the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

December 8, 2010

I peer down and see my feet are sporting crampons. And its only October.

Filed under: outdoors, photography — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 10:06 am

The problem with Chamonix for us photographers is that we’re often spoilt for choice. The place just has far too many good looking, outdoor types happy to help a photographer to spend a client’s money on models for a shoot. Much of it seems to have something to do with it being home for most of Sweden’s under-thirties. When it comes to serious alpine shoots though, nothing makes me feel more at ease than to employ a model that also happens to be a High Mountain Guide. Said straight, clambering around on Alpine faces and peering down into icy abysses gives me the willies, even after 15 years in the game.

Damn I dropped my phone... Canon EOS 1D mkIII / 24-70 2.8

So it was with relief that, for a recent catalogue shoot for Osprey that dictated “real environments and authentic action” I drew on the combination of requisite credible looks and the authentic wisdom of a local guide to go and bag us (no pun intended) some ice climbing images for the backpack company. Things being as they are in commercial photography, the product was duly shipped and of course arrived two days after the closure of our local high Alpine lift, effectively closing access to the 3800 metre high ridges and sweeping panoramas I had in mind as a location.

So to Plan B. We jumped on the only lift still operating -a cog railway that hauls thousands of smiling, snapping tourists up to the Mer de Glace each summer (ironically the glacial location that gave inspiration to Mary Shelley for Frankenstein)- donned crampons and hiked out far onto the enormous glacier, shooting ‘approach’ style pics on the hoof while trying to avoid catching crampon spokes in trouser-legs and inadvertently tripping to fall into any one of the gaping ice holes that pock autumn ice before it is hidden beneath winter snow bridges.

My ‘model’ did more than smile and look forlornly into the middle distance. With the kind of no-nonsense air that suggests he likes to hang out in such places, he led us straight to an enormous sink hole in the ice (that’s a drainage for climate change melt water) and before I had loaded a new memory cardhe was dangling down the abyss, ice axes in hand, quicker than a ice ferret on speed. Just watching it gave me anxiety

Canon EOS 1D mkIII /24-70 2.8

pangs, something I needed to overcome to shoot the final images needed, with the angle of looking down from above the climber. It’s being comfortable, or at least fielding an ability to manage the situation in scenarios like these that seperates us outdoor photographers from the fashion and studio set (that and several zero’s on our paychecks), but no matter how long I do this kind of thing, I often find myself juggling calculated angst with the adrenaline rush of real adventure. Sometimes even knowing you’re anchored to an ice screw buried in century old ice and can’t really fall anywhere too far doesn’t necessarily placate deep seated fears of your own demise, but of course such experiences just add to the portfolio of skills we rugged, manly photographers can offer clients. Don’t they?

And as a bonus we get to ooze that “all in a day’s work” nonchalance we photographers like to exhibit, especially when there are a lot of Swedish under-thrirties around.

Ha! If only they knew what really goes on in the heads of backpack shoot photographers.

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