Basic Vertical Photography with Nick Percell
Stephen Richert is one tough dude. In 2012, he embarked on a yearlong trip into the mountains of North America where he would climb everyday for 365 days all while managing his type 1 diabetes. The result was the nonprofit, LivingVertical. Nick Percell was the photographer on hand to capture Stephen’s inspiring journey. Here’s how he did it, in his own words.
This first image is actually the last day of Project 365. We were climbing in Red Rock Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada and had to visit this climb everyday until Steve was able to complete it. I knew the lighting wasn’t in my favor as far as angle and intensity, so I knew I was going to need to haul some sort of lightweight lighting that I could use HSS with. I wanted to have a shallow depth of field, f/2.0, which meant I had to shoot at 1/4000s; this helped a bunch with bringing the ambient light down and allowing me to focus the image more on Steve. I took my MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 with me to use with my Canon 580EX II and 430EX II speedlights. Considering all the rigging and such I carry up to the climb (about 70 lbs.), I needed to keep my gear lightweight and reliable.
Once I found a place I could get the shot, I placed a 430EX II about 75 feet from me, slightly below the climber to fill in some of the harsh shadow under him. The second light (580EX II) I ran on top of the MiniTT1 to help balance his left side with the hard light coming from the subject’s back right.
The reliability of the wireless system is crucial here when I’m in a harness secured to the rock and it’s not easy to reach the flash.
This second image was shot about a month before in Zion National Park, Utah. Steve, his wife Stephanie, and I went out looking for new climbing areas in the park, which meant we had to do a bunch of hiking with gear as we looked. When Steve found this line up this face, I knew right away that I really wanted to feature the face of this large textured boulder. When shooting things like this, I really have to try and get what I want quick as he’s climbing with no rope and no pad on rock that’s fragile.
Again I brought my MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 to take care of the wireless communication. I used a 430EX II flash on both sides of the climber, the closest being about 10 feet to my camera on the ground and another about 125 feet away on a stand. I used the light closest to me as a broader source and the light on the stand zoomed in to 105mm on the subject. I really needed the power out of these lights so I stayed away from the HSS this time, but with the lighting I was still able to darken the sky enough to feature the face of the rock more.
This third image was taken in Joe’s Valley, a bouldering area outside of St. George, Utah. The boulder we chose to shoot on was almost completely overhanging, leaving it in darkness with the sun coming from camera right. I knew I wanted a better depth of field and I needed to create the majority of light with a battery powered system. I used just a single source because I liked how the shadow separated him from the surface of the rock. As he climbed over the edge of the rock, the sun caught his face and made it possible to bring the background down in intensity.
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