Monday, 28 January 2013
Run out of time
The weather report for the weekend was quite clear. On Saturday we would have a period of bright sun deteriorating through the afternoon as a rapid thaw and deep atlantic low moved in from the west to bring very wet and very windy weather overnight. By Sunday all this snow would be gone. Now, like most of us, I have a life; a life outside of being a photographer, a life that involves family, domestic responsibilities and fixing the plumbing. So I have to structure my time to take account of all the other stuff going on and try to juggle a work/life balance that still results in creative output, which I have to slot into the gaps that I have.
When I staggered out of bed on Saturday morning to behold a world transformed by sunshine, blue sky and snow, my first thoughts might well have been of hillwalking, winter landscapes, ice climbing or ski-mountaineering, but my 9 year old son wanted to go skiing in the park - what are you going to do? We went to the park of course.
I hadn't completely given up on the idea of a winter image however. I sent a text to my pal Steve Crook, a talented photographer in his own right, but more importantly for me, a willing volunteer for some of my schemes. I planned for a winter running shot in the late afternoon gloom before the rain came. I picked Steve up from his place at 3pm and headed for a local venue and already the weather was turning.
Part of the mission here was to fine tune some of my outdoor flash gear because I'm trying to sort out a system that is lightweight and compact enough to take on the mountain. It's difficult to know what to take when your aims are to produce the most creative images you can - you don't want to leave anything behind in case it proves vital - but you just can't carry that much weight on the hill. But more than that, I was looking for a better quality of light. I'm aware that often the flash we use on mountain shoots suffer from lack of decent light modifiers - umbrella, softbox or panel or whatever - because we don't take enough gear with us and the result is often hard, straight flash, with hard-edged shadows, hotspots, abrupt highlight/shadow transitions and harsh-white light colour.
I've learned to address some of these issues; I always take a shoot-thru brolly with me even though sometimes it's too windy to use it, all my flash guns have 1/4 grade CTO gels permantly fixed on board, along with diffuser domes. And I've been using lightweight nano stands to keep the weight down. But I've discovered a big problem - traditional lightstand designs just don't work on steep mountainsides! They are designed to sit on flat surfaces, not rocky slopes. So I'm out to see if I can adapt a tripod to do the job of a lightstand. Tripods are much more flexible and can deal with mountainsides.
The problem with tripods is they don't normally go high enough to put a light overhead. I wanted to try and solve that problem by adapting a boom-arm from an old lightstand and putting that on the tripod, which was a Manfrotto 190 model. The next issue was the umbrella-in-the-wind drama and I was hoping to solve that one by swapping a brolly for a diffuser panel, which I hoped would be more flexible, less prone to wind and maybe also give a more natural, graduated light on the subjects. I didn't really know if this would work but I needed to try it and find out. So off we went.
Any thoughts I might have had about a nice sunset quality of light were hopelessly over optimistic. It was universally grey. The normal response to this is to dial in that tungsten balance thing and add CTO to the flash - the blue/orange look we've all become used to seeing. So that was my starting point for this picture. I quickly spotted the tree as an anchor for the shot and it had a little rocky ridge running down to it along which Steve could jog.
By this time I was getting a bit frustrated. My light wasn't working well, I was trying to shoot a decent running shot and keep the by-now persistant rain off the camera and then the PW's battery failed in the cold so I had to switch out the PW's and go to Nikon CLS instead (which worked). I think Steve had pretty cold feet by now and I'd sort of lost my motivation. Time to retreat and lick wounds I think.