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A significant amount of my time is spent researching the adventure industry. I spend many hours watching videos, reading articles, searching through new equipment and reviews, and trying to gain a further comprehension of how to increase the quality of the media I produce.

Already having a great interest and admiration for the films and works of Alastair Lee, I was keen to obtain a copy of his new book, Lake District Mountain Landscape. Alastair states that his book ‘focuses on the high mountains of Lakeland – a domain filled with many scenic treasures and adventures’ and that the book is ‘about the mountains themselves, their history, geology, ecology and culture you find in and on them’. The book is a refreshingly original twist on the stereotypical Lake District panorama collection, and Alastair makes some very poignant statements. He notes that the problem, for him, lies in the ‘endless racks of clichéd picture postcards in every shop in the district’, and that the ‘plethora of Lakeland artwork, paintings, photography and calendars on display was all remarkably similar.’ I whole-heartedly sympathise with his view, and this is something I have felt since I first began exploring photography and film two years ago. Alastair’s book is a great inspiration for me, and over the last few days has helped my ever-expanding pool of ideas to surge into full flow.

Near the back of the book, Alastair has included a ‘Photographic Notes’ section. This area of the book includes the equipment he used to capture his images, as well as information on his views and ideology with regard to photography. He mentions the use of the Roundshot Super 220VR camera, as well as the Fuji GX617 which is no longer in production. I had not looked greatly into the use of film, panoramic or medium format cameras, and the images within Alastair’s book have inspired me to do research into these areas of the adventure media field. Interestingly, he also describes what he feels to be the technical elements of photography, and how to capture those perfect shots:

“Set the camera up on the tripod, compose your shot, check the horizon is level (spirit level on tripod), check exposure with light meter, set camera accordingly (is it a 90mm lens with a centre spot grad filter? If so push down one stop) keep aperture under F22 for corner to corner sharpness, check focus, take several exposures bracketing shot as experience dictates…”
Alastair then goes on to say that ‘what is difficult about landscape photography is being ‘in the right place at the right time’.’ Every good landscape photographer knows the above rules but I think that for me, it applies to more than just landscape photography. I have spent hours upon hours pondering the correct way in which to capture that perfect shot, whether I am dangling on a rope above an overhanging crag or stood firmly on top of a mountain, taking a photograph or shooting a section of video, and whilst reading Alastair’s photographic notes it occurred to me that this simple ‘ticklist’ that he has conjured includes all of the technical elements that need to be considered. Of course I still need to judge weather conditions, my access/rope/climbing techniques and methods, and how to work alongside other cameramen as effectively and efficiently as possible, but Alastair’s checklist has allowed me to improve my awareness of what it takes to be an adventure cameraman.

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The following are a selection of images from my recent trip to Finland. They were all taken on the same evening from a small island two kilometers from any shoreline.

Having received positive feedback for our film shoot on Monday, I was optimistic and eager for Tuesday at Napes Needle. We met Paul Horton at university at 9am, and all hopped in a minibus to be ferried over to Seathwaite farm ready for our walk up to the needle. We decided to approach the needle from Seathwaite as although it was a longer walk, it would take less time on a whole than driving over to Wasdale and walking in from there. The walk was nice and simple, although packs were heavy due to us having to haul in camera kit, climbing gear and personal mountain equipment. We arrived at midday, wasted no time and quickly began setting up ropes so that we could get going as soon as Leo arrived. I was to be stationed directly opposite the needle, halfway up a route just across from Eagles Nest Ridge, and it quickly became clear I was going to need to lead up to it, as there was no easy way of abseiling down. I set about gathering everything I would need to spend the day on the ledge, and with a belay from Ali climbed up to my perch. I would be needing a lot of gear, including the Sony Z7, a tripod, my rack and rigging equipment, waterproofs and of course food, but decided to pad all of this and haul it up to myself rather than climbing with it hanging off my back. Once on top of my perch I placed a couple of bits of gear and began to get everything ready for when Leo arrived. I attached a sling between my camera and tripod and my harness, clipped my bag into the system and began experimenting with the composition of the needle. With the weather being undesirable, I made a mental note to not include too much sky in the shot, as the dynamic range of the camera meant that the sky was just getting blown out whenever I exposed for the needle. I memorised a couple of shots, and took note of appropriate zoom lengths before settling down and waiting for our climber.

Leo below the needle - Photo: Joshua Crabtree

Leo arrived slightly later than scheduled, as he had got stuck in traffic and had had to jog up from the car park with all his equipment. This however did not hinder him, and before we knew it he had soloed to the top of the needle to ‘check the moves’ as it had been sometime since he had last been there. Josh was set to second Leo up, and once we had done a ready check he was off. I took some shots of Leo on the first pitch of the climb, as I had three tapes in my bag and it seemed silly not to make use of having a stunning vantage point. He climbed the first section a couple of times, redoing it on the arête the second time round which made for some great shots from where I was sitting. Once Martin was happy that we had all the shots we needed from the first pitch, Leo rigged a belay and set off climbing the second pitch. He redid the first few moves three or four times so that Dom could get the shots of Leo climbing round the corner to the standard he wanted, but then continued round and into my shot. He climbed this pitch a few times as well which, like on Little Chamonix, allowed me to take several different wide angle shots as well as some close ups. He reached the top, and I took some footage of him belaying an excited Josh up until they were stood on the top of the needle shaking hands. Leo exclaimed that the needle is a real summit, something that you have to be a climber to achieve, and Josh agreed before they began to rig for the descent. Josh reverse-led the top pitch and Leo down climbed it, but realised that while he was half way up the climb he may as well attempt the E3 route which comes over the overhang near the top. He shouted over to me that this was the shot, and I hastily reframed so that the overhang was the focus of the shot, but with a scenic background looking over towards the mountains. I had tried to frame the shot with the dry stone walls and steep screes of Wasdale included, but this detracted from the needle too much. Leo spent some time working out the moves, and being an exceptional climber found that he did not need to cut loose to overcome the small roof section. He did however, for the sake of the footage, throw in a quick cut loose and I sat there watching with a weird mix of emotions. Half of me was in awe, watching one of the best climbers in the country ascend what is arguably the birth of recreational rock climbing, but the other half was in a complete state of ‘oh god please look good on film.’ It turns out the footage was exactly what Martin was hoping for, and that evening he put together a short edit for cumbrialive.tv that was centred around my shot from that day.

The short teaser Martin uploaded can be seen here

Once Leo was down and Martin was happy that we had everything, Dom, Paul and myself began derigging and descending while Martin carried out a quick interview with Leo. Once on the ground and with the interview over, we had a brief discussion about how the day had gone, and also discussed what was going to be a tricky day filming on the Central Buttress, Scafell Crag.

I awoke on Monday morning on a bit of an adrenaline rush. I ate as much as my nervous stomach would allow, grabbed a quick shower and headed down the M6 to university to meet the other members of the film team. We had arranged to meet at 9am at the campus outdoor stores, and had already prepared all the equipment we would need. We grabbed our kit and jumped in a car before heading over to Shepherds Crag, arriving well before Leo or Martin. We headed up to the café and grabbed a cup of tea each before sitting down to run through what we would be doing, and what role everyone was going to play. After the eventful happenings at Brown Slabs we wanted this shoot to be as high quality and professional as possible. Martin arrived shortly after we had begun to chat, and it was evident that he had also learnt a great deal from the Brown Slabs day as he had a brought a plan for the day for each of us. This included the type of shots he wanted to capture, a storyboard for the film, how many times Leo would be climbing each section etc, and this proved invaluable. By the time Martin had gone over everything we were feeling anxious but confident, knowing that this was our first real taste of professional camera work. We drank up, and went over to the cars to start ferrying gear up to the crag when Leo arrived. He hopped out of the car and said hello before answering his phone and proceeded to get hassled by somebody for a good few minutes. We carried our gear up and quickly began talking about camera positions. It quickly became clear that Dom would abseil off the route that Leo was going to climb, and jumar back up as Leo climbed, this enabled him to film Leo from bottom to top of the route, allowing crucial moments like the shuffle onto the saddle to be captured. Ali and Martin were both on top of the crag with cameras, and would be taking wide shots and close ups wherever possible, trying to get as much b-roll and extra wide angle shots as possible. My role involved abseiling off of a route just left of Donkey’s Ears to a perch on a ledge about ten metres from the top of the crag. This allowed me to reach right out, whilst still allowing me to use a tripod. I was tasked with getting what Martin described as the ‘money shots’. He wanted me to capture shots of Leo climbing on the top section of Little Chamonix with the surrounding mountains and Derwentwater to the left of the frame. I framed the shot so that the crag sat in the right hand third of the shot, with the mountains and lake positioned in the left and centre thirds. I also ensured that the horizon line sat on the top third line, and made sure it was straight! (One of the mistakes made during the Brown Slabs shoot)

Leo climbed the top section of the route three times. This allowed me to get the wide shots twice, framing them differently each time so that Martin had two shots to work with, as well as allowing me the opportunity to get some close up shots so that he could really emphasise a sense of flow when editing the sequence together. We all received an email from Martin that evening saying that he had looked at the footage and was really impressed with what he saw. He mentioned the next day that he was glad he had given us this second opportunity to show what we can do. I spent that evening on a real high, talking with friends about expedition ideas for Aconcagua, optimistic that I have what it takes to make a name for myself in this industry. I understand that the road is long, challenging and arduous, but if you want something badly enough you will do what you can to get hold of it.

Some time ago, our first year media lecturer Martin Campbell mentioned that he had received a commission from Cumbria Tourism to create a short film showing the beauty of climbing and the Lake District. The film was set to feature Leo Houlding, and we were offered the opportunity to work with him to produce the footage for this film. Most of us jumped at the opportunity and we were incredibly excited to be working with someone of as high a calibre as Leo.

Dates were scheduled and plans were made, but when it came time to do the first film shoot at Brown Slabs, I was called into hospital at Derby as the surgeons there had some concerns about a past injury of mine that needed to be addressed. I was devastated, but accepted that this was something that needed sorting out and reluctantly got the train down to Derby the day before we were set to film. The shoot went ahead, and needless to say the rest of my course were buzzing. It turned out however, that there had been some serious complications with the film day, (cameras not set correctly, tripods not used, microphones not calibrated) and as a result very little of the footage was usable.  Martin was obviously concerned that there would be a repeat of this on the next day of filming, which had not yet been scheduled, and called a meeting with some of the students including myself. Having not been at Brown Slabs on the day, I subconsciously dropped into the role of middle-man. This proved particularly effective; as between us we managed to convince Martin that the mistakes had led to everyone on the course learning some valuable lessons. He agreed to give using students another chance, and scheduled a week for filming. It turned out that only three of us would be able to be around for the filming, which left our course leader searching for more hands. He quickly enlisted one of the first year students, so between us we had five members to contribute to the team: Myself, Ali, and Dom from the second year, Josh from the first year, and Paul, our course leader would be coming along to be a technical climbing and ropes expert. We were all set and raring to go.

Well, now seems like a good time to publish my new blog. It has been an exciting few weeks, I have recently returned from twenty one days in Finland, and have spent the last week filming with Leo Houlding for a short film for Cumbria Tourism. My main aim at the minute is to get my website up and running, and to make sure I have the content ready to put onto it. My portfolio is coming together nicely, and finding out that the BMC have used one of my images for a nationwide advert has really given me a boost in motivation.

I have also just ordered a new camera, which I feel marks the next step in my evolution as a photographer and cameraman. I decided to go with a 5d mk ii as being a student, I don’t have particularly deep pockets and with a large quantity of media assignments ahead with the final year of university, I feel that with the HD video feature I will have all the equipment I need to get that first class honours degree I want so desperately! Speaking of which, I am struggling to decide which microphone to buy to accompany the camera, but that will come in a later post.

As I said, I hope to have my website up and running soon, but being relatively new to HTML and CSS this is taking some time, and I am extremely grateful to the friends that are putting up with me during this process. I am also hoping to have a blog to run alongside the website, but unfortunately for now one of the basic WordPress templates will have to suffice.

Hopefully this blog will be an excellent reminder of my progression as an adventure cameraman and photographer, as well as a great medium for people to see my work and get in contact. Over the next few days I will be posting a relatively large number of posts, as I have been rushed off my feet recently, and all these adventures need to be documented somewhere!