Michael Bou-Nacklie: Demolition Derby, Ohio State Fair

The Image

Michael Bou-Nacklie

Albany, Ohio

Time / Date:
7:46 PM / September, 12 2011

The Technical

Camera Body: Nikon D3s
Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S

Camera Settings:
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Aperture: f/4
ISO: 2000
Focal Length: 14mm

The Story


Shot during a photojournalism masters program at Ohio University I was looking for something that was quintessentially Midwestern and nothing says that more so than a Demolition Derby. Getting there later in the afternoon the sun started to set fairly quickly and as the competition heated up the air was thick with the smell of motor oil and dust. On the sidelines of these kinds of events there is a lot of mechanical work, and by that I mean a lot. Instead of shooting the competition which was really hard to see properly in an image I wanted to get something that showed the more hands-on approach of the prep work.

The Scene: 

James Coleman, from Alansville, works to sever the bumper to his demolition derby vehicle while Seth Callaway, from Shade, uses a bobcat to provide leverage as Michael Reeve, from Albany, holds a flashlight. James’ car had been in pretty severe crash, in context of a competition involving cars smashing into each other bumper car style. He was ejected from the hay bale lined arena after the back of his vehicle was completely mangled. In an effort to get back to regulation standards he was told by officials he had to get rid of essentially the entire back part of the vehicle. Despite what was going on directly behind me, it was a calm scene, moments earlier James’ father was hammering away at the parts with a sledge hammer to loosen what was holding the bits together


I knew the light would vanish fairly quickly so I stuck to my main primes of 50mm and 85mm. I used the 14-24mm as a hold over from my time as a press shooter, which was a pretty effective lens for covering my bases. But the primes weren’t cutting it in the situation. I needed something that would give me a wide-berth of view through the thick clouds of dirt drifting through the air.

Making the Shot:

Everyone was playing some sort of role. While one was using a tractor to give leverage to the husk of what used to be a trunk another was adding light via a flashlight while James was melting off bits of brutalized metal. I tried a multitude if angels and perspectives but this was the one that worked best. What I wanted to do was get closer to the sparks but I was loosing too much of what was happening for the emphasis of sparks flying over my head (while I was afraid my long hair at the time would catch fire).

Editing & Processing:

This photo is as shot outside of bringing it up a few exposure stops in Lightroom.

Looking Back: 

If I could go back and reshoot the image I would probably have tried to frame it more effectively using a shorter lens in order to layer it and make it more compact as a composition.


I’ve always enjoyed shooting the sidelines of sports more than the sports themselves. This is a good way for early photographers to get images that stand out from the crowd and are different from the nearly identical images taken at sporting events.


I shoot very different things, moving from commercial editorial work to photojournalism to architecture. Each have their own different values and masters. One of my favorite photographers is Irving Penn. The perfect simplicity and minimalist approach really gave you a no bullshit kind of feel to the work. By not getting caught up in any kind of pretentiousness you know exactly what’s going on, there’s a reason why he redefined fashion photography into art – beyond catalogue work of the time.  I try and bring that element of simplicity to my work across the different kinds of styles.


About the Photographer

I’m a freelance journalist focusing on stories related to culture and the permanence of the anthropological status quo currently based out of Washington D.C. I’m in the final stages of wrapping up a documentary project about the vanishing tribes on the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni border as globalization slowly helps to uproot fragile cultural communities in the oldest part of the Arabian Peninsula. I’ve spent the last 8 years working on stories in the Middle-East as a freelance journalist for various publications and corporate clients. Now my work focuses on US based story-telling as well creating video content for corporate clients as well as newspaper and magazine publications like USA Today.

Website: www.bou-nacklie.com
Blog: www.souppiemedia.blogspot.com
Twitter: @mbounacklie

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