New Hampshire Portrait Photography on Ice

Well, maybe this isn’t exactly a portrait, more of an environmental portrait. In a very cold environment! This is a behind the scenes look at the making of an image. We do this a lot, develop a concept, put together a team, and then create an image. Sometimes set stylists, hair and make-up stylists, art directors and a cast of thousands (maybe more like a cast of tens!) are involved. This concept wasn’t that complex but what it lacked in complexity it more than made up for it with logistical issues and physical pain!

As we all enjoy the onset of spring here’s a throwback to the coldest days of this past winter. My idea was to create an image of an ice climber. Nothing too unusual there. Ice climbers are everywhere around here in the winter. But you don’t usually find them on the ice at night! I wanted to capture an ice climber on ice at night. I needed a minimum of 4 people, myself, a climber, someone to belay the climber, and someone to light the climber. I knew Kristina would love the idea of climbing ice at night and her husband, Ryan, would be willing to belay her. Justin (who we work with all the time) was up for doing the lighting.

I scouted locations the day prior to the session to find a place that we could access and had the look I wanted. The evening of the shoot we faced temperatures in the single digits (brrr) and I knew that would have an effect upon not just us but the camera gear, especially the lighting. I had planned for two images, one of Kristina topping out on the climb at dusk lit by a strobe and one of her in mid climb at night painted with light. This was the main concept of the session and one I had wanted to do for years. Painting with light is basically a long camera exposure (in this case, 15 seconds) in total darkness. Instead of using a strobe which produces a short, bright pulse of light, a more ordinary flashlight is used.  The subject holds very still while she is “painted” with light. Anything the light hits during the exposure shows up in the image, everything else is in varying degrees of shadow.

Lots of camera and climbing gear was carried to the top of the climb for the first image. Harnesses were donned, anchors and lowering systems were rigged (I used to be a climbing guide, does this knot look right to you?!) and photo gear was readied. Kristina was lowered and belayed by Ryan. Justin and I were tied into another anchor off to the side where we could get the image of Kristina I was after. I underexposed the whole scene while Justin provided a small pop of light from a strobe.

Once we had this image, it was getting dark enough for the main image. Kristina was lowered two thirds of the way down the climb and Justin and I went to the base of the climb. We kept in touch with Ryan at the top with walkie talkies so we didn’t have to scream and anyone passing by wouldn’t think there was someone screaming, stuck on the ice at night. We got Kristina into position and Justin attempted to paint her with our big light. It was dead as a door nail. He used our second light (which I had just purchased for this shot). We were just barely able to pull it off since this light had nowhere near the power of our primary.

But we got the shot (like Ashton Kucher!) and headed out under the lights of our headlamps after lowering Kristina down and breaking everything down. It took hours, we were cold, Kristina was really cold.

One concept, one image.

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All behind the scenes shots below were taken by Justin Macomber. Great job, everyone! Thanks for the photos, Justin.

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