• 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...

  • 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.