Attack of the Drones: Shooting Climbing from Any Angle

Drone helicopter in action
A drone helicopter in action. This image is from a guest post by the Swiss climber/photographer Fred Moix.

I recently watched (via DVD) Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt to free climb a particularly blank line up Dawn Wall in Yosemite. Even though I’m a jaded former climbing magazine editor, I was amazed as the camera revealed a barren, vertiginous world of golden granite that few humans will ever visit. I watched, slackjawed, as the duo battled to crimp down on ripples and slivers, took massive whippers thousands of feet above the valley floor, slept on a portaledge, pooped… . It was clear to me how the climbers got to their lonely, suspended perch, but, hey, how did those get cameras up there? Perhaps you’ve wondered the same thing when watching vids like these.

Well, I know a few of the crazy dudes who do this high-angle camera work, and the truth is, they’re climbers, too. The camera operators must be comfortable with the heights and inherent dangers of climbing, fit enough to get where they need to go while hauling a big fracking bag of camera gear up with them, and have a solid understanding of safety gear and techniques. Oh, they also have to know how to point a camera in the right direction and a push the little red button, too.

While the grueling process just described isn’t bound to change anytime soon, there is a new weapon in the climbing documentarian’s arsenal: the remote-control helicopter. I came across this guest post from Swiss photographer Fred Moix on Nikon Rumors today and felt the urge to share. In it, Fred explains his use of aerial drones for getting far-out shots from pretty much any angle. Fred isn’t the first to use this technique, and the rig he shows in the post, while effective, seems to be pretty DIY. A more polished version can be seen at Mammut enlisted the aid of the folks at Dedicam in the making of the video below, which really captures the feel of exposure, height, and freedom that climbing offers.

While no climbing video has really pushed the limits of this technology yet, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see aerial shots incorporated to into more videos from big-name production companies, just as we’ve come to expect artsy DSLR depth-of-field focus pulls and mechanized time lapse slider shots.

Media makers are constantly pushing to document the act and beauty of climbing in greater detail and from wilder perspectives. And while no series of images, words, and sounds will ever match the soul-expanding intensity of a great day out on the rock, quality documentation does offer new ways of looking at, understanding, and sharing our passions. It brings new climbers to the sport and inspires old ones to don their dusty shoes again. In this regard, I see the untethered, dragonfly views that aerial drones enable as a welcome addition to the photographer’s or videographer’s quiver. And I’m excited to see what’s next.

Anyone out there have some other rad examples of climbing footage (or footage from any sport, really) shot with aerial drones? I’d love to see ’em. Post your links in the comments.

 — Update —

A commenter pointed out, as did the videographer Corey Rich himself, via Twitter, that the D4 premier video Why incorporated RC heli shots. These appear in both the kayaking (or extreme canoeing, as I like to call it) and climbing segments of the movie. I watched Why several times and, frankly, I’m very disappointed in myself for missing that [snaps self with one of several rubber bands worn around wrist]. Embedded below are both the making-of, where you get to see the RC heli crashing and being repaired, and the original short movie, which is masterfully put together.

[Video] Corey Rich – Deep North

This very cool video, set in far northern Alaska, features photographer Corey Rich and was shot almost entirely with Nikon D7000s. Amazing what can be done with a relatively affordable camera (and three pricey lenses…).

After you watch it, you should check out this post in which Corey shares his thoughts on the new Nikon D800 and why it has him psyched. I should be getting mine any day now (fingers crossed).

Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 3

This is the third and final installment of the Pro-Spective series on the new Nikon D800 DSLR. (Read the first, with Sam Bié, and the second, with Tim Kemple.) The series sprouted out of personal curiosity. I wanted a replacement for the D700 I sold in late 2011. But when the D800 was, at long last, announced, I didn’t jump to place my pre-order. There were some hang-ups; it wasn’t what I’d expected. So I went about exploring the question of who the D800 is really great for… or not so great for. The result is this series. It’s by no means comprehensive. It’s just an attempt to add the perspectives of three great, professional action/adventure photographers to the mix. I picked them because I know them and I know that they have a good handle on tech like this. Talking to these guys and writing these blogs has certainly helped me get a better grip on the pros and cons of the D800. Below, I’ll post Corey Rich’s thoughts, and then I’ll tell you what I’ve decided and why.

Continue reading Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 3

Pro-spective: Who is the Nikon D800 for? Part 1

D700/800 split

[To get the big picture, check out the other two posts in this Pro-spective series. Part 2 with Tim Kemple and Part 3 with Corey Rich]

In a previous post, I mentioned the lukewarm response to the new D800 some Nikon fans have been expressing since its February sixth announcement. (I’d link to evidence of this, but it’s scattered across the Twitterverse, the comments pages of camera blogs, and photodork forums. If you look for it, you’ll find it.) In many cases, these responses are just the typical web junk, where bored or angry people can’t resist the urge to gripe about everything that catches their attention via the unedited broadcast medium known as the Internet. In other cases, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about what the D800 is and who it’s for (“You mean this might be better than my Coolpix? Oh noes! Why didn’t the guy in Best Buy tell me to wait?!” or “$3,000?! Who would pay that much for a stupid camera?! My iPhone takes pictures just as good and I can make calls with it, too!”).

But there is a third, and I think larger, class of user who actually has a valid complaint, or at least question, about the D800: Why did it go the direction it did, if it’s ostensibly to replace the D700? The D700 was an affordable, full-frame rig that enthusiasts and pros alike could use to shoot action and low-light scenes. Photo journalists and sports photogs on a budget were stoked. The D800, as most interested people have already read a hundred times elsewhere, generates immense 36mp images at a rate of about four per second, fast considering the 70m raw file size, but still slow compared to the D700’s 8fps with battery grip or the D4’s 9fps without. The D800 seems to target a different market: studio, landscape, and even wedding shooters. A big segment of D700 lovers doesn’t seem to have a viable upgrade option for less than six thousand dollars.

Continue reading Pro-spective: Who is the Nikon D800 for? Part 1