Photo: Tim Kemple

Action

Deep-water soloing with Profoto B1X

19 June, 2017

Written by: Seth Chandler

Profoto challenged adventure photographer Tim Kemple to put the new Profoto B1X through its paces on the location and subject of his choice. He chose Mallorca and deep-water soloing, which means climbing above the ocean with no ropes: “If you fall, you’re going into the water.”

Tim has been using Profoto B1’s on expeditions all over the world for years. “In that time, the combination of power in a compact package has allowed me to use flash in locations I’d never been able to light before,” he says.

He chose climbing for this shoot because that is where he got his start as a photographer. “I’ve always been the type of person who will push things further,” he says. “So I thought it would be really fitting to revisit my past for this project but look at it from a fresh perspective.”

Deep-water soloing might seem extreme, but Tim is known for getting into places others won’t go. “It’s easy to shoot an idea someone else has captured,” he says. “But why shoot the same subjects and perspectives everyone else has? Focus on the world you are passionate about and rock it in a unique way. Find a fresh perspective. Define the future. Don’t copy the past.”

Willing to crawl for a dream photograph

With professional climbers Edu Marin and Lindsey Tjian, plus a skilled assistant lined up, he was ready. Then, a week before the shoot, he fell on a glacier and broke his ankle. But he was not about to let that bit of adversity get in his way. “If you are willing to crawl to get your dream photograph, I can tell you that it will be worth every inch,” he says. 

The lighting for the shoot consisted solely of the B1X Location Kit, with two B1X heads, two batteries, and two new OCF Light Shaping Tools that are the first hard reflectors specifically designed for on-location photography. The OCF Zoom Reflector gives photographers an additional stop of light. The OCF Magnum Reflector gives almost two additional f-stops of light, which is especially useful in getting extra focus and light on the subject on a bright day.

Overpowering the sun

The shoot started at the Diablo wall, the birthplace of deep-water soloing. On a bright, windy day, with the wall a little wet and nursing his broken ankle, conditions were far from perfect.

For the first shot, Tim’s aim was to make Edu stand out from the wall by spotlighting him with the flash and darkening down the ambient light from the sun. So Tim used the B1X directly overhead as the key light and the sun as fill.

To do this, he used the HSS function on the B1X and shot at 1/2500 of a second. “That fast shutter speed allowed me to knock down the sunlight that’s hitting the cliff. And by setting the B1X to the maximum power and using the OCF Zoom Reflector for an extra f-stop of light, I could overpower the sun.”

Creating natural light

Next up was a drive 30 km down the road to his favorite place in Mallorca to shoot climbing, a small beach called Cala Sanau. Wind made the wall wet and also dangerous if the climbers fell into the water.

For the first shot at Cala Sanau, Tim rappelled down the wall to get as close to Edu as possible. He shot with a wide, 14 mm focal length to get close to the action but still capture the environment. “The color and texture of the rock and the rough sea are vital in making this image come alive,” Tim says.

Meanwhile, his assistant hung on the other side of the cave with the B1X and the OCF Magnum Reflector. This time, Tim wanted to imitate the sun and use the B1X to produce a natural-looking highlight on Edu’s face and body.

Together, the light and reflector gave Tim two extra stops of power to help him overcome the bright ambient light.

B1X as rim light

Moving down the coastline to another alcove to shoot Lindsey, Tim started by perching on a ledge. His assistant went deeper inside the cave to create a rim light around Lindsey. Here, the idea was to put the flash in a place where light doesn’t usually go.

With that shot in the bag, Tim moved a bit closer by doing a bit of deep-water soloing himself, broken ankle and all. Here, he wanted Lindsey to climb an overhanging face and he was lighting her by moving his assistant with the B1X above her. “Shooting on location with professional athletes is always an exciting opportunity,” Tim says. “I want to push them out of their comfort zones to capture that raw emotion, but sometimes I push a little too far.”

Lindsey fell into the water with a splash, but before Tim could even ask if she was OK, she was up and getting back into position. “I get my shot and it’s my favorite one of the day so far,” he says.

One last shot before it gets away

As the day drew to a close and the sun began to set, Tim and the team went back to the cave they’d shot at earlier. “I think all photographers are similar. We’re always thinking about the shot that got away,” he says. “So I knew that if we had time, I wanted to come back and shoot from inside the cave.”

The conditions were perfect, with clouds rolling in making the scene seem threatening. “The lower ambient light also means I can use the flash to light up Edu and the cave to get more areas of light and shadow to add more contrast and drama,” he says. “I don’t want to overpower the scene with flash, so I’ve set the B1X to a low power setting, which I can do now, thanks to the 9 f-stop expanded HSS range.”

“The B1X took all the hits I could give it”

So, between hobbling about on crutches and seeing a camera drop into the sea, how does Tim feel about the day? “We shot from underneath the cave to on top of the wall, my body feels beat up, we lost some gear, but the B1X took all the hits I could give it and it’s still ticking. I’m psyched, it was a great day. Wow.”

Written by: Seth Chandler

Products used in this story

Profoto B1X

OCF Magnum Reflector

OCF Zoom Reflector

Air Remote TTL-N