• 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...

    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...

  • 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.


  • 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.