Thank you to Mike of Rockstar Climbing, Swindon, for making this work possible, with his time, patience and business. I am documenting these exercises together as I took them in the same session. Most shots were taken with ND filter and strobed flash, I have indicated where this was not the case. My flash is entirely manual so I don’t have exif records for the flash, I think if I used off-camera flash with radio trigger then I would get the data as it has to be configured in the camera as well as the flash in that mode.
On the whole I am very happy with this pair of exercises, it’s a long way off where I want it to be but I think I’ve covered new ground. I was excited to actually show climbing in motion as this seems comparatively rare in the photographs that I’ve seen. I’ve found articles on flash photography of climbing gyms, and of “frozen moment” climbers, but very few showing climbing in motion (1). I’m sure there must be more out there though, and if not I shall make them.
Climbing (up and along)
Test exposures as self-portraits using the traverse wall and my 10-18mm lens (no filter)were promising. These would be better if I used my other remote to give me more time to get from the camera to the wall, and also if I was better at bouldering. That will come with time. As it is you can see that a longer exposure will produce motion blur if the subject moves during the exposure.
I also found that it’s possible for the model to move too fast for the image to register. I worked with ISO 100 but might have got better results with Mike on the traverse wall with a faster ISO. His trousers, a great contrast on every other wall, were too close a hue to the yellow of this wall meaning that he largely disappeared. That said, I do like the image that shows his fingers, one wrist and nothing else.
Onto the main walls, I worked first without the flash. You can see the blur of motion, but even on a 6 second exposure it is less than you would expect. I think part of the issue here is an appropriate speed of climbing and slightly higher ISO. I will have to try this out.
When I added in the strobed flash it made me realise that a lot more was possible. I like the way that the colours seem to flatten in some of the strobed images. Obviously, I suppose, the amount of light reaching the wall decreases the further up the wall you go, which is something to think about. The thing that I loved about the strobed flash was that it really did give that idea of time and motion. I don’t regard myself as a technical photographer but I think I can do a lot here.
I did not make a classic fast shutter speed shot but instead used a longer exposure with strobed flash. I would very much like to do more work with strobed flash and am happy that I may be able to do so in the new year. I wanted to photograph Mike’s drop from the top of a bouldering wall. I had the camera on a tripod with a cable release, in TV mode, ISO was 100 and the on-camera flash was set to multi mode (strobe). This was not really a fast shutter speed as per the brief, I used a longer shutter speed but used the strobed flash to “freeze” a sequence of multiple images sharply within a single frame. I was happy that the result shows this, in the future I’d like to assess the exposure a bit better. Mike climbed to the top of the wall and I counted in the drop. After a couple of goes I also checked composition before counting in. The landing shot makes me smile, you can see the floor giving as Mike lands on it, and the trail of Mike’s hat. I honestly can’t remember if this one was taken with a strobe.
Here are my two picks of dropping/landing.
Things that went well
- Generally, everything worked to a greater or lesser degree, nothing failed absolutely.
- The strobed flash was a good idea, it really helped to show traces of movement but in a more definite way than a long exposure. Also, a long exposure for a drop is actually not that long because you don’t fall that far from a bouldering wall, so strobed flash allowed me to break the fast whoosh of Mike’s descent into a series of discrete slices of time. We are both keen to do more with this.
- The ND filter, although probably not essential, gave us a longer working space per exposure and I would definitely use it again. I didn’t ask anyone if I could use ND filter and strobed flash together because by then I was wary of unsolicited opinions. I thought it ought to work and it did.
- I am fascinated by the way the multiple planes and angles of the climbing wall appear almost a single flat plane in a taken image, and the way that the image is bisected by the edges of the different routes. I liked the shot that shows Mike bisected by one of these lines, and also how because of the long exposure the holes in the climbing planes appeared to be above Mike, as if he were flattened in a plane below it. I am also intrigued by the way he is almost reduced to a series of flat pieces of colour, at different points on the wall in one of the strobed images.
- The shot where you can just see fingers is odd, it would be interesting to try to reproduce this.
Things I would do differently on the next shoot, and before the next shoot:
- Use off-camera flash to get the light where I need it
- Shoot outside of public opening times to give more options about lighting levels in the centre
- Not photograph someone in yellow/green trousers in front of a yellow wall as a long exposure (no wonder it didn’t work!)
- I need to practise my flash skills so I can correctly assess both the background exposure and the power, frequency and number of flashes needed in multi mode for each exposure.
- Try out an ND filter on a wide angle lens as the 10-18mm lens gave me the narrowest apertures, but I hadn’t been able to source a step up ring to fit the 77mm filter.
Ideas for future development
- A further shot with Mike to do this better
- A series of images of different climbers showing the different ways people climb, explore the way women and girls climb
- Mentally filing this for the self portrait section of C&N, when I get there
- Make more use of the single plane of background, even when it’s comprised of multiple planes, by using a wider aperture so that the image will show one part of the background in focus and the rest will be out of focus even though it will appear to be part of the same plane.
- Explore photographing motion around the point of a wall where two planes meet to make an angle.