We’re back from a whirlwind trip to join our lovely colleagues in Birmingham, England for The Photography Show and its 30,000 attendees. We had an amazing time sponsoring The Wedding and Portrait Stage with our partners Loxley Colour. But our favorite part of our visit was seeing all of you!
Ready to get this show on the road!
Joining us at our stand was an incredible lineup of photographers. We had a packed stand every day and standing room only for each speaking session. And yes, due to the incredibly high amount of requests and positive feedback, we will be showcasing some of our amazing photographer speakers via webinars in the future. Stay tuned!
Before heading home we hopped over to our partner, Loxley Colour, in Scotland for a visit. Thank you for being wonderful hosts and for giving our VP of Marketing, Andrew Baum, his first taste of Irn Bru and haggis!
The other national drink of Scotland!
The U.S. SmugMug contingent wished we could have stayed much longer visiting our friends and European SmugMug family, but absence only makes the heart grow fonder. We look forward to the next trip across the Atlantic to see their smiling faces. Until then, stay tuned to find out where you can see us next!
It’s hard to believe another WPPI —Wedding & Portrait Photography Conference and Expo has come and gone. We loved seeing each and every one one of you — both longtime customers and new ones that joined our family at our booth. It was a pretty epic four days. But have no fear – if you didn’t make it this year, we’re here to give you the rundown. No FOMO on our watch.
We kicked off WPPI 2016 with a swank Opening Night Party at Hakkasan. Thank you to our partner Bay Photo for throwing one amazing shindig. We had a blast. It’s not truly a photographer’s party without some photos being taken — so we teamed up with Photobooth Supply Co. to host not one, but two fun photobooths at the party. You will definitely want check out the epic photobooth fun everyone had. In addition, our good friend Levi Sim was on hand to shoot some pretty entertaining (and popular) Steve Jobs Portraits. Big thanks to our awesome roving photographers Jesse Walker, Edina Dibusz, and Larry E. Ankeny who captured photographic evidence of all the fun that was had. Shenanigans doesn’t begin to describe it all.
Have no fear, the fun didn’t end at the party. We rocked and rolled for three days at our booth at the expo with some pretty stellar in-booth guest speakers. WPPI attendees were treated to Clay Cook, Jessica Lark, Adorama TV host Vanessa Joy, CreativeLive instructors Jared Platt and Renee Robyn, and Photographers Adventure Club leader Nicholas Pappagallo Jr. We’re happy to say we had standing room only – thank you to everyone who stopped by to listen. In addition to our fabulous guests, we hosted educational classes such as SmugMug 101, SmugMug and Your Business and our ever popular Lightroom plug-in training.
“Lightroom Online Workflow” with SmugMug customer
and CreativeLive Instructor Jared Platt
“See the Potential of Your Locations” with SmugMug customer Renee Robyn
It wasn’t all talk at our booth though — it wouldn’t be very Smuggy of us if we didn’t play hard while we worked hard. Also in-booth was a fun photobooth op (again, thanks to our Photobooth Supply Co. friends) with none other than Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. We are pretty keen on superheroes and believe strongly in our heroic employees who enable our customers to build their own superpowered websites. What better way to pay homage than to take some epic photos with the Justice League? And don’t forget, if you stopped by our booth and had your photo taken with the Dawn of Justice characters you can find them on your SmugMug site!
A big high-five to everyone who attended WPPI and came by and said hello. Seeing old friends and making new ones was by far the best part of the entire event. We had a blast and the SmugMug Wolfpack can’t wait to do it again.
It’s not every day that you get to witness a waterfall catch fire, but that’s exactly what we did on February 22, 2016, in Yosemite National Park.
First, a bit of history on the term “Firefall”
The original Yosemite “Firefall” was coined in 1872, when James McCauley, the owner of the Glacier Point Mountain House Hotel, began tossing coal from a fire over the cliffs above Yosemite Valley. Viewers down below could see the embers tumble, and the Yosemite Firefall dazzled onlookers until it was discontinued almost 100 years later, in 1968.
The Yosemite Firefall wasn’t gone for good though, and just a few months before Yosemite’s 100th anniversary, photographer Galen Rowell spotted something spectacular. It was February of 1973, and while spending time in Yosemite Valley, he saw the spectacular evening light “fire” on Horsetail Falls. Although he wasn’t the first to photograph it (Ansel Adams photographed it in black and white in 1940), we can credit Galen with the popularity of the “Horsetail Firefall” event that we were going to witness.
Here’s how and why Yosemite “Firefall” happens
Horsetail Falls is a seasonal waterfall that only flows after snow melts above El Capitan. It’s located on the west side of El Capitan and can be viewed from a number of locations. This “Firefall” occurs when the sun is setting in just the right spot to reflect off the granite behind the waterfall and cause the water to light up. The sun also needs to be close to the horizon to give off its orange light and turn the waterfall “orange”. Lastly, a cloudless day is needed so that direct sunlight can hit the waterfall. It’s amazing how much like fire and lava the water becomes! The Firefall can be witnessed starting around Valentine’s Day each year and continues for 2 weeks. With the drought we’ve had in California for the last 5 years, this hasn’t happened since 2011 (luckily I was able to photograph it back then!).
Knowing that there are certain angles that are required for the Firefall to take place, I wrote a computer program that predicts when the phenomenon will most likely occur. Each year I post the results on my blog to help other photographers know which days and times are the best to photograph the falls. Typically, February 21 or February 22 are the “best” days to go, when the sun is in the most optimal position and the amount of time that the falls will be on fire is the longest.
I was first inspired to visit the Horsetail Firefall when I saw a photo by fellow SmugMugger, John Harrison. Wanting to pass along the tradition, this year I invited my fellow SmugMug employees to join me for a photo road trip! A group of eight SmugMug employees gathered early on Monday morning (February 22) and made the four-hour drive to Yosemite National Park. Thanks to social media, what was once a little known event has now turned into a massive spectacle. News agencies from CNN to the BBC flashed photos and videos of the event, and thousands of photographers flocked to Yosemite during this two week period. In fact, so many people visit the park from February 14th to February 26th that the National Park Service has to close one lane of traffic to add parking for viewers to sit and wait for sunset.
We arrived in Yosemite by 11 AM and stopped at a few of the tourist viewpoints, since a few of the SmugMuggers had never been to Yosemite before. Knowing that things could get very crowded, we raced to the El Capitan Picnic Grounds and dropped off our tripods, chairs, and reserved our spots. The Firefall occurs just before sunset, so that meant that we had 6 hours to wait…or explore!
There are a number of locations to photograph Horsetail Firefall. Any spot east of the falls with a clear view, not blocked by trees, will pick up the reflected light. The hard part is actually finding the waterfall, since it looks very teeny during morning and early afternoon sun. It isn’t until the sun gets lower, and more west, that the mist and shape of the waterfall becomes more visible. By sunset it will turn from white to gold, to orange, to red, before the color fades and becomes white again. We chose to photograph from a spot near the El Capitan Picnic Grounds on North Side Drive. It’s a bit less crowded and offers a beautiful profile view of the falls. As the sun sets, it moves from left to right along the west face of the rock known as El Capitan. From our spot, the left side of the wall is slightly hidden, allowing our photographs to highlight a glowing waterfall and not just a “wet wall”.
After claiming our “spot”, I took our group of SmugMuggers to visit some of the more popular destinations in Yosemite. We stopped at “Tunnel View”, made famous by Ansel Adams, visited Bridalveil Falls, and practiced our jumping at Cook’s Meadow, in front of Yosemite Falls.
Wanting to make sure we didn’t lose our spots, we decided to head back to the El Capitan Picnic Grounds and our lonely tripods and spend the day “waiting”. With four and a half hours until the event, we decided to eat lunch and see if we could find any fellow SmugMug customers.
We didn’t have to travel far. We quickly found quite a few customers who recognized our Smuggy hoodies. We had plenty of SmugMug swag to pass around to all of our loyal customers – even a cute little dog named Buxton got in on the action. Luckily we came prepared with chairs, food, and lots of great conversation. It was pretty cool to meet so many photographers all interested in capturing an awesome phenomenon.
Buxton, the cutest little SmugMugger! Photo by Sarah Arnold.
Ready for “Magic Hour”
Eventually the hours passed by and we were go for launch. The forecast for this particular evening was rather curious: it started out with completely clear skies (perfect conditions) but quickly soured as clouds began to form. Around 4 PM, I started to get worried that a layer of low clouds was going to block the sun from reaching the walls, but luckily, they mostly disappeared. At 5:15 PM, we all got excited – the waterfall was starting to glow orange and light on fire! Sadly though, around 5:30 PM, a cloud bank returned to put a damper on the show and the light died out rather abruptly. Not wanting to give up, and with some high hopes left, we waited a bit longer. To our delight, at 5:40 PM, the sun dipped below the clouds and Horsetail Falls lit up again, this time in a beautiful fiery red! Sarah, one of SmugMug’s amazing Quality Assurance specialists, put her creative eye to use and captured Horsetail Falls in the reflection of a puddle of water!
Aaron and Dan all set up, waiting for the Firefall. Photo by Dan Wieme.
Horsetail Falls reflected in a puddle. Photo by Sarah Arnold.
Using a second camera, I took one photo every second for 33 minutes to create this beautiful timelapse video of the evening:
Tips to capture the falls
If you’re interested in photographing Horsetail Falls in the future, check out Aaron’s tips below. For more photography tips and tricks be sure to visit Aaron’s blog.
What to Bring:
Your camera, preferably a dSLR
A telephoto lens, somewhere in the 100-300mm range
A sturdy tripod
Cable release/remote shutter, to avoid camera shake
A chair to sit and wait
Food and water
Shoot in Aperture Priority, using the sharpest aperture of your lens, around f/9
Use a focal length around 150-225mm, depending upon your location
Set your camera’s ISO to its native setting (100-200)
Use auto-white balance and shoot in RAW. I used cloudy or shade if you prefer to set it ahead of time.
Use manual focus, focus with live view, and turn off your lens’ Vibration Reduction (Image Stabilization).
Use mirror lockup to prevent camera shake
Arrive early. Some spots were claimed by 9 AM!
Decide what view you want to photograph. There are multiple places to choose from that have their own pros and cons.
Don’t get stressed if you do not see much water during the day. It will light up and appear better in the afternoon, especially as the temperature warms up and helps melt the snow.
Youdo notneed a polarizer. You want the reflected light that a polarizer would block!
Be patient, make friends, and be pleasant to your fellow photographers. We’re all here to enjoy it and there’s no reason to get crabby.😉
We are thrilled to announce that SmugMug will be hopping across the pond to join our UK colleagues and attending The Photography Show in Birmingham, England, 19-22 March! The Photography Show is one of the largest shows of its kind in Europe and we are excited to be part of it.
Be sure to stop by our Stand, H131, because we love to meet our customers — you’re truly the best part of the show and we might have a freebie or two! We’ve lined up some great guest speakers and in-stand training that will be educational, fun, and inspiring. Also check out our in-stand only promotions: we’re offering our best deal ever and also have an exciting, exclusive deal together with our friends at The Photographer Academy. We’re counting down to all the fun and hope you are as well.
Tuesday, 22nd March 11:00 – 11:30 Mark Seymour “Documentary Wedding Photography”
Can’t make it to Birmingham for the show? No worries, you can follow all the action on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And don’t forget to share your memories of The Photography Show with us as well! Post the photos you took at our Stand, H131, on social media and tag us — we can’t wait to see them. This conference is going to be an amazing experience and we’re doing a happy dance in our seats just thinking about it. Can’t wait to see you there!
We’ve got some some awesome things up our sleeves this year. Stop by SmugMug Booth 1619 to say hi to SmugMug employees from Product, Support, Marketing, and more. There will be in-booth training sessions, cool swag up for grabs, our biggest deal yet, and a superhuman photo op for attendees. What could it be? Stop by and find out — maybe bring a cape or utility belt if you happen to have one for matching attire.
What we are most excited about (besides seeing you!) is our industry-leading lineup of guest speakers covering some of the most important topics for photographers today. We’re happy to announce our in-booth speaker lineup includes Clay Cook, Jessica Lark, Adorama TV host Vanessa Joy, CreativeLive instructors Jared Platt and Renee Robyn, and Photographers Adventure Club leader Nicholas Pappagallo Jr. In addition, we’ll be hosting SmugMug employee speakers that will give you a full SmugMug 101 overview, discussing The Business of SmugMug and our highly popular Lightroom plug-in training. Additionally, we’re pleased to announce we’re sponsoring Renee Robyn’s Platform class! Check out our full three-day in-booth (unless otherwise noted) schedule below:
Just can’t make it to Las Vegas and join us? No worries, you can follow all the action on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And don’t forget to share your memories of WPPI with us as well! Share your photos from your booth visits on social media and tag us. Because what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas if you’re a photographer.😉
Last, but certainly not least, there will be a swank Opening Night Party at Hakkasan, the hottest nightclub in the country. We plan on kicking off WPPI with a bang, so be sure to not miss out on the hottest party in town with the hottest attendees — you and us baby! Be sure to stop by our sponsored photobooth at the bash (also presented by Bay Photo and Photobooth Supply Co.) for a party memento!
WPPI 2016 is going to be epic and we are counting down the days until we touch down in Las Vegas. We look forward to seeing you at Booth 1619 and remember, you can attend The Expo on us!
We’ve long wanted to film famed surf photographer Chris Burkard in action, so when we heard that he was headed to the Arctic with professional surfers to tackle the brutally harsh seas, we packed our bags and followed. In our latest installment of SmugMug Films, we travel with Burkard on his journey with professional surfers Patrick Millen, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig as they brave sub-zero temperatures to capture moments of raw beauty, adventure, and community. Keep reading after the video to get an exclusive interview with Chris about how he got his start, what he looks for in a fantastic image, and that time he got deported from Russia.
How did you get started with photography?
I did a lot of art in high school. And I transitioned to wanting to explore doing art out in the field, but I soon realized it wasn’t very fun. It wasn’t a very intimate experience to me. You’re just a bystander. When I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my friends surfing and landscapes, I realized I was in the moment. I was out there, and shooting these photos was an extension of the body. It was intimate. You’re a part of it, and you can take it anywhere: social settings, mountaintops, oceans. It was a perfect extension and a great medium of expression for me. To this day I’m seeking out new places so I can bring a camera and experience them.
If you hadn’t become a photographer what would you have been?
Probably a fireman. I don’t know! I worked for many years in random jobs. Before I was working to be a photographer, I worked on cars a lot. I loved old vehicles and the idea of making them how I wanted. It came down to the idea of wanting to do something where people will appreciate my craft and my talents, and I realized that was what made me want to turn machines into artwork. If I wasn’t a photographer, maybe I’d be working on cars somewhere.
How would you describe what you do today?
I’m always seeking out the adventures in life, whether I’m shooting surfing in a cold, harsh environment or shooting a commercial assignment. And that’s meant to speak to the idea of going to a new place, summiting a new peak, or surfing a new wave. It doesn’t matter to me how big or how small. My goal has always been to create images that inspire people to get off their couch and go explore something new.
The idea of exploration is the thing that really makes me want to push harder. It’s the driving force behind a lot of my work.
What do you look for when creating an image?
There’s a lot of technical things I’ll look for. I’m looking for light, contrast, and all those elements that make a good image. But I consider other elements when I’m thinking of how to capture something. Like if there’s historical value to a photo—where I’m shooting a place that might not be around for very long—that’s very important to me.
Coming from an art background, I’m used to trying to put everything I want into this easel shape. I’m just bringing in all the elements. When you’re shooting and photographing in this frame, you have to get everything inside it. You’re really constricted in being able to make it happen.
For me, it’s also super important to push your cameras as far as they can go to capture what you’re seeing. A photograph is usually a two-dimensional item. If there’s anything you can do to make it feel three dimensional, that’s the goal.
I also like the idea of creating images that will carry weight with people. Photos that aren’t driven by advertisements or logos. And it’s super important, too, when creating a body of work that you want to be around longer than yourself.
Given the adventurous nature of your work and the harsh conditions you’re in, are there any great pictures you didn’t get to take?
There’s always a lot of pictures I don’t get, or I feel I haven’t had a chance to capture yet. As a photographer, or anyone who’s a perfectionist, that’s all you think about: all the moments you didn’t get. And that’s just life. You’re striving for something better, and you always wish there’s something you could’ve captured, but if you get them all, you’ll have nothing left to strive for.
What do you consider the biggest challenge about your work?
It all depends on where I’m going. The nature element is the hardest thing, like if I’m going somewhere really cold or somewhere that has a harsh environment. Being in the water in high 30s or low 40s can be brutal on your body, mind, and psyche, and it’s always challenging. You’re always weighing out risk versus reward. Luckily, 90 percent of the time you’re not far from a warm car, but there are those moments when you know in order to get the shot you have to go out and suffer a bit. Those are the times I feel most alive. I have to put in more effort and lose a little bit of skin.
Your explorations often take you to off-the-beaten-path locations. What do you look for?
I’m drawn to places that feel and look more wild. I think it’s human nature to want to see these places, but the reality is most people don’t want to put in the time to find them. So a big part of what I do is try to find spots that will speak to that aesthetic. The location is almost as important as who I’m with and what I’m shooting. Each place plays a huge character role in these stories. Whether I’m on a remote beach in Norway or somewhere in Russia, I want to be in a place that people naturally associate with adventure.
How do you find these places?
There’s a certain recipe. There are a lot of amazing places I could go, but I have to have an assignment that takes me there. I have a list of places I would love to see and love to experience, but I don’t have opportunities to shoot there. But I have a list. And it’s something I tick off as I get to go to places.
With so many places yet to see, is there a favorite place you’ve already been?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been to Iceland 13 times. That place is pretty dang special.
What do you love about it?
The way the landscape is always changing really draws me in. It’s inspiring to me and makes me want to go back because the conditions and climate are constantly evolving. For a photographer, it’s what you’re always searching for. You could shoot only one day there and have so many different conditions.
I don’t like to go to places that wouldn’t be inspiring to me on a personal level. Because if you’re not excited about the work you’re doing, then it’s hard to want to photograph it.
Is there a photography project that’s been the most meaningful for you to date?
The trips I do, I invest a lot of my energy, heart, and soul. That’s why when they turn out successful, it means so much. Success can be measured many different ways, but for me it’s pretty simple: If I feel like I got the images I needed, or got the job done while still being able to experience the culture for myself, then the trip was a success.
I plan for three years or more to do these trips, and when I’m able to set foot on the landscape and experience it, I don’t want to leave anything behind. For me, that’s been Russia, Alaska, Iceland, and Norway. These are places I put a big part of myself into.
What’s been your most challenging to date?
I’d say Russia just because of the logistical challenge of getting there. It took three years to plan and find the place to go.
I went to Russia for the first time in 2009, and you have to fill out a visa request like three months ahead of time. I was in a crew with four people, and we had to go through customs. I get stopped. They look at my passport. They look at me. They look at my passport again. They look at me. And I realize the entry date on my visa was for the next day. It was the wrong date.
After a long discussion, they put me in a holding cell for 24 hours, and then deported me to South Korea. After recouping a day later, I flew back. It was scary. Really scary. I didn’t get food and water until I talked to the embassy. It was crazy.
It was one of the first places I traveled to that was really wild and remote. And it was such an eye-opening one because I realized for the first time what it felt like to have all your rights stripped from you. It makes you really appreciate being on American soil.
What’s at the top of list for a place you’d like to return to?
I really want to go back to Chile and explore Tierra del Fuego. It’s at the very end of South America, and it looks amazing.
In a lot of your behind-the-scenes shots, it looks like surfers are headed right at you. Have you ever suffered any collisions?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been run over. I’ve had surfers hit me with their board. Cut my nose and other things. Those are the experiences that make it exciting. You’re very much at risk. And it makes it that much cooler, really, being able to be a part of the action. Being hidden in the midst of it myself.
Ever lost any gear?
I’ve lost quite a bit of gear. One time I was on a little boat, and we got hit by a wave. Basically my entire kit went overboard, and I lost about $30,000 worth of gear. Luckily, I had insurance for it.
Speaking of gear, what are your must-haves?
I have a lot of must-haves. It comes down to the fact that I think, man, if I don’t need to use this it’s not going to be much of an adventure!
A multitool is super important when it comes to being somewhere remote and interesting. Obviously having a good, reliable camera is crucial, and that’s personal preference. I like to travel really light and really small, so I use a lot of mirrorless cameras, like the Sonys. There’s usually a solar charger of some kind, whether for cell phone or camera. An ultralight, ultrasmall water-purification device that uses UV light. Energy bars. A light rain jacket is always crucial. A lightweight tripod is always in there. Filters. Almost always a pair of gloves.
If you don’t need a headlamp, it’s not even a place you want to go. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone out driving around, having a great time, then coming back for a couple hours to sleep until dark. That’s when, as a photographer, you know the best light is going to be, or when the stars are going to come out. Nine times out of 10 we’re hiking back in the dark with a headlamp on.
It sounds like you have a survival kit with some camera gear versus a camera kit with some survival gear.
That’s really what it comes down to. I want to make sure that when I’m shooting photos that I’m able to relax, knowing that safety is taken care of. I occasionally have a small rope and carabiner just in case I need to lower down from somewhere. Usually the most unusual thing I have in there is a packet of gummy candy, because that’s one of my favorite things. It’s either a reward after the shoot because things have gone well, or I just got beat down by rain or no sun and I want to have something sweet.
Given the chaos you’re in for your shooting conditions, do you shoot manually?
Yeah, always. I love shooting manually. You really start to work with your camera, and it becomes second nature. I like to have complete control. I don’t want to have my camera trying to make decisions for me.
Do you have any rules when it comes to your overall process?
When I’m going somewhere new, I’m really careful not to research too many of the places I’m going to see because I don’t want to get some interpreted view of what these places should look like on a postcard. I want to be able leave my view and perspective unskewed so I can maintain ultimate creative freedom. That being said, I also want to make sure that I’m being educated on where I’m going, because the more unique the less you know. That’s a really important mantra to have at all times.
If someone decided to pursue a similar path, what advice would you give them?
I personally would tell them that I don’t think school is going to teach you the type of skills you need to do what I do. A big part of this is experiencing things. Learn from a magazine setting or an editorial conference. Study a photographer you like and really understand the hustle it takes to do what they do. Understand what it’s like to be in those commercial and editorial situations where you’re trying to make it all work for a client.
I look back at the time I spent driving down to Oceanside every week to intern at Transworld Surf, and a summer I interned with a landscape photographer. That’s where I feel like I gained the biggest understanding of what photography was really like. I realized what it means to run your own business. And if you still want to do it after that, you should.
Any advice for capturing a great image?
There’s great moments happening everywhere, but for me there’s two main types. There’s the one that happens all of a sudden, which requires being there and being ready, and knowing your equipment inside and out. And the second is the one you’ve preconceived. Sometimes those are really special to me because you have this idea and you get to see it through.
Look for unique lighting situations. Go out in storms and go out at a time when no one else is. That’s when you’re going to capture something unique.
And what about the best advice you’ve ever received?
My grandpa told me to kick ass and take names. I don’t know if that’s good advice or not.
I guess a personal mantra I try to follow is the more you know, the less you need. I’ve always been a big proponent of traveling with less and not being the person who has the biggest, most expensive camera. It’s not that I can’t afford it, I just like to experience moments personally as well as through my camera. If you walk away from any trip and it’s a complete blur because you were shooting the whole time, then you weren’t really experiencing it.
In the end, you should have all these cool stories to share with loved ones and family and friends. At least that’s how it is for me. I always try to be present in the moment and really experiencing it myself, too.
What do you find exciting about the photography industry today?
Now everyone is a photographer. People have cameras and video cameras in their phones. At any time I could have four or five cameras on me. It’s crazy.
What we’re seeing is the emergence of these smaller, lighter cameras being able to capture more real, intimate moments. And I think the idea of mobile photography and how it’s changed photography as a whole is really exciting.
I think we’re really seeing, too, a changing of the guard where a lot of established photographers have lost touch with the people who are interested in their work because they haven’t adapted to these new forms of social media or ways of promoting their work.
Photography as a whole is really moving toward those who are open to sharing. Nothing’s a secret anymore. If you try to keep secrets, people just aren’t going to embrace it. They want to find people who are sources of knowledge and are able to share that knowledge. That’s how I look at inspiration.
We hope that many of you are out there enjoying your summer and spending time with the people you love most. This week we’re talking to Smug friend Kelsey Gray: climber, world traveler, photographer and author of Alaska Rock Climbing Guide. He’s well known for doing heart-pounding stunts like cliff jumping – stunts that most of us will only ever enjoy in his photographs. So we had to ask the burning question: Why do you bring the camera and is it really worth the risk?
My first foray into climbing was back sometime around 2002 when I took an indoor rock climbing course at the Alaska Rock Gym through the University of Anchorage Alaska. Before that time, I was purely a gaming nerd who had gained almost 65lbs after high school eating cheeseburgers and pizza. With the occasional challenge of who can drink the most ketchup or eat the most salt packets, those were some very unhealthy years. During a routine doctor visit (also partially due to the emotional issues that come with being overweight and with an astronomical blood pressure), my doctor said that if I didn’t get off the computer and fix my blood pressure I would probably have a stroke by 30. I was 20 and that didn’t leave me much time.
After the indoor course, I enrolled in the outdoor course and found that to be even better. I soon after began climbing outdoors with a friend from Era Aviation, where we both worked. Later that year I began climbing with John Borland, who would introduce me to many areas around Hatcher Pass as well as becoming a great climbing partner and friend.
Sometime during my first few years of climbing I became more interested in hiking peaks. My uncle, Dano Michaud, had dragged me unwillingly up a peak called Harp Mountain and the 1000+ft glissade (natural slide down the snow) hooked me. That summer I climbed peak after peak and soon realized that explaining the beauty of the areas was simply not enough. I needed to show it.
My very first camera was a small point and shoot with no screen and not enough megapixels to warrant labeling it on the front. I’m pretty sure it came free with a printer, which was also terrible. After a few trips I realized I needed a better camera. I upgraded to a Fuji Finepix F700 which worked for me for a long time. I then moved on to a Fuji Finepix S9000 before finally making the jump to SLR with the Canon 20D. After the 20D I moved on to the Canon 50D (which was later stolen from my car), and finally to my current camera the Canon 7D.
During my years of climbing I have learned some important lessons about myself, and how I view life. I am never more confortable than when dangling from a cliff with the sun setting and the wilderness expanding in my view. I’ve often said that the journey is not the summit but in the adventure, which I’m pretty sure is a mashup of others quotes, but I can’t discount the great feeling of having made it as high as I can go without actually flying into the air. When I reach the top of a peak or climb and look out over the expanse I have a ritual that I try to do as often as possible. It is as follows:
1. Close your eyes and wait for at least 30 seconds. Let all the emotions, feelings, failures and successes wash into you. Reject nothing.
2. Open your eyes and star directly ahead. Everything washes away, and I can’t help but feel that I was not meant to have a wall in front of me. Cubicles were not meant for us.
Help or Hinder?
There are times when I won’t bring my camera climbing and I usually regret it. The hairy times when the sheep dung really hits the fan is when the camera seems to really come into use, if not for just recording the trip for my own memory. The worst time to have a camera attached to you is when jammed into an off-width. This is the climber term for anything that you can’t wedge your body into but is too big to use a single hand or fist to climb. It’s probably the most uncomfortable situation most humans will ever find themselves in. A 60m off-width can feel like you’ve just run a marathon, sprinting, while holding a log over your head. (If you’re curious about just what an off-width has to offer then Google for the video, “Boogie Till You Poop.”) Add climbing gear to your harness and it becomes worst; add a camera and you’ll pray it doesn’t shatter.
It is not easy to bring a camera as large as a Canon 7D up a climb, especially with consideration of the lens size. I usually stick with the kit lens that comes with the 7D, the 18-135mm, it’s not the best lens but it is light and easy to carry. I would upgrade to a better lens, except I’m always spending all my money on travelling. I like to carry it in a waist pack that I often clip to my harness, just in case it comes off. I know others who use backpacks but I don’t like having to take it off to get my camera out. That is my general kit for all adventures. Not much, but just enough so that I don’t feel burdened by it. The camera is there for my use to record everything that I wish to keep for myself or show to others, so I’ve had to take a rather lenient stance on its value. If I consider it gold then I’ll never bring it to the truly dangerous adventures. There are times I almost have to convince myself that my camera is already gone before I bring it, then I just try and make sure it stays in one piece. This allows me to continue to bring it to the most dangerous situations.
Worth the Risk?
There are others in climbing that are much more advanced in climbing photography than I. I’ve often marveled at their ability to get paid to do the things I’m paying for! But with everything comes risks, such as the photographer that was with Johnny Copp and Micah Dash, two amazing alpinists that died in an avalanche, their photographer (Wade Johnson) by their side. I’ve often had to decide just what is it I want to do, how far do I take this hobby that has become a driving force in life? I’m still figuring that part out. I have found that half of the reason I travel is to take photographs. If I were to lose my camera today it would probably take quite a lot of self-reflection to pull myself from the loss, even if I have the illusion that the loss is already imminent.
Like many other climbers I am driven too heavily by emotions. I would love to say that most of my travelling began as a desire to see the world and experience new things. The truth is that many of my travels have been fuelled by escape, the desire to escape the emotions that come with a loss, whether it is a relationship or the death of a loved one. Over time it has had to change as those emotions were hidden, or in my current case I found someone who truly makes me happy in life. Previously I spent much of the time travelling the world alone, a few of the trips included others. Now I try to share it with others, those who I travel with and those who I get to show through the photographs I take.
Stay safe, wherever you are this summer! If you’re playing it safe at home or at the office, you can get your thrills from the other installments in our Photography Perspectives series.