image shows underneath the viaduct, with a white silhouette figure skateboarding down one side of a wall.

Lorenz's planning image shows the vision he had before the shoot. But his final image is even more dynamic, with Vladik's skateboarding tricks perfectly captured. © Lorenz Holder

A skateboarder performing a fakie kickflip inside the curved brickwork structure of a viaduct, framed so that the brickwork repeats recursively into the distance.

Lorenz says that a perfect action shot for him is "an image that people would put on their wall even if the athlete was not in it." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 110mm, 1/800 sec, f/8 and ISO2500. © Lorenz Holder

Getting 'the shot'

"When I saw the light in that tunnel, with tiny shadows on each arch, and then Vladik doing his trick there, it was an amazing feeling," says Lorenz. "I knew this was the shot because the trick was so on point and the light was perfect, with slight beams coming from the sides. I thought about whether we could do anything better – any other position, any other light – but I saw the picture and knew that was it."

Taken at 1/800 sec, f/8 and ISO2500, Lorenz's image captures Vladik's dynamic kick-flip against the sunlit arches. "I think we pretty much got everything on point – the rider is sharp, the depth of field is good and the grain is totally acceptable. I was using the 70-200mm, because it's my favourite lens. Here I used 110mm, which was just the right focal length for this kind of framing. With the aperture at f/8, I got enough depth of field to get all the arches in focus, and the trick is kept sharp with the fast shutter speed.

A snowboarder high in the air in foggy conditions, eerily lit from behind the crest of a hill.

Adrenaline-fuelled landscapes

Get to know Canon Ambassador and Redline Challenge mentor Lorenz Holder and find out more about how he fuses landscapes and action in a striking and original way.

"My goal is always to use my camera to create the picture that I have in mind, but it's still a game of luck in a way. I'm more than happy with how everything came together and that we finally got the picture that I had in my mind for such a long time."

Photographer Lorenz Holder and skateboarder Vladik Scholz look up at the Balcombe viaduct.

Lorenz says that even though he finally got the shot he had been dreaming of in the viaduct, he won't stop dreaming of new pictures. © Dan Lightening

Technical advances make capturing images like this possible, says Lorenz. "Even a couple of years ago, you couldn't take an image like this. If you pushed up the ISO, you got so much grain in the picture that it didn't look good. You cannot light a viaduct, so you'd probably need to sacrifice on the depth of field.

"What I really like about the the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is the incredible dynamic range that it offers. We had really hard sunlight on the left side of the image, but also pretty black shadows at the darker ridges, and I was able to recover pretty much all of the details from the bricks. We had to push up the ISO and the results are mind-blowing – there's almost no grain on it."

And with cameras like the Canon EOS R6 and EOS R5 also available to him, even more is becoming possible. "When I look through a camera with a mirror, I see the real world, but when I look through an EOS R System viewfinder it can be brighter than the real world," Lorenz says. "That means you can see more in the dark. You see the composition better and focusing is easier. That is a major step-up, being able to see in the dark without lighting everything up.

"I never normally use autofocus when shooting action sport because I know where the athlete is going to be, so I always pre-focus at that point. It's tricky when I don't know where the athlete is going to be, but with the EOS R6 or EOS R5's autofocus system, I can select my framing and be 100% sure that the athlete is sharp. I totally trust it."

While Lorenz realised his vision with this image, his mission to push photographic boundaries continues. "I'm always in search of the perfect picture. Sometimes I can't sleep at night when I'm thinking of pictures. It's what drives me – I guess it's a never-ending story."

Lucy Fulford

Lorenz Holder's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Photographer Lorenz Holder and skateboarder Vladik Scholz beside the base of a viaduct.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "I had the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV because of its great ISO performance and big dynamic range," says Lorenz.

Canon EOS R5

Re-think what you know about mirrorless cameras. The uncompromising performance of the EOS R5 will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking. Lorenz says: "As an action photographer, those fast frame rates are ideal for me."


Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to Lorenz's favourite lens is a fast-aperture telephoto zoom that's engineered to perform in even the most challenging conditions. Lorenz says: "It gives a lot of flexibility. 70mm is pretty wide for me, and the 200mm end gives a great compression of perspective for landscapes."

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