Tim Kemple Reaches High
We first wrote about Tim Kemple at the end of last year. Here’s a more detailed profile of the man and his work.
Climbing led to photography, which led to a career for Tim Kemple. A former professional climber with sponsors, Tim got to know a climbing magazine photo editor, who critiqued the young shooter’s photos taken on days off. A microbiology major in college, Kemple is all about learning why things work. This approach has suited him well in photography. He constantly experiments with his gear, and is deeply interested in ways to get results he wants.
“I have three different setups I roll with,” Kemple reports. “One is just lightweight speedlights. I took those on bigger expeditions, like one to Pakistan a few years ago. Three speedlights on a four-day hike after five days of driving in Himalaya. This was for hiking and climbing; a lightweight setup, but not very powerful.”
“The next step up would be a set of lights with homemade nickel-metal hydride batteries, weighing about eight or nine pounds each. The largest setup with the most power is Profoto Pro-7b generators. You can overpower the sun, and a lot more. You can use the PocketWizards’ HyperSync with the Pro-7b’s. It’s a great setup.”
Kemple’s shots 1500 feet up the Mescalito route on Yosemite’s El Capitan is one of his most impressive, both for the photographic results and for the lengths he went to in order to achieve them. “I’ve been shooting a fair number of shots where I have an assistant holding a light directly overhead or maybe slightly behind the climber. This one was probably my most involved. I brought a light and a nickel-metal hydride battery. We knew the right side of the cliff got beautiful sunset light, and it was right below our camp, which was on a ledge at about 1500 feet, a thousand feet from the summit. We got very lucky the sun came out and lit up the wall. It was one of the most impressive sunsets of our trip. My assistant had the light on a pole and hung it over the climber’s head, pointed back in at the face of the mountain a bit.”
“I like to shoot with the light as far off-axis from the camera as you can,” he continues, “because it still gives texture and depth to what you’re shooting. If it’s right next to the camera, you lose texture. By putting it directly overhead, I can get a lot of power on the subject, but still get the texture in the rock. The same is true for shooting runners or other portraits outdoors. A lot of people think you need to blast as much power on the subject as possible. That’s not always the case. It’s about blending the flash in naturally. That’s the look I’m going for.”
Kemple used a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III on that shoot. “It has a faster shutter so it HyperSyncs better with the PocketWizards,” he says. “I’m able to HyperSync at 1/500th of a second. With the Profoto Pro-7b I can shoot at 1/1200th of a second. I lose about a stop and a half of light, depending on the power of the light, but sometimes it’s worth it because I’m gaining more than two stops over the actual normal sync of the camera. I use a FlexTT5 on the camera, and a bunch of MultiMAX Transceivers as receivers.”
To blend light on location, Kemple takes what’s needed. “That often means bringing heavier lighting setups so I can shoot through softboxes with grids. You can control and shape the light so it has a more appealing look to it, and not just something blasted at full-power.”
Extreme sports are not Kemple’s only subjects. He also has shot fashion photography for dawn+Relentless, and actually got his professional start shooting editorial. “A good photographer can shoot whatever the client wants, whether it’s rainy or sunny, or whatever, no matter where they are. Having your lights with you all the time is the best case scenario. It gives you that much more control over the photo in general. Being able to use all the tools you have, and to have the right tools with you, is the best way to roll. Sometimes you’re running with small crews or traveling great distances, so you have to make due. I like to have my lighting rigs with me and use them about half the time I’m working.”
Kemple reports he’s shooting all-digital these days. “I still have a pile of slides sitting around which need to be scanned for the last year and a half,” he laughs. “Digital brings the speed editors are asking for.”
Recently relocated to Salt Lake City after growing up in New Hampshire, this California-born photographer is enjoying shooting the more-grounded sport of running as of late. “I used to run in junior high school and high school, so I can really relate to it,” he says. Whether shooting while hanging from a cliff, hiking the Himalayas, or on a bike trail, Tim Kemple and his gear will have his subjects well-lit.