How I Got That Shot - Lukasz Warzecha

Lukasz Warzecha is an adventure photographer, shooting commercial and editorial assignments for the outdoor adventure industry. Based in the United Kingdom and a relatively newcomer to the world of professional photography (2009), he has entered the scene with tremendous impact. He is regularly published in some of the best outdoor magazines around the world (ClimbingClimbYoga JournalGrimper, and SA Mountain Magazine) and has been shooting campaigns for global brands such as Petzl, Stihl, and Mountain Equipment. Lukasz is sponsored by ClikElite (www.clikelite.com) and Redged (www.redged.com). "I've been climbing over 15 years now... It's fair to say that without my climbing experience, I simply wouldn’t be able to get to the positions I’m shooting from. And, more importantly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to concentrate only on photography. My experience is especially handy in winter and in the higher mountain ranges. In the Alps, I often need to climb to get to the positions I want to shoot from."

The Long Hope Route - St John's Head

Lukasz Warzecha:  "Shooting Dave Macleod on assignment for Mountain Equipment (UK's leading outdoor company) was one of my greatest adventures in 2011. Together with the HotAches film crew, I spent three weeks living and working on a small island named Isle of Hoy on the far North tip of Scotland. I remember my heart being in my mouth when I looked down the 1200-foot St. John's Head sea cliff for the very first time. It took us over a day to fix more then 3000 feet of safety ropes for the whole film crew and myself. Together with the film crew, we had two objectives for this shoot: 1) Document Dave's first free ascent of the Long Hope Route, and 2) Reshoot the impressive and dangerous headwall section, weather and conditions permitting.

I would start a day on the wall by abseiling down and scoping for angles and planning the positions. Once Dave was on the wall, there was no time to waste. I would probably stay in the air for three to four hours, but time flies when you're concentrating on the job like this. In terms of communication, we would have a briefing in the morning (the film crew, myself, and the climbers) to talk through details. On the wall, I would have radio communication with the whole crew. I would jummar (moving up a rope with a special device) back up the ropes to the top with all my gear.

"I really wanted to show off the environment Dave was climbing in, but to be able to include the whole scene, I had to be away from the wall (behind Dave's back) as far away as possible. I rappelled down through the largest overhang with two guiding ropes anchored far to my left and my right. The guiding ropes not only stopped me from spinning around, but they also helped me to position myself more to the left or right if needed. With over a 1000 feet of air below me, this free hanging position was very demanding on my core strength. The boldness of that section of the route and very sparse protection for Dave meant that I had to be very organized with the way I was shooting. This was the top pitch of arguably the world's hardest sea cliff climb graded E10/E11 with a high fall potential, so it was likely Dave would only be able to make these moves once. I knew I had to get the shoot right. There would be no second chances!

The shooting was all dictated by the climbing conditions (high humidity on the big sea cliffs can hugely affect a climber's performance). In total, we went for three weeks.  Luckily, Dave free climbed on the route in the first week, and we had a chance to reshoot, but even then Dave's safety on this top pitch was our prime concern. I was very happy with the full cloud cover as I didnt have to worry about balancing shadows and highlights. The problem here was that the wall faces north, and it doesn't really get proper sun on it until late in the day.  With the wall in the shade (perfect climbing conditions for Dave), it was beyond the camera's dynamic range to capture the climber and shimmering lights of the sea down below.

THE GEAR

"It was all quite simple with the photography gear. I had two cameras with me (a Canon 5D Mark II with a 15mm f/2.8 fisheye and the Canon 5D with 17-40mm f/4L).  We all knew that fully overcast skies would provide us with the best lighting conditions, but surprisingly for a 'rainy' Scotland, we had to wait for nearly a week for cloud cover. With eight magazine covers around the world and features in most of the UK's newspapers (The Times, Telegraph, Independent and Daily Mail), it was a very successful shoot.

TIPS ON CLIMBING PHOTOGRAPHY

"To create compelling climbing images, the shot has to be experience-based. I like to let climbers climb the route while I observe their moves. At this stage, I may snap away some test shots to document the moves and positions I like. Later on, we would concentrate only on shooting these few moves and positions. With experience I've learned that you are most likely to get great shots on the top half of the route. This separates the climber from the ground with a shallow depth of field.  When you're shooting long distance shots, I found that it's more appealing to place the climber in the top 1/3 of the frame. I truly believe that it's very easy to shoot climbing action shots, but to be able to show the ambience and the environment, you need to challenge yourself. Before I get my cameras out, I like to ask myself 'What is so special about this route. What is it that I'm trying to capture?' You need to know this to communicate your vision with your athlete."

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