High Lights

How to position lights really high for creative effects.

You know how it is after you have photographed a particular subject for years? Maybe it is senior portrait after portrait, or college basketball game after game. It seems like you have explored every creative idea you can muster, and things get a little too familiar. This is the point where photographers often experience a career shift, either by rebranding themselves in a different genre or developing a new technique or style for a very familiar subject.  I started guiding rock climbing when I was 18, and have been photographing it about as long, some 30 years later. I still love seeing images of climbers deep water soloing, sport climbing and bouldering. But I knew for my own work of this sport I wanted something completely different, more lit and edgy, something clients might use for commerical uses. I had plenty of climbers willing to do laps on routes so I could get my shot. But the challenge became how to get my lights 25 feet off the ground to capture the climbers pulling through the hard moves. Dangling lights off the side of the cliff would take a lot of rigging, possilble but time intensive. And then my friends at Manfrotto turned me on to the 269HDBU light stand.

The Manfrotto 269HDBU light stand is 24 feet tall, and can put your lights in places you can't imagine.  I have two of these stands, and they are the perfect solution for lighting rock climbers high off the ground. I start by setting up my lights on the stands at the base of the cliff, one on either side of where the climber will be when he is way off the ground.  As long as the cliff is vertical or slightly overhung, you can extend the lights right up beside your climber 25 feet off the ground.  I can shoot cross lighting on my climber, or maybe just add one light to create shadow and contrast.  A drab overcast climbing shot turns into something a little more dramatic.  Granted, this look may not be what you want on a rock climbing shot.  But finding these stands and experimenting with high lighting on rock climbers has reinvigorated my climbing photography.

Another point about that 269HDBU stand that is very convenient; they have an independent adjustable leg. This allows me to set up the stand on uneven ground below a cliff, creating a stable platform on rocky ground. I use two kinds of lights on top of the stand. My favorite is to use an Elinchrom Quadra on top.  The Quadras recycle fast, work wirelessly, and have lots of softboxes and accessories I can use with the light. I also will use my Nikon speedlights attached to a Lastolite Triflash bracket as another option for lighting. With both lights I use webbing, gaffer tape and carabiners to make sure the lights stay secure on top.

The next time you are visualizing a shoot, imagine what having a high light might do for your image. It just might give you some new ideas.


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Tom Bol

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