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  • Black Shadow

    Im thrilled that this image recently won the New Zealand Alpine Club NZAC rock climbing photography competition!  https://alpineclub.org.nz/photo-competition/nzac-photographic-competiton-2017-winners/

    I spent 7 days trying this project - initially working the problem at different times of the day, before realising that to get the best conditions i had to be there, warm and ready to climb before the sun even hit the boulder. Id warm up at camp and head out for a morning ritual of trying the problem, watching the sun rise and enjoying the amazing atmsphere that feels unique to rocklands. 

    I shot similar images over days working the problem, and each night id look at the images, critique the flash and camera settings and positioning, and finally settled on this shot from my final day in Rocklands. So happy how it worked out, even if i didnt complete the climb this trip! Looking forward to heading back next year!  

    L

  • Hueco Tanks + Brenizer method

    Maria Rubinchik sending Baby Martini V6 in Hueco Tanks

    After heavily utilising off-camera flash on last years Rocklands climbing trip, I was keen to try some different techniques on this trip to Hueco Tanks, in Texas. I remember really enjoying shooting with the 50mm f1.4mm @ f1.4, but have always felt like the 50mm was a little too long for many shots I wanted to take. I tried the amazing Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art, and was completely sold with its field of view, sharpness and bokeh... but then I read about the Brenzier method, or 'bokeh panorama'.

    Images like this inspired me to investigate further... http://ryanbrenizer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/samplesstoryboard001.jpg

    It struck me that the surreal rendering of the surrounding environment, and the razor focus could be a visual representation of the climbing experience: that intense focus on the rock, and the climbing moves, while the world around you fades into a haze. 

    The method is simple in theory - using a longer prime lens, you shoot a series of overlapping shallow depth-of-field images, then stitch them using phtoshop. The result is a wide-angle image, with a shallower depth of field than any currently available wide-angle prime could create; a standard 50mm lens could theoretically create the equivelant of a 35mm f0.4 lens.  From a web search it seemed the method was predominantly used for wedding photography, but i couldnt see any reason it wouldnt work for climbing photography. The trick would be the shoot the climber - who would undoubtedly be moving - in a single frame, then fill in the surrounding area with overlapping shots.

    The above shot was a 24 shot stitch after several failed attempts - either mis-focused, or with gaps betweeen my overlapping images (its harder than I imagined). I was also lucky enough to get the shot just as the climber - Maria Rubinchik - linked the last big moves to complete the climb!

    So psyched for her send, and this new technique! More to come...

  • Alquezar

    Yesterday I went to the town of Alquezar on recommendation from some friends. From the spanish info boards I gathered the town and obligitory hilltop castle was built by the Moors in the 8th century. It was then captured by the invading Europeans around 1100 and a church built right in the middle of the castle!

    Heres some shots from a walkabout around the town, which looks to have been carefully restored and expanded with some recent construction in between the ancient structures.

    From inside the hilltop church...

    Some of the church detailing was pretty cool - heres a sample....

  • Climbing diet comparison - Foods and Macronutrients

    Above: My supermarket shop for the period, and includes everything I will be eating! Yes, thats 1kg of Salmon! 

    Have now had two days climbing on my 10 day Ketogenic phase and feeling good. I will do a climbing-performance anlysis at the end of this phase, but I thought id start by publishing my daily Macronutrient breakdown: My current Keto diet, and what I was eating two weeks ago on a more 'balanced' diet. Ok, so the Keto diet to start with - Im working on delicious, but somewhat repetetitive daily diet with my macros carefully calculated as:

    • 2180 kcal Daily TOTAL Calorie Intake
    • 31 g Carbohydrates (6%, 124 kcal)
    • 109 g Protein (20%, 436 kcal)
    • 180 g Fat (74%, 1620 kcal)

    Ive worked this out based on a philosophy that my body knows how much I need, so I eat untill I feel satisfied - which is not a lot of food when you are eating fats! This seems to work for me on a relatively high-exercise lifestyle here in Spain - if i was at home sitting down at work all day it would prob be too much.

    Fat Saturated fat Carbs (incl fiber) Protein

    Breakfast

    3 eggs 15 4.5 1.7 18
    3 strips of bacon (55g) 16 6 0 7
    25g butter 20 13.7 1 0
    1/2 avocado 10 1.6 6 1.5
    2 coffee 200ml 6 5 7 6
    Breakfast total: 67 30.8 15.7 32.5

    Lunch

    Block of cheese -1/4 block 80g 30 22.4 18.4
    Chorizo stick - 1/4 stick (70g) 24.5 9 17.5
    Lunch Total: 54.5 31.4 35.9

    Dinner

    1 Salmon Steak 180g 22 4 0 39
    Cabbage sliced and steamed Handful (50g) 0 0 3 0.6
    Broccholi handful 0 6
    Spinach Handful 3
    25g butter 20 13.7 1 0
    Greek yoghurt - 1 tub 12.5 8.1 5.4 5.1
    Dinner Total: 54.5 25.8 18.4 44.7
    Keto Diet Totals Fat 176g Sat. Fat 88g Carbs 34.1g Protein 113.1g

    On this diet my Ketostick reading is at least 1.5g/mmol or greater and I feel good - never hungry or craving sugar.

    Now my previous Carb diet.

    I had never calculated this before this mornings rather dull exel-spreadsheet session, so the results were surprising to me. I did have a feeling that my bodies ability to judge how much it needed to eat was far less accurate - or just broken - when it came to carbs. I loved bread/rice/pasta, and could eat these untill physically uncomfortably full without my body ever signally that it had enough! For this daily intake breakdown ive assumed a typical days food with reserved eating. I would often crave chocolate after dinner, but didnt not include this here. If anything my intakes are likely higher than this...

    • 2729 kcal Daily Calorie Intake
    • 241 g Carbohydrates (35%, 964 kcal)
    • 115 g Protein (17%, 460 kcal)
    • 145 g Fat (48%, 1305 kcal)

    Breakfast

    2 coffees (200ml milk) 6 5 7 6
    Porridge oats 3/4 cup 3.5 0.7 30 7
    milk 100ml 3.6 2.4 4.5 3
    1 mdeium banana 0 0 27 1
    Breakfast total 13.1 8.1 68.5 17

    Lunch

    French Bagutte (half 250g loaf) 2.5 70 15
    Cheese (emmental 60g) 17.4 11.4 0 16
    Salami 6 slices 60g 17 7 2 13
    1/2 avocado 10 1.6 6 1.5
    Handful fresh figs 200g 0 0 40 2
    Lunch Total 46.9 20 118 47.5

    Dinner

    Tuna x 2 small cans 55 8 1.5 34.5
    Broccoli - handful 0 6
    2 eggs 10 3.5 1 12
    White rice 1 cup when cooked 0 0 45 4
    25g butter spread over the day 20 13.7 1 0
    Dinner Total 85 25.2 54.5 50.5
    Daily Totals: Fat 145g Sat. Fat 53.3g  Carbs 241g Protein 115g

    So what does all this mean? Well, my total energy intake is significantly higher on the 'balanced' diet - despite the fact that I typically felt more hungry on it, and craved more foods and sugars!? Interestingly my protein intakes on both diets are almost identical. The fat content in my balanced diet is surprisingly high - im not sure if this was a particularly high-fat day, or its something I need to address if i go back to it!

    Ok, well thats out of the way.. time to go put the Keto diet to the test with some climbing!

  • Ketogenic Vs Glycolytic diets for maximum Sport Climbing performance.

    This is a totally different post from my usual stuff... This ones about Diet, and specifically, comparing the performance of the Keto (fat based) Diet vs the Glycolytic (Carb/Sugar based) diet for Sport climbing. After using both diets for some time recently, im keen to try and compare them - climbing perfomance wise - for me personally...

    To do this I would need some kind of quantative measure of performance - Helpfully, rock climbing has a number-based system reflecting the climbs difficulty, so this should be relatively simple. I would also need access to the same type of climbs over an extended period to make the comparision on different diets...

    Luckily, Im currently sport climbing full-time in northern Spain (Rodellar) and have been climbing here for about 2 weeks, with at least 3 more to go. Up to now ive been running on a relatively standard 'food pyramid' diet with at least 100g+ of Carbs, fruit and some meats - but no processed sugars (lollies, soft drinks, etc).

    Ive been climbing pretty well - close to my limit - and my energy levels have been good - but I feel constantly bloated and full, even when im hungry and ready to eat again. Im certainly heavier and fatter than when ive previously been on a stable Keto diet and its my feeling that being lighter and leaner could have a dramatic effect on my climbing performance - particularly here where climbs are long and sustained - assuming my energy levels stay the same...

    This is really the key question - previous studies show that the Keto diet is likely to be detrimental to your bodies ballistic power (less glucose immediately available for ATP-CP production, as i understand it), but benificial in slower burn endurance type activities. Articles in major climbing publications such as this one titled "Dont be a Carb hater" on climbing.com suggest that the keto diet should NOT be benificial for sport climbing - http://www.climbing.com/skill/climbing-nutrition-dont-be-a-carb-hater/

    So, the aim of this little personal experiment will be to find out if a Keto diet can sustain my current climbing performance, or even help improve it?

    From previous experience Ive found it takes several days for my body to get fat adapted - at least measuring with Ketosticks - so I will do the transition over a 4 day rest trip away from climbing, then come back and see how things go...

    To make this comparison slightly more meaningful I will try and do a full Intake comparison over the next week... but to start with Im going to post this to get my 'project' underway, and go shop for a week of Keto eating!

    Sections to add over the next few weeks:

    Glycolytic Diet - Typical daily meals and Macro intakes on my previous weeks + Climbing Performance - grades during the time

    Keto Diet - Typical daily meals and Macro intakes on my previous weeks + Climbing Performance - grades during the time

  • Hiking to the abandoned town of Odin...

    For a recent rest day trip in between climbing days I decided to go explore further up the valley where id heard about a supposidly abandoned town - sounds interesting huh?! The path there was apparently an ancient trade route to France and climbed steeply from the valley up onto an open plateau of rolling hills dotted with Oaks and stunted pine trees. At one point I heard a strange whistling sound that quickly became a roar like a loud waterfall - turning to try and work out what the startling noise was, I looked up to see a huge eagle with wings semi-furled in a steep dive! It cruised right over me and continued off down the valley, evidentally on a mission...

    After several hours of hiking I came across the first buildings, and shortly after a 'main street', complete with cobbles and quaint little houses, all in a state of serious disrepair. Brambles covered with blackberries covered the walls low, and a quince tree out the front was overloaded with huge fruit.

    Exploring inside one of the houses I was surprised to find a relatively recent date of construction carved into the pillar - 1919 - and a load of junk suggesting it was occupied for some time later.

    An old barn on the verge of the town. Would make an awesome contemporary loft/studio conversion with a bit of work!

    A Walnut tree crusing the back wall of what was once the town bar...

    As I hiked further up the valley, snacking on the fruit that grew seemingly everywhere, the houses seemed to get older, with some dating back to the 1700's. It occured to me that old towns all had amazing churches - usually on a hilltop - but there was none here to be seen. Picking a likely forested hill I headed off up a path in hope of finding something...

    To my great excitement, the path emerged near the top of the hill on the verge of a semi-collapsed church!

    Inside the main hall the ceiling was painted in a way ive never seen before... (though to be fair i dont visit many northern spanish churches)

    The highlight was inside the tower - which you could access by climbing up through the pile of collapsed wooden beams that once formed the floors of the tower. The sunlight angled through the windows, and the lighting effect was so geometric and awesome...

    The hike back - down a different route was equally as impressive - with the vista at the start of this post, and heaps of huge rock towers, some at least 100m high!

    I hope you enjoyed the journey!

  • Last Day in Paradise

    Ill never forget the first images of Rocklands I saw in a climbing film many years ago: these lines of chalked holds up surreal orange boulders, streaked with black and set in a vast landscape of rocky spires and seemingly infinite boulder fields. When I asked climbers about the place they would refer to it with a kind of sacred reverence, recalling problems with names that hinted at some deep attachment to the place: 'Last Day in Paradise' and 'Tomorrow I will be gone' among many others.

    Now, as im leaving Rocklands after 5 weeks here, I can empathize with those climbers and first ascentionists... Its quite possibly the best bouldering in the world, centered in a landscape that cannot fail to inspire, and for a narrow seasonal window it becomes an amphitheatre for climbers from all cultures and countries to come together and sharing their common passion.

    This was my last shot from an evening session up above the campground... A warm, almost tropical evening with stormy cumulus drifting by, while a climber works the huge moves on El Corazon 8b - 'The Heart'.

  • Dealing with Elbow Tendonitis

    I thought id talk about something a bit different for todays post - Elbow Tendonitis: something ive suffered from on almost every bouldering trip for 10 years. Its routine reaccurance - and the subsequent fear of it - stopped me climbing at Castle Hill, New Zealands best bouldering location, and has typically ended trips when it crops up.  I should point out that Im not a medical practitioner: im just a boulderer keen to share my recent revelation about fixing this fustrating and pain problem!

    My particular type of tendonitis is highlighted in the photograph above and it seems to be bought on by any prolonged session pressing down on slopers with a bent arm (mantles = instant tendonitis for me) - hence my problem at Castle hill!

    The first time It occured I took the advice of my Physio and stopped climbing for close to a month, did the prescribed stretches and started doing exercises to balance out my climbers shoulders. By the time I was done with the 'treatment' I was back climbing in the gym without pain and it appeared it was fixed  ...only to crop back up on my next trip to Castle Hill or anywhere else with lots of slopers.

    This happened again and again untill I just wrote off Castle Hill as a possible climbing destination, and fled from any problem with the hint of a sloper-press in it!

    Fast foward 7 years of this behaviour and im in Rocklands at the start of a 4 months climbing world tour, and not a week in im trying a compression arete line and bam, my elbow pain flares up in both arms!

    There can hardly be a better motivation to fix a problem than being in the worlds premier bouldering location and unable to climb anything, so I spent days reading and trying techniques, right from the morning the pain started. Within a few days I was back climbing non-sloper climbs, and three weeks later I was projecting the climb that broke me with no pain whatsoever...

    Its hard to describe the revelation I felt: and the solution was so simple and the results so profound i felt i had to share it.

    1. While its still painful, draw around the affected area: This is important as once the pain subsides its easy to forget where it actually hurt, which is key in knowing the correct rehab.
    2. Take a big ice cube and massage the whole thing into the affected area untill its completely melted. Repeat at least 3 times a day for the first few days, while avoiding climbing anything with slopers. This will help reduce inflammation and as the pain subides additional pressure can be appliued to massage the tendon.
    3. Rehab. The ironic thing about treating tendonitis is that instead of stopping doing the climb or move that broke you, you actually train FOR it, with one key point - you do it eccentrically, with muscles expanding instead of contracting. For my particular bicep tendonitis, this ment taking a 5L water bottle in my hand, raising it up with both hands into a bicep curl with my palm turned down (the position your hand would be pressing down a sloper) and slowly lowering it over 10 seconds. Lift with both hands and repeat. After a session of 10 drops use step 2 to remove any inflammation you may have caused. Repeat as often as you can...
    4. Once this became too easy and not painful (after a few days for me) I moved to some wide, round roof beams that closely mimicked the holds on the climb that broke me, and started doing slow drop-downs over 10 seconds. This became my twice daily routine, and simultaneously developed the strength for the climb, while mysteriously fixing the tendon inflammation.

    This rehab worked really well for my particular bicep tendonitis - if your pain is in the forearm (tennis or golfers elbow) a different exercise is called for, but still done eccentrically. I havent suffered from this type, but from my understanding it can be treated in a similar way using a hammer, or heavy frying pan held at arms length and rotated down in order to stretch and strengthen the affected tendons.

    A climber I met a few days ago also told me of a treatment for outer forearm tendonitis (tennis elbow)  that apparently fixed his: Lie on your front with both hands palm down underneath you. Lift your head softly and you should feel the stretch down your forearm.

    Hopefully this info will help somebody - and if nothing else its a record for me to refer to if it ever comes back! Now im back pressing slopers with no issues, and who knows, I might even go back to Castle Hill again one day.

    L

  • Photo Challenge Two

    For this challenge I was shooting Sheffield based climber Charlotte Garden on one of her projects 'Caroline' 7c+ / V10 up at the Roadside area. The line itself is absolutely stunning, with rock that looks like a giant lizards skin, but it's located in a dark, cramped little alcove surrounded by a mass of tree trunks.

    From the lesson I learned in my previous blog post, I identified two things that made the line unique:

    • The rock texture: vertical cracks with tiny holds
    • The amazing overhanging nature of the face

    I experimented with looking down on the line, to highlight the long cracks, but this did nothing to show how steep and hard the line is: it could well have been a flat slab.

    After a few shots I decided that the angle of the slab was to be the focus, but I also wanted to position the flash to highlight the rock texture. Lacking a lightstand, the only solution I could find was to gorillapod the flash around a brach on a nearby tree, and have it angled down onto the wall!

    WIth this high angle and the flash zoomed right in, I could illuminate Charlottes face, and have the base of the high wall vanish into darkness. What do you guys think?

  • Photo Challenge!

    Ive spent the past two weeks inventing fun ways to pass time while unable to climb - due to injury - in one of the worlds top climbing locations. One of the most rewarding came from a challenge from an Austrian climber who, after seeing my photos of several proud, iconic boulders said he bet I couldnt get a good photo of his project, which he described as a low, dark roof with lots of small holds.

    Challenge accepted!

    When we got to the boulders I started off doing my usual walk around trying different angles while looking for interesting compositions and shapes, using the flash experimentally to see how it affect the scene...

    I felt that including main boulder made the line look too insignificant to make a real impression, and everywhere I tried putting the flash out-of-shot just made the climb look flat and featureless.  As I watched Thomas working the moves It became apparent that the real defining feature of the line was the technical moves through these 'steps' in the roof - also giving the line its name: 'Delicate Steps'. With this in mind, I sought to find a flash placement to highlight these steps, rather than just washing them all out as in the above shot!

    The top image was the result of several rounds of test shots with the flash in different spots to best highlight these features; I would usually try to hide the flash, but this was impossible in the tiny roof, and ultimately I think the starburst actually adds to the shot.

    In retrospect, this shoot really helped me refine my creative process; with iconic boulders it can be relatively simple to get an interesting shot, while this line forced me to really consider when was unique about this boulder, and how could I best highlight it.

  • Shooting into the sun

    Ive been exerimenting with shooting into the sun a fair bit lately - both with, and without strobes - and while the results can be really hit and miss, I'm really liking the results for their sense of atmosphere, dynamic lighting and natural contrast.

    The shot above was taken on an amazing, still evening in the area called Riverside, in Rocklands, South Africa. We got there just as the sun as setting and I had about 5 minutes to setup my flash - a Canon Ex-600RT with PixelKing triggers - and get the composition and exposure sorted.  The climber - Sheffield based James Garden - jumped on for a quick warm-up before finishing the route second try where I got this shot on the final throw.

    A few things ive learned with this technique:

    • My flash + 1/200th max sync speed isnt enough to balance out the mid-day sun, so evening sessions are the only time this works.
    • Exposure - Avoiding completely blown-out sections is difficult/impossible, and im not sure it matters anyway. However, im constantly amazed how much detail I can drag back out of underexposed areas on the 5d2 RAW images, so I tend to underexpose shots a few stops more more than usual to minimise the white-out.
    • Going for dynamic compositions and creating silhouettes is key - all the shots previous to this one had the climber against the rock, with him leaping into full silhouette here.
    • The sun is almost always going to be the visual focus of the shot, so position it accordingly...
    • Temporarily removing your UV or polariser filter seems to help reduce flare (even my best Hoya Pro1 filters seem to add some flare)
    • Upping your aperture will make a nicer sunstar, BUT dim your flash effectiveness... seems to be a compromise.

    Thats about it... Take lots of shots and enjoy the best part of the day!

  • Under African Skies

    For a much-needed rest day excursion I decided to head an hours drive north to check out an area that supposedly has a forest of Aloe Banseii, or 'Quivver' trees. As I approached the isolated spot way out in the desert it became readily apparent that the internet was right - a vast forest of thousands of aloes dotting these ancient sandstone outcrops for several Kilometers.  I spent several hours wandering the barren rocky landscape looking for interesting compositions among the masses of trunks for the evening shoot, in awe at the trees and the orange rocks they grew among - many with fossils of primitive sea creatures.

    There weren't enough clouds for a nice sunset, but as the light faded the milky way came into view, brighter than I've ever seen it, and begged to a backdrop for the sculptural trunks. Ive done a fair amount of night shoots in different countries, but Africa was a total unknown… I was alone, half an hrs drive from the nearest town and there were definitely big things out there - id previously stepped over some burrows of some unknown creature, each hole big enough to crawl into - should one have the nerve. I nervously setup my gear in the car, thinking that at least id have my tripod to fend off anything that came out at me. This had previously worked shooting a sunrise near Wellington where id literally stumbled over a sleeping seal in the semi-dark, so I had some precedent for the confidence.

    I ventured out by the light of a pathetic head torch, bush-bashing through scrub to reach the aloes, then scrambling up the loose gravel slopes to a spot id found earlier that day. Every 30s exposure meant 30 seconds crouching in complete darkness under the vast milk-way with my ears pricked for the slightest noise. With no wind it was complete silence, randomly punctuated by strange grunts, scratching, thuds, what sounded like cats fighting in the next valley over; I pondered how much time id have to react if something did run at me out of the dark - and quickly found myself holding a rock in one hand and my Intervaloumeter in the other.

    With spirits lifted and nerves slightly eased by the thumbnail images on my cameras display I got more adventurous, climbing further up the hill, shooting the image above...

    Suddenly, out of the silence, a strong wind appeared, shaking all the scrub bushes around me and rattling the vanes on a rickety old wild-west style windmill in the valley below. With a blood chilling screech and groan which came to me out of the darkness, the whole windmill must have turned to face this new wind, and my nerves had enough excitement for one night. I grabbed up the tripod and made a beeline for the car, content with the nights images.

  • Rocklands

    Have made it to Rocklands - one of the worlds best bouldering areas - about 3 hours north of Cape Town in South Africa. After a first night of heavy rain and a day waiting for the rock to dry out, I went out with a group to climb at a nearby area...

    After another night of rain we're all waiting around the camp drinking coffee and waiting for the sun to come out and dry the rock...

  • Fire in the sky

    Ive started shooting timelapses as a way of capturing the awesome landscapes here, and to pass the time while I recover from morning climbing sessions... Last night I was up on the desert plateau near the Happy boulders shooting a cloud raining out over the buttermilks when this cumulus cloud that had been sitting static on the opposite horizon quickly started expanding... I switched the camera around to start a new timelapse, and then sat down in awe for the following hour as this thing expanded and blew-up infront of me... Have never been so excited to download photos before.

    Link to Full Timelapse video


    Shot on a Canon 5d Mark 2 and EF 16-35mm F4 IS Lens @16mm Av Mode. F 7.1 ISO 50 - 15 S intervals

  • Rocky Mountain Creek

    After a few days down bouldering on the tablelands near Bishop, I made an impromptu decision to take a day off and head up into the hills for an overnight trip. When I asked the Info center lady where was good to go hiking around here, she said "just pick a valley and start walking"... so i did, and headed up to Rocky Creek Canyon for the free campsite : )

    I'm always amazed by mountains in the US, and this trip was no exception - the air is cold, thinner and lightly pine scented, and the landscape is totally different to anything back in New Zealand. I spent an evening wandering up the valley completely blown away by the vistas of rocky spires, ancient pine forests and alpine lakes bordered in lush reeds and teeming with trout.

    After a good nights sleep in the cool mountain air (only woken by a pack of mice using my tent fly as a slippin slide!?) I decided to hike up to one of the alpine passes, up around 11,500 feet (3500m). The shot above was from the saddle, looking back down into the valley I'd just climbed from. Not a great 'rest' day, but an awesome experience.

  • Bouldering at the Sad Boulders, Bishop

    A shot from this mornings 5am session on Beefcake V10 in the Ice cave at the Sad Boulders area. Its awesome how this whole block is just wedged in between the cave walls! Think I have the sequence sorted now, but have to put it all together... regardless, its a rad place to spend your days...

  • Salt Flats V2

    After finally getting the mud off and reviewing the shots from the last trip i realised I had to go back again! This trip there were lots more clouds, and I spent a few hours waiting out on the flats as they drifted by. There was also a whole load of salty chunks floating in the water like miniature icebergs, and this mass of the stuff drifted around with the light wind! This is one of the later shots after they had gone, but the wind had started kicking up some small ripples. Still, im pretty happy with this one.