Having received an invite to a regular Wednesday night bouldering session out in the suburbs of Sydney I was intrigued to find out that this would be a lantern lit afair. Accordingly, after we’d pulled into a cul-de-sac and loaded up the gear, it was by torch light that we tramped off into the ever present bush. After 30 minutes of crashing around the undergrowth we heard voices and shortly thereafter stepped out of the scrub onto a platform of sandstone, to meet 5 chaps enthusiastically warming up to assault the overhanging cave roof and cliff.
For years this secret spot has hosted a regular bunch of guys armed with their 5.10’s, a bag of chalk, a gas lantern and a slab of beer for an evening of very atmospheric climbing. As you’d expect, they’re a tight bunch, and talk of life’s ins and out’s flowed in the same way guys in bars all over the planet put the world to rights, with the aid of a brew.
However, between conversation, all headlights were flicked to the rock, illuminating a crucial foot placement or handhold.
This was a very challenging shoot, given the very low light and the cramped space under the roof.
- Composition: Clearly the shot I wanted was a contextual one, involving not just a strong climbing composition but also the gas lantern and the surrounding lights and torches used to climb. In addition, I wanted to show the length and difficulty of the roof section being tackled. This meant I was lying belly down, crammed into the corner of the cave hoping snakes, ants and the dreaded ‘Tourist Drop Bear’ wouldn’t get me.
- Shutter: Needing as much light as possible without the risk of camera shake causing blur I opted for 1/20, which at 10mm is about as low as I’d feel comfortable with.
- Focal Length: Given the scope of what I wanted to include in the image 10mm ultra wide angle was the only way to go. Earlier I’d experimented with much longer focal lengths and shooting from deep in the bush, 30m or so away, again, looking to establish a conext shot that encompassed all the elements I described above. But, given the darkness, and the cover of the bush, there was not an angle available that had clear sight of the roof.
- Aperture: Again, forced by the low light, wanting, as far as posible to utilise the rich ambient glow from the lantern, meant this was shot wide open, @f3.5 (Max aperture for Canon’s 10-22mm)
- ISO: Pushing the limits of the Canon 7D’s usable quality range, this was shot at ISO2500
- Focus: Simple one shot focus on the main subject
- Lighting: Here is the fun part. Having set exposure for the ambient light levels, at the settings above, or more accurately, reached the maximum light capture ability for the equipement I had, it was time to bring in the strobes. A rim light to separate the climber from the background and a fill light to enable us to see him making the moves. Both strobes were dialled way down, given the low ambient, and I gelled the main fill light with a full CTO,bringing it close to the gas light’s warm orange colour temperature. After some trial and error it was game on: time to push the move and press the shutter…
The resulting work hopefully shows the strength required and difficulty involved in making these problems and conveys the atmosphere of the evening.