I got a surprising amount from this exercise. I had already done similar technique exercises as part of the OCA Foundation course, in which I photographed someone sawing wood for the slow shutter speed task, and for the fast shutter speed I put glitter stars inside a balloon and hair conditioner on the outside, then photographed it being burst. I wanted to do something a bit more challenging for this pair of exercises.
I have started roped indoor climbing again after an extended break and am learning bouldering from scratch. I was intrigued that most climbing photographs are of “the frozen moment” variety, whereas most climbing is about the process of movement, the sequence of moves that takes you efficiently and hopefully elegantly from bottom to top or left to right. I was curious about showing climbing differently – the traces and blurs of motion. I wanted the image to be about the motion and the time, not the climber and the moment. For the fast shutter speed exercise, I wanted to concentrate on the moment when a boulderer is airborne, when they might choose to drop the few feet from the top of a bouldering problem onto the safety flooring. I didn’t necessarily want a high ISO single flash image though and thought I would explore alternatives. The descent from bouldering (or roped climbing) seems to be rarely shown in images outside of technique guides, and I wanted to show that moment of falling, of landing.
I shall do a separate post on research as there was a lot to look at and I would like to give more time. The stand-out for me was Maarten Vanvolsem’s essay on dealing with the paradox of motion in a still photograph. I was led there via the course note suggestion of his photographs of dancers. There is a quote that summarised how I thought about photographing climbing: “…dance is the controlled passage of bodies through time and space.” I wanted to show the time used, the space used, the route taken by the body. I think there are a lot of parallels between photographing dance and climbing (possibly fencing too) and would like to research this further.
I was fortunate that Mike Aston, a friend and owner of Rockstar climbing in Swindon was happy both for me to photograph there and to be part of the images. We agreed a date and time that would have the least impact on the centre’s normal operations and that did not clash with any pre-booked groups.
For technical preparation I knew I would need to use a tripod, remote shutter release and long exposures, so I went to Rockstar a few days before the shoot to assess light levels and work out which lenses would work well at longer exposures. I just took my camera and lenses, not the tripod as I was not planning on taking any shots. The centre is in a large modern industrial unit which has some natural light in the entrance area from a large glassed entrance, the climbing area is reliant on electric light all day. Sharp focus on the climber was not a goal for the long exposures, however I knew I would need an exposure that was long enough to allow motion to be made and recorded whilst not being so long that the scene over exposed or the traces of the climber vanished altogether. I assessed parts of the centre where I could photograph safely (much of the floor is crash matting which is not stable for tripods when climbers land on it) and I needed to be clear of drop zones at all times. For each location I noted the min/max exposures that were possible with my camera working in tv (shutter priority mode. I also considered whether or not I would benefit from using a neutral density filter. I asked on the OCA L1 Facebook page and received several thoughts, some of which were very helpful. I chose to get a filter which provides 3 F-stops of slowing the light. I didn’t want anything stronger as the centre was not that bright anyway.
Part way through my recce visit things got a little odd. There was another photographer on site, we got talking, and within seconds of me saying what my plan was he told me (and the centre owner) that my plan wouldn’t work. Presented here with some considerable editing, he said that my camera wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t be able to get long enough exposures and that an ND filter would result in the climbers vanishing altogether. He thought the only way I could get it to work would be to take several “action” exposures with flash and merge them into one image in Photoshop. Doubtless that would work, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do so I left. I was furious for some time afterwards, as I knew I had confidence in my preparation and plans. He did however make me consider flash – not in the way he suggested, but instead strobed over a long exposure. I had found the strobe function on my flash by accident and thought it could get results that I’d be happy with. I decided to try it with on-camera flash as there were already enough unknowns in the session without setting up off-camera flash and triggers, and that was getting towards too much gear to use whilst the centre was open to the public.
His comments did make me wonder if I had made some poor choices and as a result this exercise was probably as well prepped as many assignments that I’ve done. Of course I’ve been thinking of appropriate replies since I left the building, but I’m trying to take the learning opportunities that this offered me. Images in the next post.
Article (no date) Available at: http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/Timeandphotography/vanvolsem.html (Accessed: 22 November 2016).
Rockstar Climbing, Swindon www.rockstarclimbing.co.uk