How I Got That Location Shot

August 1, 2012

© Josh Campbell

Josh Campbell explains how he lit and photographed this nighttime photo of ice climbers.

We asked four adventure and location photographers, honored in the 2012 Great Outdoors photo contest, to explain how they managed to get their surprising images.

They describe some of the logistical challenges they encountered below; to learn more about the technical specifications of each of the photos, click on the Photo Gallery link. 

Josh Campbell: Matt Hanggi ice climbing at night in upstate New York.

“A big challenge was getting all the gear out to this location,” Campbell says. “Crampons were a must. Lucky for me one of the climbers was training for another trip later in the winter where he would need to drag enough gear for a week’s trip in the backcountry. We loaded the Pelican cases of lights and stands on a sled that he could drag behind him and he schlepped it out to the falls.

“Initially I set up the [Profoto] 7b and the Hensel [Porty] to light up the falls and that’s all I had originally planned to do, but after a few test shots I realized that the shot would be much cooler if we could light the trees above the falls. One of the climbers went up with a radio and a few headlamps, and we set them up pointing in the right spots. The headlamps presented another problem; the exposure needed to be pretty long to drag for the light on the trees. I know the strobes would freeze the action but I wanted to control the exact timing of the action so I took the Pocket Wizard off the camera (which was on a Gitzo tripod). I would hit the shutter on the camera, and when I wanted to freeze the action of the climber I popped the test button on the Pocket Wizard.

“I was standing directly downstream and letting the trees camouflage the light stands a little and I wanted the silhouettes of the other climbers to create a sense of depth and scale.”

Campbell adds, “We got a ton of cool shots that night and all the hard work made the beers taste better when we were all done.”

Ben Moon: Crystal Thornburg-Homcy ducks under a wave while bodysurfing on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

Moon shot this still image while he was on an assignment for Patagonia making a three-minute motion piece about four female athletes and their relationship with yoga. Moon was shooting the last of four location shoots near a break called Log Cabins off the North Shore of Oahu with Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, one of Patagonia’s spokespeople who, Moon says, grew up on Oahu and lives near this break.

Moon explains, “The biggest challenge while shooting a surfer or bodysurfer underwater is the timing, both for safety reasons and for composing the frame. If your position is off within the wave, you’ll get thrown over the falls and if you are not beneath the wave, the subject will be obscured by turbulent water.”

He says, “Because I was filming at 60 frames-per-second for slow-motion underwater footage, my shutter speed was set to 1/125, which is slower than I would normally shoot at, but my priority that day was definitely the footage. I think the most challenging part of transitioning into more motion work is that I can see a still image even more clearly while filming, so after I knew I had some solid clips I couldn’t resist firing off a few still frames.”

Cody Duncan: Lenticular cloud illuminated by moonlight over the Alabama Hills and Sierra Nevada mountains in California.

Duncan explains that a lenticular cloud, also known as a “Sierra wave,” is not an uncommon weather element in the Sierra Nevada mountains. “The cloud had filled most of the sky at sunset, about an hour before I took this image.  As evening progressed the cloud began to fade and shrink in size to what you see in the photo.  Luckily for me it didn’t disappear all together.” He had positioned himself on a high outcropping in the Alabama Hills, and he got this image at around 8:30 p.m. last April.
“It was a couple of days prior to a full moon. I knew there would be a point where I could still get a bit of glow on the horizon in the west, while at the same time the moon would provide enough light to expose the cloud and foreground, avoiding a silhouette of the mountains.  The ‘ghostly’ appearance of the cloud comes from its movement over the two-minute exposure, a bit of wind and some changing of the shape of the cloud. The cloud disappeared all together a little after 9:00 p.m. if I remember correctly.  

“I wouldn’t say there were any real technical difficulties for the image, mostly just the time constraints imposed by the changing conditions.”

Kevin Arnold: Members of the cast of the television show Shark Men fishing near Boca Grande, Florida, photographed as part of an ad campaign for Sperry Top-Sider ASV footwear.

Arnold has done both motion and still assignments for Sperry Top-Sider.

“When I shot this image, I was swimming in the water alongside the boat as the guys caught fish,” Arnold explains. “Since the intention was to get a shot that showed both below and above the surface of the water, I had to stay near the surface, but not be too buoyant that I couldn’t duck under. I wore fins and a diving mask. The hardest part about shooting like this is framing the shot while bobbing in the water. First of all, you can barely see the viewfinder; the boat is moving, you’re moving and the fish only comes into view at the very last second. Needless to say, it took a lot of takes to get the shot. Luckily, my subjects were amazing anglers who seemed to be able to hook a fish on demand.”