Ben Franke is a New York-based German/American photographer, whose work focuses on movement across a range of athletic disciplines. Since 2008, Franke has been photographing parkour athletes, and began his ongoing series Parkour Motion in 2012. With this series, he aims to capture the energy and power of parkour athletes’ movements in a single still image. In the past year his work has appeared in The New York Times and was chosen for American Photography 30 and AP 31 editions. Below he talks about his recent use of the new Leica SL.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: My photography focuses on parkour and movement. My aim when shooting is to capture the motion and energy that I see in front of me in a single still frame.
Q: Can you provide some background information on these images? How would you characterize the images in this portfolio? What did you set out to achieve?
A: The images from this portfolio set out to capture parkour and movement in New York City. I shot some images in the same style as my project Parkour Motion, and I also shot during the day to find out what the Leica SL was capable of doing.
Q: You’ve been shooting parkour athletes for several years now. How did you get involved with this subject? And can you share with our readers more about parkour athletes for those who don’t know who they are?
A: I have been shooting parkour since 2008. Like many, I was first introduced to parkour through videos on YouTube. Soon I wanted to see the movement for myself and document what they were doing. Parkour is a sport moving from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible. It is a sport where you use your surroundings in a very creative and expressive way. These athletes train year round and some do it professionally, working in film production as stunt people, as well as doing performances and other commercial work.
Q: How has your photography evolved in shooting them over the past three years?
A: My photography continuously evolves as I always work to capture parkour in a new and creative way. I had seen it photographed before but never in a way that showed the movement similarly to video where you see the energy and power of the movement. Before this I experimented with composites, as well as shooting parkour with an old 3-D camera.

Q: There’s a ton of movement in the images. What is the white powder used? Can you tell us more about the decision to use this and how you achieved these shots? What was the inspiration behind it? Would you call this a signature look of some of your motion work?
A: The white powder is regular baking flour from the grocery store. My inspiration came from similar shots I had seen done with dancers in a studio, as well as the Holi Festival where colored powder is thrown. I wanted to apply that idea to parkour and shoot it outdoors, since parkour generally takes place in an outdoor environment. I suppose you could call this my signature look.
Q: How did you go about picking the locations for these shots? The locations seem to bring an added character to the images, would you agree?
A: The locations are a mix of places that I seek out and want to shoot, as well as spots that the athletes suggest. The location definitely adds character to the images, so finding a great location is important. Thankfully, New York City has plenty — and I’m always on the lookout for new places to shoot.

Q: Where was he jumping to in this image? How many takes were you able to do with these athletes? And was anyone worried about the danger … or is this routine for this crew?
A: In this image, the athlete was jumping to a concrete platform you see on the bottom right of the image. For jumps like this, I try and limit the number of takes since there is some risk of injury involved and it can take a lot of energy from the athlete. The high-speed ability of the Leica actually was so beneficial for this shot, since it let me capture the image in fewer takes. As for any worry, the athletes are supremely confident in what they execute, as they train hard to be able to do things like this. One athlete that I feature, Tarzan Cruz, saw the shot on camera and he was so excited about how it looked that he wanted to do the jump a few more times.

Q: Can you tell us how you captured this shot? Is it two shots combined in post-production? If it’s one shot, can you tell us about how you achieved it?
A: This image all came down to timing. Nothing was composited together, so it’s all in camera. I’d much prefer to get the shot in camera than relying on post to make it work. An image like this happens through collaboration with the people in the shot. Before we got together we spoke about the vision I had in mind, and once we got on location we simply had to work on the timing so that the athlete flipping would be right over the bike for the picture. I think we did three or four takes of this shot before we nailed it.
Q: What draws you to shooting motion images?
A: I enjoy the creativity of movement and the expression of the athletes. I was, and still am, always impressed by their creativity that they express through their movements, as well as the movements and body control that they are capable of doing. I’m also drawn to the collaborative nature of shooting this kind of work. I can choose a location, but then the specific movement that’s done can be up to the athlete and I work to capture it in a way that does all of the elements justice.
Q: Can you tell us your different approaches to lighting for the night shots vs. the days shots?
A: In the day shots, I’m shooting all natural light so the lighting is determined by the time of day. I generally like backlit images, as it gives the person some separation from the background and the lighting is typically more dynamic. The night shoots are all shot with strobes, so a bit more planning is involved in each shot, as equipment is set up, which in turn limits mobility.

Q: You were one of the first people to test the new Leica SL and these images were all shot with this camera. Can you provide us your first impressions of the camera?
A: I was very impressed with the new Leica SL. I loved the minimal design of the camera and how solid the camera felt. It took me only a short while to get used to the menu and layout of the camera and was shooting with it soon after receiving it.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: Leica cameras and lenses are known as some of the best in the world. I was thrilled to be approached by the brand for the launch of the SL.
Q: Are there any particular technical specifications that especially stood out to you while using the Leica SL?
A: There were many technical specifications that were standouts for me, including the number of frames that could be captured in a row, as well as the speed of the autofocus. I was also impressed by the EVF. I didn’t have much experience with a mirrorless camera before the SL, and its responsiveness was remarkable.
Q: What did you like best about the Leica SL?
A: The image quality was really impressive. The sharpness was outstanding and the autofocus worked well, even at night when the lighting isn’t the best. Also, I really liked the minimal design of the camera.
Q: Did you use any of the SL’s video capabilities? If so, what did you think?
A: I briefly tested the SL’s video capabilities and was impressed by what I saw. It’s something that I would love to test out more in the future.
Q: Do you see yourself using the Leica SL in your future work?
A: I would love to continue shooting with the SL for future work. The images were incredibly sharp and the camera never missed a beat. It’s a great tool for creating new images.
Q: What lens or lenses did you use and why?
A: I used the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4. It was the lens that was available to test and was perfect for the focal lengths I need.

Q: These athletes are jumping around and constantly moving. What photographic challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
A: The challenge I face when shooting parkour is to ensure that I capture the image I want at the exact right moment while making sure it’s technically sound. My shoots happen quickly, so knowing that the gear I’m shooting with can keep up is important.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your images?
A: I hope that people will be inspired by the work. My goal is to have people explore the cities they are in, look at movement in a different way, and reconsider what the human body is capable of doing.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: My approach to photography is to work on things that interest me and to continuously push my boundaries to produce stronger work.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
A: I’m continuing my work with Parkour Motion. In the next few months, I’ll be traveling to shoot athletes around the country, including Los Angeles and Miami.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A: To your readers, remember to always be pushing yourself to create new, and more challenging work. Step outside of your comfort zone and work to grow as a photographer and artist.
Thank you for your time, Ben!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Ben on his website, Instagram and Facebook