I am honored that the image below was included among the winners of the 2017 International Photography Awards in both the Professional Sports/Extreme Sports category and also in the Professional Editorial, Sports category. Strangely enough, I was not informed that one of my images was chosen. I got an email this morning thanking me for entering the competition and then clicked through to check out the winners images–only to find that one of my images was among the winners. That kind of made my day!

There are some stunning images in this years collection of winners. The Mission of the International Photography Awards, from their website, is to “salute the achievements of the world’s finest photographers, to discover new and emerging talent and to promote the appreciation of photography.” In addition to being among the winners on the IPA website, my image along with many of the other winning images will be exhibited in an exclusive show in New York, during the week leading up to the Lucie Awards gala. The Best of Show will then travel to various countries to be included in photo festivals, galleries, and other photography related events. The images will also be published in the “high-quality, full-color International Photography Awards Annual.”

As you can see above, I got third place in both categories. Thank you to the IPA Jury for selecting my image to be included among so many amazing images. It is always a thrill to have your work recognized, and especially so in such a prestigious photography competition like the IPA awards. Check out all the winning images on the International Photography Awards website.

 

  • Alberto - Congratulations, very well deserved. This photograph has inspired me in outdoor lighting in so many ways.

I am honored to be a part of CreativeLIVE’s Photo Week 2017 alongside many of my peers including Joe McNally, Ian Shive, Pratik Naik, Clay Cook, Lindsay Adler, Stacy Pearsall and many more. Photo Week is coming up October 9-13, 2017 and it is a week long series of short 90-minute classes on a wide variety of topics. I will be teaching the following courses on October 12th and 13th:

What it Takes to be a Professional Photographer

Thursday, Oct 12th, 2017
Class starts at 3:00pm PST

RSVP and/or Purchase this class.

Working as a pro photographer takes commitment, passion and tons of hard work. Many think pro photographers are on an extended vacation and happen to take a few photos while traveling the globe non-stop. While many photographers do travel quite a bit, and some go to exotic locations, the reality is quite different than the perception. In this 90-minute class we will discuss what it takes to be a pro photographer including how to perfect your craft, dial in your marketing, build a following and how to find clients that will hire you. By the end of this class you should have a level-headed, realistic view of what a photography career might entail.

Capturing Action in the Studio

Friday, October 13th, 2017
Class starts at 3:00pm PST

RSVP and/or Purchase this class.

With the advent of numerous high-speed sync technologies it is now possible to freeze motion like never before. Action Photographer Michael Clark will discuss how to use Hi-Sync (HS) techniques to capture fast moving action in the studio. Working with a parkour athlete we will walk you step by step through the process to figure out this exciting new technology and discuss how it can be used in the studio and out on location.

All week long, these 90-minute classes by 17 instructors will be streaming on the CreativeLIVE website for FREE. Tune in if you have time. There are sure to be some classes that will appeal to just about any photographer. Check out the full list of classes here.

For full disclosure, please note that all links and banners in this blog post are affiliate links.

Disclaimer: I am sponsored by Elinchrom and work closely with them on some products. I have been testing iterations of the ELB 1200 over the last year and have spent several months working with this kit. Since the Elinchrom ELB 1200 is still yet to be released, this is a preliminary review. I will save the full review for when I get the full production version of this strobe. The versions I have worked with over the last few months are very near to the full production version, which is why I felt confident enough to write up a preliminary review here. This article was originally published in my Summer 2017 Newsletter

The Elinchrom ELB 1200 is Elinchrom’s brand new, yet to be released, 1,200 Watt-second (Ws) battery-powered strobe. Over the past two years I have had the honor of testing out a few different iterations of this incredible strobe kit. All of the ELB 1200s I have worked with have been prototypes, though in the last few months I have been working with a very-near-production version of the ELB 1200 for the Lighting the Spirit assignment for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography. As I haven’t worked with a full production version of this strobe, I won’t get critical here about any aspect of the kit as some things might have changed in the full production version.

I know many photographers have been waiting for this strobe for a long time and are desperate for any information they can get about it. I have been using the Elinchrom Rangers for over a decade now and they have served me well, but after using the ELB 1200 it is hard to even pull my Rangers out of the bag. The ELB 1200 weighs in at 4.3 Kg (roughly 9.5 lbs), which is about half the weight of the old Rangers. The flash heads weigh 2.2 Kg (4.6 lbs). That makes for a 6.5 Kg (14.3 lbs) kit, with one flash head, which means the ELB 1200 is now the lightest 1,200 Ws battery-powered strobe on the market.

Caption: Above is an image of Chris Sheehan mountain biking under golden aspens on the Alamos Vista trail in the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe, New Mexico. To create this image I used one Elinchrom ELB 1200 and one ELB 400. Both had the Action flash heads on them and were set up as a light trap, meaning the lights were pointed at each other and I waited until Chris was in just the right spot to trigger my Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi camera. 

Aside from being so light, the ELB 1200 is also tough as nails, and damn-near waterproof from my testing. For two months this summer, I worked these units over the coals. I have tortured them in a myriad of ways with water, dust, and sand. We even dropped them a few times accidentally. Elinchrom was aware that my crew and I were going to be hard on them intentionally to see how they held up. This was one of the final stages of the prototype testing to see just how tough they are. I was surprised at how well they held up—in fact I am surprised a few of them are still working at all. I figure in two months time, I put at least a year’s worth of wear and tear on the three ELB 1200 units Elinchrom sent me. They were scratched up, beat up, and well broken in when I returned them a few weeks ago. In fact, my old Rangers after a decade or more of hard use don’t look as beat up as these ELB 1200s did after two months of hard abuse. We even put the ELB 1200 into a running waterfall (as shown in the image at the top of this blog post), and even with a flash head plugged in, the ELB 1200 wasn’t phased by any amount of water we poured over it. From what I can tell, the only way to kill one of these pack would be to violently drop it or submerge it in water.

Aside from the lightweight nature of the ELB 1200 and the build quality, the pack overall is very easy to use and houses some of the most advanced technology of any battery-powered strobe on the market. I love that Elinchrom still offers multiple flash head options for the ELB 1200, including the Action head, the Pro head, and the HS (Hi-Sync) flash head. For me, the Action and the HS flash heads are the main ones I use for my work. If I am shooting at or below the flash sync speeds of my cameras, I am using the Action flash head. If I need to work at shutter speeds above the flash sync of my camera I use the HS flash head. This ability to use different flash heads with different flash durations is what, in my mind at least, makes the ELB 1200 the most versatile flash on the market. With the HS flash heads, I found I could overpower daylight from 60-feet (18 meters) away, which is incredible.

Caption: Above is a shot of Aaron Miller fighting to stay on a tough 5.12c at Diablo Canyon just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This image was created using one ELB 1200 pack and the HS flash head. The flash head was around sixty feet away from the climber and shows just how powerful the Hi-Sync technology is for lighting a far away subject. 

The ELB 1200 has two different batteries available. The standard “Battery Air” that comes with the ELB 1200 gets 215 full power pops. The larger “Battery HD” allows for  400 full power flashes. Sadly, the larger capacity HD battery is over the limit (in terms of the amount of Lithium contained in the battery) for checked baggage so you will not be able to fly with that battery. But for local shoots or ones where you don’t have to fly, having the extra capacity is a huge benefit, especially since it is only 0.9 lbs (0.4 Kg) heavier than the Air battery.

The way the battery attaches to the ELB 1200 is also quite innovative. To detach it you simply slide the two Elinchrom logos down to the open position and then pull the two adjacent pieces apart to release the battery. Attaching a battery is as simple as setting the pack over the battery and pushing down. It snaps into place easily and to lock it you move those same Elinchrom logo pieces upwards into the locked position.

In terms of performance and light quality, the ELB 1200 is on par with any other battery-powered strobe I have seen. Like the ELB 400, the Hi-Sync technology, when using the HS flash head, has been refined to a level that no other strobe manufacturer can match. With the HS flash head, you can use any power setting on the pack. This means that can literally choose any camera settings and adjust the power on the pack to get the right exposure if your subject is relatively close—as when shooting portraits. I cannot understate how important this is when shooting in Hi-Sync mode. Additionally, I have seen very little if any gradation when shooting in HS mode.

Caption: The 250 Watt daylight balanced LED modeling light built into all of the ELB 1200 flash heads is an incredible constant light source for video applications. We were pretty shocked at how bright it was at full power, and because it is fully dimmable the lighting can be adjusted as need on the fly.

As shown above, the ELB 1200 is also a revelation for video lighting. The 250 Watt LED modeling lamp will stay on for up to two hours depending on the battery used. Because the modeling lamp generates no heat we were able to use any and all of the Elinchrom light modifiers while recording interviews. The modeling lamp is also dimmable and daylight-balanced. It allowed us to get the best lighting I have ever seen while recording interviews. Bill Stengel, the cinematographer that I work with fairly often, was amazed at how great the LED modeling lamp worked for the interviews in our behind the scenes video. We were also both amazed at how bright the LED was at full power. In fact, even with the Elinchrom Deep Octa softbox on the flash head, with diffusion, we had to dim the LED for the interview we recorded in my office. That LED is a major benefit. I don’t see the need to bring along 1×1 LED lighting for video work anymore. And with the Elinchrom modifiers, the light quality of that built-in LED in the ELB 1200 flash heads is better than any 1×1 LED panel I have ever seen.

The OLED display panel on the top of the pack is both simple and intuitive, but it also has deep menus allowing one to customize the pack to their needs. When the Action or Pro flash heads are attached to the pack, the OLED shows the exact flash duration for each power setting, which is quite handy. When the HS flash head is attached the flash duration is not shown because it is a consistent 1/550th second flash duration at all power settings. As usual with Elinchrom strobes, the power settings are changeable in one-tenth f-stops allowing you to dial in the lighting extremely accurately.

Elinchrom has listened to their photographers very closely in the last few years. When the ELB 400 came out three years ago, they sought input from the photographers who work with them closely. I sent them three pages of notes on what I would like to see in the new updated Ranger kit—and the ELB 1200 incorporates about 90% of that feedback. Apparently quite a few of us had similar feedback and requests. I have never seen a company take in so much feedback and put so much of it into a product. Kudos to Elinchrom for all of their hard work on this product. It has been a long wait but I think those that upgrade to the ELB 1200 will find it above and beyond their expectations. And with the $1,000 USD trade-in offer that Elinchrom has announced, there is little to complain about when considering upgrading from the older Rangers to the new ELB 1200. I will be trading in my old Rangers as soon as possible for the ELB 1200.

Of note for those who currently own the Elinchrom Ranger packs: the ELB 1200 is very similar in size, so it should fit into the same bags you currently own. This was a big deal, and something I specifically asked for when Elinchrom first sought out feedback as I have a small fortune in Lightware and Pelican cases to carry my Rangers.

For the location photographer needing a tough, lightweight, and versatile 1,200 Ws battery-powered pack, the ELB 1200 is a top-notch offering. If you are looking to push the envelope of what is possible, especially with Elinchrom Hi-Sync technology, then look no further. This is the strobe kit we have all been waiting for. As you can see in this blog post, and in my Summer 2017 Newsletter, I have literally built an entirely new portfolio of images while testing out this new strobe kit. No matter what I say here in this review, I think the images speak for themselves.

The ELB 1200s will start shipping this month. The ELB 1200 is hands-down the most advanced 1,200 Ws battery-powered strobe I have worked with. It is ultra-dependable, insanely durable, super easy to use and the Hi-Sync functionality is unsurpassed by any other strobe on the market. In short, the ELB 1200 blows the doors off my old Rangers. My thanks to Elinchrom for allowing me to be a part of the testing process and for designing such a stellar product. For more info on the ELB 1200 check out the Elinchrom website. To see how I have put the ELB 1200 to use, check out the Lighting the Spirit blog post.

Order your Elinchrom ELB 1200 via B&H: ELB 1200 HS To Go Kit, ELB 1200 Pro To Go Kit, Elinchrom Li-ion HD Battery for ELB 1200, Elinchrom ELB 1200 Action Flash Head. For those looking to get the most out of the Elinchrom ELB 1200 system, I recommend at least one pack with an extra battery and one HS flash head as well as one Action flash head. This set up will give you the most versatility. If you need a few packs for multiple light setups then I recommend doubling that recommendation so you have every option.

 

This afternoon I was informed that my project Lighting the Spirit, shot for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography was one of the winners of the Photo District News (PDN) 2017 Great Outdoors photography competition. My series of six images from the shoot were included in the winning selection. My thanks to PDN and the judges, including Louisa Albanese, Justin Appenzeller, Jeff Heimsath, and Cristina Mittermeier, for this recognition. To see all of the winners visit The Great Outdoors web gallery.

My thanks to Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography for this assignment and also my thanks to the stellar athletes including Rafa Ortiz, Rush Sturges and Liamm Field for their incredible effort on this shoot. Last but not least my thanks to the incredible team that helped me create these images including Bill Stengel and Tom Bear. If you would like to see a full behind the scenes accounting on how these images were created check out my behind the scenes blog post covering the Lighting the Spirit shoot.

Yesterday, Nikon announced the D850. For the last decade or more, I have dreamed of a camera that can shoot high-resolution images at 8 frames per second or faster. I was hoping for something that could capture 36 MP images at 8 fps. Well, Nikon went farther than that and introduced a camera that can capture 45.7 MP images at 9 fps–albeit with a grip that attaches to the camera. I haven’t been this excited about a new camera in quite a while. Sure, my Nikon D810 is still an insanely amazing camera. But, the D850 may replace not only my D810 but also my aging Nikon D4 as well. For the type of sports I shoot, namely adventure sports, 9 fps is typically more than enough.

Those of you that read the blog know I am a bit of a geek about camera equipment. The camera doesn’t make or break the image, but having a camera that can solve a lot of the problems for you definitely makes it easier. When I tested out the Nikon D5 last year, I was blown away by the autofocus capabilities of that camera. Having a 45.7 MP camera, that can shoot at 9 fps and incorporates the same AF module as the Nikon D5 is going to be an incredible combination. If you are wondering just how amazingly well the Nikon D5 could track fast moving subjects check out the Nikon D5 review. Nikon’s 3D Tracking AF is so good that anything else seems subpar by comparison.

I have gotten a lot of emails from photographers asking what I think about this new camera. The specs look incredible. We will just have to wait and see how it performs in the real world but Nikon has a great track record and I am pretty sure none of us will be disappointed. Through B&H Photo & Video, whom I work with as an affiliate, I will have the camera to test out next month when the D850 is launched. I will do my normal in-depth, real-world testing and see how it stacks up against my venerable D810. Stay tuned for that review.

In the mean time, on Tuesday, August 29th, B&H and Nikon are streaming a few Live Panel Discussions–one on their own and one with Nikon–both of which will include several of my peers. Click on the image and links below for more info on the Live presentations.

  • William Morton - I’m most interested in it’s low-light performance. Shooting a lot in dimly lit ballrooms (with atrocious overhead lighting illuminating foreheads and noses but not eyes), I’m really hoping for good dynamic range in that dim, contrasty lighting.

The Summer 2017 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue includes an editorial with recent news, a preview of the Elinchrom ELB 1200 battery-powered strobe, an article detailing a recent assignment for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography, a recap of my recent CreativeLIVE course, an editorial entitled Misconceptions, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Summer 2017 issue on my website at:

http://files.michaelclarkphoto.com/summer_2017.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

Sidenote: I realize I haven’t posted a blog in quite a while. The last few months have been crazy intense with numerous assignments, frantic image editing and long hours helping to edit video. Not to worry, I haven’t ditched the blog…there is much more to come in the next few weeks. This blog post is a bit long as this was one of the best assignments of my entire career and we got a wide variety of images. 

Even though there have been numerous articles posted about the “Lighting the Spirit” whitewater kayaking shoot for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography, I thought I would post a blog here detailing some of the aspects that have not been covered in the other articles that have appeared on Redbull.com, F-Stoppers, and elsewhere. First off, my thanks to Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography for making this happen. This shoot was a long-time coming. I originally discussed a possible ELB 1200 shoot with Elinchrom and Red Bull over two years ago after seeing one of the first ELB 1200 prototypes. This assignment, and the idea for this shoot, was a long process, that included a fair amount of debate and thinking, which I think can be seen in the images. Once we decided on the sport of whitewater kayaking, Red Bull introduced me to Rafa Ortiz, one of the world’s best whitewater kayakers–especially when it comes to dropping big waterfalls.

In discussions with Rafa, we decided on Spirit Falls, which is on the Little White Salmon river near White Salmon, Washington. I was a bit apprehensive about shooting at Spirit Falls because it has been photographed so many times and by many of my peers in the adventure sports photography world. Nevertheless, we needed a waterfall that was somewhat easy to access and one that Rafa and the crew could run over and over. In the end, Spirit Falls was one of the few places that really could work for this project. To round out the crew of athletes, Rafa brought in Rush Sturges and Liamm Fields, both of whom are world-class kayakers in their own right. Above is an image of Liamm going straight in on Spirit Falls.

As with any successful photo shoot, a lot of pre-planning and thought went into this assignment. Throughout the development of the Elinchrom ELB 1200, I had been working with various prototypes so I knew what they were capable of. My experience, starting with Hypersync years ago, and with the Hi-Sync features of the ELB 400 more recently, really helped me imagine what was possible with a decent sized waterfall and a world-class athlete. In particular the series of ice climbing shoots I did back in 2014 and 2015 really gave me a sense of how I could approach this whitewater kayaking shoot. But that was only the beginning of my thinking. Spirit Falls drops into a basin, and as such, this allowed me to move nearly 270 degrees around the waterfall to gain various camera angles and also stage my lights wherever I needed them, which gave us a lot of options when setting up the shots. This longer behind the scenes video produced by Red Bull, gives a lot of insight into this assignment:

For months before the assignment, I had been talking with Elinchrom about different possibilities, including rappelling behind the waterfall. I was really psyched on getting behind the curtain as the possibilities there seemed wildly different than an average portrait. Once we got to White Salmon and went to check out the waterfall, we realized there was no gap between the falls, as there usually is, where we could rappel behind the waterfall. Usually Spirit Falls is a smaller, narrow waterfall with a gap between it and the other side of the falls, not a huge curtain of water as seen in the images here. Because the entire western US had an epic winter, there was so much snowmelt this year that we had to wait until late May for water levels to get down to a runnable level. That epic winter made for epic amounts of runoff, which also meant that the waterfall was a solid hundred foot wide curtain of water when we arrived in late May.

This was a four day assignment, with one scout day and three shoot days. The scout day involved a full day of bushwhacking around different sections of the river to check out other possible shoot locations. This being the northwest, there was plenty of poison oak to deal with. We were careful, but even with care, I still came home with poison oak in several places. The scout day was a bit brutal. The incredibly hot weather and dense forest approaches didn’t help. Even so, we did manage to find a few other sections of the river that would work for additional action and lifestyle images.

After the scout day, we laid out our plan for the shoot. Before shooting any action, we wanted to get a wide variety of portrait and lifestyle images in the bag. The idea was that once we started shooting the action, if anyone got hurt that could end the entire shoot. Hence, getting a wide variety of non-action images seemed prudent. We spent the entire first day shooting portrait and lifestyle images near Spirit Falls and also at other spots on the river. We started with underwater shots having Rafa doing barrel rolls while being lit from above using a Kupo Big Boom, which is a beefy 12-foot boom arm.

To get the above image, I put my Nikon D810 into a Ewa-Marine bag with the Skyport Plus HS on top and used a 24mm lens. The reason I used a Ewa-Marine bag instead of a surf housing, like my CMT surf housing, is that I needed to be able to adjust a wide variety of settings both on the camera and on the transmitter. It took a little trial and error to dial in the settings but once we got there, we were able to get some pretty cool underwater shots and control the lighting very accurately. Afterwards, we moved on to a location that was very close to Spirit Falls, just on the opposite side of the gorge from the actual waterfall. This small waterfall was a perfect place to shoot a series of portraits and freeze the falling water, as shown below.

For the portraits above, I shot with both a Nikon D810 and with a Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi. As you might imagine, this spot was quite wet. I wrapped the Hasselblad in a plastic cover to keep it from getting too wet. When shooting with the Nikon, I just left it naked as I have tons of experience shooting with a wide variety of Nikons in full on rain and have had not any issues. The portraits are definitely more staged than any of the other images we captured but as with all of my assignments, it isn’t always about the action, and creating a wide variety of images to show the entire experience is critical for most clients. These portraits also show just how versatile the ELB 1200 is for a wide variety of scenarios. We used the Action heads when shooting with the Hasselblad (because it has a leaf shutter and requires fast flash durations) and we used the Hi-Sync heads when shooting with the Nikon to stop the motion of the falling water.

As a side note here, I was intentionally trying to kill one of the three ELB 1200 packs we had with us on this shoot. I wanted not only to create cool images for Elinchrom’s marketing but also see just how tough these packs are in the wild. After we were done shooting the above portraits, I borrowed Rafa’s paddle and diverted a serious amount of the waterfall onto the top of the ELB 1200 with a flash head still plugged into the top of the pack. Below is a shot of it after I gave the paddle back to Rafa. We shook it off, and dried off the water on the top of the pack and tested it out. It still worked fine. I was pretty surprised as there was a lot of water hitting the pack for several seconds. With a flash head plugged into the top of the power pack there was a potentially serious failure point where water could enter the pack. Apparently Elinchrom has considered this possibility, which explains why the cables fit snuggly into the top of the pack, creating a water tight seal. After this experiment, I realized the only way to really kill the pack would be to toss it into the river, but as I wouldn’t do that with my own gear that seemed a little over the line in terms of trying to kill a pack. Note that the flash heads have slits in the back of them to cool the flash head so I did not put those naked into the waterfall.

While scouting, we found that there was a small hole just next to Spirit Falls where we could rappel behind the curtain of the waterfall. On the second day of shooting, we set up the rope and used it to rappel behind the waterfall. I have to say that this was one of the coolest things I have done in quite a few years as an adventure photographer. Dropping through a three-by-three foot opening to get behind the curtain of the waterfall was exhilarating. It felt like we landed on another planet. My enthusiasm, and Rafa’s as well, is apparent in the behind the scened video above. Tom Bear, my assistant and a stellar pro photographer in his own right, rappelled into the cave with Rafa and myself. He held the light and we worked out a few different shooting positions and lighting angles.

Here again, I put my Nikon D810 and the Skyport Transmitter into a Ewa-Marine bag to protect it. We put the ELB 1200 into a padded LowePro case and then put that into a dry bag, with the flash head cable running out of the dry bag. The flash head was protected with a heavy-duty clear plastic bag and we used gaffer’s tape to seal the plastic bag. Up top, I put a fully-charged battery onto the pack but somehow while rappelling in it got knocked around a bit, and the battery had shifted slightly. Hence, I had to take the ELB 1200 out of the dry bag and re-attach the battery while getting nailed by the spray that was a constant issue. In doing so, the entire pack got wet, including the top of the exposed battery and the bottom of the power pack. We didn’t really have any choice in the matter so we just carried on, hoping the unit would fire normally – and it worked perfectly.

This was one of the most challenging locations I have ever had to work in. While behind the waterfall, there was a consistent high-velocity spray that seemed to shoot into my ears non-stop. It was hard to even look through the camera because my eyes wold get nailed by an occasional jet of spray forcing me to rub them out and clear my vision. Additionally, the Ewa-Marine bag was soaked and any attempt to clear the front lens element just smeared the water in an unnatural way. Honestly, I am shocked we got any usable images down there at all. The image below is a two-shot panorama that is my favorite image from behind Spirit Falls. When we ascended the rope (using mechanical ascenders) to get out of there, I was so jacked up at that point I couldn’t contain my excitement.

After our adventure behind Spirit Falls, we set to work on creating the action images. With one light above the waterfall and another on the opposite side of the gorge, over 100-feet away, which acted as a fill light, I set to work to find the actual shooting angles. My first choice was to get as close as possible to the action and shoot while hanging from a rope right in front of the waterfall. This resulted in some pretty amazing images as shown below. In these images Rafa and the crew have run the same line multiple times for me to dial in my timing and catch them at just the right spot.

To show the effect of the flash, below are images shot at the same exposures but without the flash. These before and after images show just how powerful and important the flash was in creating these images. Also, note that these images are underexposed because the in-camera settings are set to expose the background correctly so no highlights are blown out. In the case of the right image below, I adjusted the exposure for the sky, which is barely visible and which explains why the image is so dark. Also, because I was shooting with a Nikon D810, which has an incredible dynamic range, those dark areas in the background were easily lifted in the post-processing without adding much if any noise to the final image.

All of the action images were created using Elinchrom’s Hi-Sync technology that allows the flash to sync at any shutter speed. For most of the action images we shot with shutter speeds ranging from 1/2,500th second up to 1/4,000th second to freeze the action. When shooting whitewater kayaking, it has been my experience that if you want to freeze the motion of the kayaker you need to use a shutter speed of at least 1/1,500th second or higher. Elincrhom’s Hi-Sync technology allowed us to freeze the motion in a way that would otherwise be quite difficult to pull off with flashes.

Before the shoot, I didn’t realize that Liamm and Rush were game to run the falls more than a few times. Luckily for me, they both dropped Spirit almost as many times as Rafa did, which allowed me to get my timing dialed in and also gave us quite a few extra images. After shooting a few rounds right in front of the waterfall, I climbed back up and changed my shooting position. I was very conscious of how many times the kayakers were dropping over Spirit Falls and we made sure we were ready for each descent since we only got one image per drop. The image I had in mind before the shoot was to replicate the ice climbing images I mentioned above. I moved over to the far side of the gorge, so that I was straight on with the waterfall curtain and used a 70-200mm lens to frame up a wider shot, as shown in the images below. I also zoomed in a bit to get a tighter shot once I got the timing down. These images from a little farther away show the entire waterfall and give a better sense of the height of the water fall and the kayakers position on it.

At the end of the second day, it felt like I had gone caving. I was soaked from head to toe and coated in mud as shown in the behind the scenes image below captured by Marv Watson. Amazingly, my Nikon was just fine. The camera and the 14-24mm lens I was using while hanging only a few feet away from the waterfall were soaked repeatedly but never seemed to flinch. I must have wiped the lens off a hundred times or more while hanging right in front of the waterfall.

One thing I haven’t noted here yet is the approach to Spirit Falls. It isn’t that long or hard of a hike to get down to Spirit Falls, though it is quite steep in a few sections, but when you carry in a fully loaded 90-pound (40-Kg) backpack that simple approach becomes a whole lot more interesting. On all three days that we shot down at Spirit Falls, Tom and I carried in huge packs with the cameras and lighting gear. While going down the 1,000 feet to Spirit Falls wasn’t so challenging, hiking back out each day was a lesson in pure suffering. Thank God the ELB 1200s were as light as they are. It wasn’t just the lighting gear that weighed us down, we also had quite a bit of climbing gear as well as full dry suits to use behind the waterfall.

The third and final day of the shoot was planned as a backup – or pick up day. I didn’t know how many times the kayakers would physically be able to run the Spirit. On the morning of the third day Rush admitted he was quite sore. All three kayakers were all absorbing a serious impact every time they ran Spirit. In fact, they told me they had never run it that many times in a single day. Appreciative of their efforts, I asked if we could go back and do just a few more runs so I could dial in a tighter shot. I also wanted to shoot a few images with Rush or Liamm standing on a rock below Spirit Falls, showing the role of the safety boater and giving us a wider range of images.

Above are a few images shot on the third and final day of the assignment. Above left, we shot all three kayakers running a rapid known as Chaos, which is actually the most dangerous rapid on the entire four-mile stretch of the Little White Salmon. For this image of Rush Sturges we used two strobes, one on Spirit Falls and another from above lighting up Chaos. In the above right image, we had Rush Sturges stand below the falls on a rock with the swirling cauldron of water below him. Liamm Fields is dropping over Spirit Falls while Rush holds a safety rope. When we created this image, it opened up a whole new set of images I hadn’t thought of before the shoot. After showing the images to Rafa and crew, it was obvious we needed to shoot some other versions of this so Rafa opted to run Spirit one more time to access this rock below the falls. We finished off the shoot by capturing a series of images of Rafa standing on the rock below Spirit Falls.

This last shot, shown above, might be the best image from the entire shoot. It is certainly the best lifestyle-type image from the shoot in my opinion. We created so many stellar images that it is very difficult to edit these images. The first image, at the top of this blog post is another of my favorites, as is the one from behind the waterfall. I have several favorite action images of Rafa, many of which are shown here, but I can’t actually decide which one is the best of the best. Please feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section.

I have to thank the entire team that worked so hard on this assignment. Bill Stengel, our one man band behind the scenes video guru, who lugged a full RED Epic kit down to Spirit Falls — and captured some amazing behind the scenes footage shown in the video above, Tom Bear, my assistant, and also Marv Watson and Jorge Henao from Red Bull Photography who shot the behind the scenes stills and also carried down a few extra items for us each day. Without your help gentlemen, and that of our illustrious athletes, this shoot just would not have been possible and the resulting images would have been far less interesting. Lastly, my thanks again to Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography for making this happen. If you would like to see more behind the scenes stills jump on over to the Red Bull Photography website and check out the article they posted from this shoot that includes quite a few additional still images from the shoot and also Marv and Jorge’s behind the scenes still images.

This really was one of the best shoots of my entire career. I have set for myself a very high watermark that will be hard to surpass in the future. I am very proud of what we have created here both because it wasn’t a given, and we all had to work insanely hard to pull it off. Thank you to everyone who has posted on social media with feedback. It has been very encouraging to get such amazing feedback and see the reaction to this set of images.

  • Paurav Shah - Excellent pictures it shows your hard work! Each image is masterpiece. And thanks for sharing the video and images. Best of luck!
    Cheers!

  • Martin Beebee - As a photographer and whitewater kayaker, I’m blown away with these images, Michael — truly some of the best I’ve seen. And thanks for the in-depth BTS info — shows how much work really goes into making outstanding unique photographs.

  • 2017 Great Outdoors Photography Competition » Michael Clark Photography - […] accounting on how these images were created check out my behind the scenes blog post covering the Lighting the Spirit […]

  • Equipment Preview: Elinchrom ELB 1200 » Michael Clark Photography - […] the last few months I have been working with a very-near-production version of the ELB 1200 for the Lighting the Spirit assignment for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography. As I haven’t worked with a full production […]

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