In the outdoor adventure sports world, it is difficult to come up with something new and different than what has been shot before. Hence, on a portfolio shoot earlier this year, I created the image you see above—an image of professional climber Dawn Glanc on some very steep terrain in the Ouray Ice Park just outside Ouray, Colorado. Having shot and climbed in the Ouray Ice Park numerous times before, I dreamed up this image long before I got to the location. I wanted to create an image that was different than any other ice climbing image anyone had seen before. To make this image stand out I used a strobe to light the climb and the climber from above. The Ouray ice park has two bridges that span the gorge and they are above the ice climbs, which helped to simplify the lighting setup dramatically.
The lighting setup for this image consisted of a battery-powered Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS battery pack and an Elinchrom Free Lite A flash head. I attached an Elinchrom High Performance Reflector (a.k.a. a sports reflector) to the flash head so that the light would be thrown a considerable distance since the flash head was about 80 feet above the climber. The flash was positioned on the bridge just above the climb and pointed straight down. To get the flash head over the railing on the bridge I used a 4 foot boom arm and 50-pounds of sand bags to stabilize the setup. I also had the entire flash setup tethered to the railing as a back up so that there was no chance of anything falling on the climber.
To capture the image I positioned myself on the opposite side of the canyon, about twenty feet above the climber. I was able to climb down to a ledge on the opposite wall to reach the shooting position. The image was shot at ISO 100 with a shutter speed of 1/40th second and an aperture of f/5.6. I used a tripod to stabilize the camera on the small ledge. The 1/40th second shutter speed was chosen so that there would be detail in the deep shadows behind the ice. The aperture was chosen to give me the correct exposure with the strobe. The flash exposure was gauged using the LCD preview on the back of the camera and also using the histogram.
Because I was shooting ice, I pushed the histogram as far to the right as possible without blowing out important highlights. I used a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, set at 40mm, to create this image. Also, I used the PocketWizard Flex system wireless transceivers to trigger the strobe from my position on the ledge. I was about 70-feet from the strobe and hung the transceiver over the railing so that there wasn’t any interference. I was also able to power the strobe up and down using the PocketWizard MiniTT1 transceiver mounted on my camera, which made it easy to adjust the power settings on the strobe without having to climb out of the gorge and hike over to the actual lighting setup.
In the post-production, I made only a few adjustments to the overall brightness, saturation and basic toning of the image. The image straight out of the camera looked very similar to the way it looks above. The look and feel of this image was created in camera and with the use of a strobe, not with any fancy post-processing. As you can see here, there was a lot of forethought and pre-production. Part of that was finding a climber like Dawn who was strong enough to climb the route. The climb itself was about 180 feet long and it was pretty much dead vertical or slightly overhanging for the entire length. The last tidbit was that we had to wait until the sun set behind the surrounding peaks so that the 1,100-Ws strobe had enough juice to overpower the ambient light. I shot sixty or so images in about fifteen minutes. This is the one image that seemed to work the best because to the lighting, composition and Dawn’s body position. - Michael Clark
Equipment and settings: Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G zoom lens, Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS battery pack, Elinchrom Free Lite A flash head, Elinchrom High Performance Reflector, PocketWizard MiniTT1 transmitter and Flex system wireless transceivers - 1/40th at f/5.6, ISO 100
If you would like to learn more about my work and about using artificial lighting in the outdoors, I have four books that I have written, which can be found on my website. In particular, I just finished an e-book a few months ago entitled Location Lighting for the Outdoor Photographer that discusses in depth how I use strobes, flashes and reflectors to light my images. I also produce a mini-magazine, the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter, which is available for download (for FREE) on my website. There are dozens of these Newsletters that you can download and each of them has stories behind the images, editorials, equipment reviews and much more. Basically there is a treasure trove of information on my website if you are looking to learn more about my work, get inspired or if you are looking take a workshop and improve your own photography. Check it out at www.michaelclarkphoto.com. You can see a larger version of this image in my Portfolio.