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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Assignment Vietnam


A snapshot sparks an idea

I also packed an entire digital editing facility of two laptops and multiple external hard drives with backup power should the power on the boat die (which it did). Since we’d review and organize thousands of digital photos on computers during the shoot, I brought along my digital photo assistant, John Burcham. John is savvy about everything digital, and he’s also a climber and a veteran of many expeditions. Besides overseeing digital photo management, John worked as my climbing rigger. Other non-climbing members on this expedition included an art director, two producers, a Nikon technical advisor, a local logistics fixer, a translator who we discovered spoke excellent Vietnamese but little English and the boat captain and his crew of four. It was a small group given the job we set out to do in one week.

Typically on an expedition, especially a climbing trip to a foreign destination, I’d be concerned about traveling with a group that I had never traveled and worked with before. But this expedition had a specific goal, and Beth did an excellent job in unifying the team despite the daily stress of living on a rat-infested boat, eating greasy food and dealing with the unrelenting heat.

The photo that Nikon chose for the print ad was selected from thousands of photos I shot of Beth in dozens of situations during the week in Vietnam. The photo was simply one of the many remarkable moments on the trip and was captured through a process similar to my other documentary photo shoots.

Beth had spent an afternoon on the second day photographing Rolando and Brittany on a steeply overhanging tower. Early in the day, Rolando climbed the tower wall to check the quality of the steel bolts that decay rapidly in the ocean environment. When he started up the rope to perform the safety check, I was wading in the water below the climb scouting various photo angles. From the water, I saw Rolando swing 20 feet out from the belay on the rope and begin his ascent of the rope. I took a quick series of photos of Rolando. In reviewing the photo a short while later on my digital camera back, I knew that I could alter the composition slightly for a similar photo of Beth.

I knew that when Beth completed her shoot on this cliff, she’d rappel back to the belay and that would be the moment I could capture. But I’d have to wait until Beth completed her shoot with the climbers. In the meantime, I photographed Beth from many angles as she photographed Brittany and Rolando ascending the tower. With the climbing shoot over, Beth began her rappel back down the rope, and I had already positioned myself near the belay with Rolando in anticipation of Beth’s return to the belay. The sun angle had changed since I photographed Rolando, making Beth almost backlit by the sun. I called to John, who was standing in chest-deep water, to direct a LumiQuest reflector disc on Beth as she swung back to the belay. I had waited all day for this shot, and with the waiting over and my camera firing at 6 fps and John tracking Beth with the reflector, it was only a matter of proper composition to nail the shot for the ad.

Visit Bill Hatcher’s website at www.billhatcher.com.

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