It had been about three days of photographing in Michigan’s spectacular Upper Peninsula during a recent expedition and the extended weekend of visuals was extremely fulfilling. As dream-filled as this sounds, and it is amazing, long days , little sleep and cold weather does take a minor toll. When it’s time to return home, one of the easiest mindsets to get into is to enjoy the comforts of coffee and a pleasant radio station or podcast, to focus on the destination of home and to not embrace the possibilities of the journey. Block out this mindset, seize opportunities and make the most of your trip!
Many obstacles of photography, and life, are psychological and although it’s difficult and I’m consistently working at it, we must overcome the voices that tell us to not do something. It’s easy to tell ourselves, “The effort won’t be worth it,” or “The subject might tell me ‘no’.” We don’t know until we try though and someone may say “no thanks” to your portrait request but it’s a small price to pay for the possibility of them saying “yes.”
As I was preparing for a 5-hour trip home, the thought of driving along some desolate stretches of road through high sun had me feeling a tad zoned out and mightily uninspired for anything photographic. The prospects of listening to a photo podcast and sipping on some fresh coffee from recently-roasted beans had me zenned. However, I knew that there are some great places for ice climbing in the Upper Peninsula and one particular area happened to be on my return route. Calculations of how much time I’d have to shoot and how fast I’d have to drive to make it home in time were floating around and eventually I decided to do it no matter what.
The parking lot was packed but the cars belonged to throngs of ice fishers who were out on a section of Lake Superior. This could also have been a nice photo opportunity but I knew a prime ice climbing spot was nearby and that it’d be worth the hike. Then came my next question, “Do I bring my portable strobe with 2’x3′ softbox or not?” Most photos I’ve viewed of ice climbing have not included much evidence, if any, of an external light, and most shoot natural light so I knew that it was something I should try. Go big or go home. The fiercest gales from Lake Superior herself wouldn’t have been cold enough to match the inferno that was my core temperature while schlepping a c-stand, light, softbox, snowshoes and camera for 20 minutes, THEN, climbing up a trail to the frozen waterfalls known as the Curtains.
Once I arrived to the ice climbing location there were a few people with black, hooded sweatshirts, each one with a pink pig. After some minutes, a few more people showed up. Turns out, it was the Pink Pig Ice Climbing Team. Everyone was friendly, cool and totally on board for having me make some photos and portraits while they climbed.
It’s been a while since I’ve photographed ice climbing but some of the challenges on this shoot were maneuvering and light standing positioning. My snowshoes had spikes in all the right places so they allowed me to walk up and down the shoot zone with relative ease. The problem with the light stand was that everything was on a slope and a c-stand doesn’t have adjustable legs. The solution here was a perfectly placed hillside log that supported the stand.
After an hour of shooting, my time to depart had arrived and I was about to head home. The lesson in it all though was that I could’ve easily decided to bypass the ice climbing or to not bring the external strobe. I chose to though and I’m so glad I did because without it the photos wouldn’t have been possible and it’s all about the photos. Below, you’ll see the pink pig mascot that inspired the ice climbing team. It was made for a member of the team, many years ago, and it continues to be with the team today. It, if anything or anyone, deserves to have a proper portrait. 🙂
Freedom lies in being bold.Robert Frost