Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Using small LED lights, you can create some impressive backcountry night photographs
I scouted Agamemnon in daylight well before Webster was in position. I did this so I could ascertain the best position for shooting, as well as to consider my photo framing and lens choice. I also took this time to assess the safety issues for the shoot. In my position, in the back of the chimney, there was rockfall danger to the climbers below so I would need to climb into position carefully, and to avoid a safety line from knocking a rock loose, I used no rope. For my lighting assistant, I rigged a couple of safety ropes on the cliff edge above and also rehearsed the lighting strategy. For the shoot, we'd be working in pitch-dark so the more setup and planning ahead of time, the better.
The climbers started up the climb after sunset, and it was pitch-dark when Jordan was in climbing position for this photo. Before opening the shutter, I instructed Jordan on how to direct his headlamp, then had him freeze into a position during the exposure. The exposure for this photo was 25 seconds, and the aperture was ƒ/4; to make sure I got the light from the stars, I set the ISO to 640. I prefocused on the climber's headlamp and kept the focus on manual since in the darkness the autofocus wouldn't work. Using a 16-24mm lens set at 16mm gave me decent depth of field on my Nikon D800 DSLR. My light person above was using an 80-lumen Petzl headlight filtered with a full CTO orange filter; the warm light matched the beautiful orange sandstone of Mount Arapiles. During the exposure, I talked my light person through painting the scene—first, lighting the climber for a few seconds, and then, with slow vertical movements, sweeping the left walls and then the right arête with light. After the exposure was done, everyone could relax while I waited for the camera's processor to move the image to the camera's CF card. I reviewed the image to check for overall sharpness, blurring of the climber and the light exposure. In all, I made about eight exposures with the climber being photographed in different sections of the climb.
The technique of light painting is a simple way to expand on your backcountry photography. It takes some getting use to working in the dark and a willingness to commit to plenty of trial and error.
To see more of Bill Hatcher's photography, visit www.billhatcher.com.
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