Outdoor photo-shoots are challenging, both the photographer and the subjects must deal with the elements and the difficulties they create. Without the benefit of artificial lighting and the controlled environment of indoor photography, adventure photographers have to deal with all that nature has to offer.
Working with Paul Bride during the week, we shot these pictures. It was fun but challenging. During the shoots we had to deal with the real hazards surrounding the lens. Avalanche conditions, cold temperatures, long approaches, inherent exposure, falling ice, other climbers and early drives are all unavoidable and must be considered every time one goes out climbing. Photo-shoots are no exception!
When a climber sets out for a day of ice climbing he is responsible for himself and the decisions he makes. We also need to consider the partners we choose to climb with, to ensure that they too are up to climbing the chosen objective. It’s happened to all of us…we head out in the morning and eventually stand at the base of an intimidating pitch, and sometimes we aren’t up to the task. In those cases, we simply back off and choose to climb another day.
When working with a professional photographer there can be some perceived pressure to get the shot, but a true professional photographer will not make that pressure stand out even if he or she might be incredibly psyched to get the perfect shot. Several conditions might be perfect, the light the angle etc. However I never hesitate to pull the plug if there are any inherent safety issues! That’s why when i head out with friends they know I will never hesitate to back off if I don’t “feel” something is right.
The crux is to be ourselves, and climb for the enjoyment of climbing. When we climbed Whiteman’s, the route was a bit more challenging than it had been in the past. This was my sixth time climbing the route and I had never climbed features like that – delicate mushrooms and “feathers”, and large ice lenses (thin ice sheets, often hollow, that covers different ice formations and snow).
To prepare for the photo shoot, we climbed Redman Soars, a classic mixed line off to the right. With Paul now set up with a fixed line and psyched to shoot, I geared up for the main objective and worked with Paul to get the shot. Working together involved lots of communication with Pail as I climbed, Paul suggested what line he was most interested in, and in this case we negotiated to climb the best and safest line for the shot.
Barry Blanchard once told me “the lens is where the heart is”, and these photos reflects this saying. I was happy and motivated to be exactly where I was when the shots were taken; I just love climbing! The photographer is still part of the experience, and it requires experience to understand the inner voices that we might have as climbers. As Paul looked over he could see an obvious pillar for me on the climb, but I was and always am first and foremost responsible for my own safety. My approach that day was to get as close as possible to the desired position, and in this case getting on the pillar to my right too early would have broken it. Managing protection was crucial to help build my confidence in my plan and provided a back up if the pillar was more fragile than expected up high. While trying to imagine what things look like for Paul, I placed screws and positioned myself with confidence where I could move efficiently and safely up the feature. It’s always a must to remain focused on the task and also a reality of climbing delicate technical ice. One mistake could be serious.
In the end, ice climbing photography is not that different from guiding ice routes; I remain focused on the immediate risk management and climbing, but have enough experience to allow myself to consider the needs of others in this complex alpine risk management equation! The ultimate result from a photo-shoot like this is a beautiful artistic souvenir, and hopefully a nice visual piece that motivates others to enjoy the aesthetic and endless variety of ice climbing.