Dave MacLeod & Calum Muskett,
North Face of the Eiger, Grindelwald, Switzerland
Time / Date:
13:27 / August 15th, 2013
Camera Body: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR
Support: A lot of fixed ropes!
Shutter Speed: 1/250s
Focal Length: 16mm
As a professional mountain adventure photographer, especially one specializing in alpine climbing, I live for shoots like this one. It has everything: the most famous wall of the Alps (the mighty North Face of the Eiger), an extremely difficult route (Paciencia, the hardest on the wall), a newsworthy ascent (only the third ever), a very strong team (Dave MacLeod and Calum Muskett, both at the top of the British climbing scene) and of course, gorgeous backdrops. When Calum sent me an email simply saying that they would attempt the climb two days later and that I was welcome to join them, I dropped everything immediately and drove to Grindelwald to meet them.
This was shot on the second day of the climb, which took Dave and Calum 4 in total. It shows Dave at the end of the hardest pitch of climbing on the entire route, so it was a key moment: they both knew that if they managed to climb this pitch fairly quickly, they would have a good chance of success on the entire route.
I was hanging from a fixed rope, 600m off the ground on a very overhanging part of the face, and shot as Dave climbed the pitch flawlessly. I really wanted to capture not only the difficulty, but also the incredible setting of the scene: lost in an ocean of limestone, small dots on one of the most hostile mountain faces in the world, giving it their all.
I usually go quite light with camera equipment, but in this case, I had two cameras, the D4 with a 70-200 f/2.8 and the D800 with a 16-35 f/4. When hanging freely from a fixed line, potentially with a lot of rope coiled around myself, I simply can’t change lenses quickly enough to switch at will between wide and long. In this case, I first shot Dave as he was still far away, focusing on details and facial expressions, then switched to the wide lens and went as far as I could, 16mm with this lens, to really capture the crazy environment.
Making the Shot:
The key problem was that I needed to get away from the wall for this shot, as otherwise Dave would appear too compressed. The only way I found of doing that was to unclip the quickdraw which kept my fixed line close to the wall, which meant taking a massive swing outward. As I reached the apex of my pendulum, I managed to fire two images before coming back at full speed toward Dave… I made myself as flat as possible, as making him fall off would have been unthinkable, and managed to just graze past him.
I knew which composition I wanted, and focus is impossible to miss at this aperture and focal length, so it was only a matter of getting the timing just right and not thinking too much about how much void there was below me!
Editing & Processing:
There was very little processing, just a bit of contrast and saturation, and a slight rotation as I wasn’t exactly shooting from a tripod.
This is an image that has all the elements I am looking for in a successful photograph: setting, story, action and even emotion. I had envisioned something like this from the first moment I knew I was going to shoot on the face and was really happy to manage to get the shot.
The most important advice I can give is to shoot what you are passionate about. I absolutely love climbing and have thought many times about climbing the Eiger Nordwand (though not by this route!), so I knew what to expect, where the best opportunities would likely be and I was ready to give it all to get the shot. A good thing it was, too, because we had to climb the bottom third of the face without ropes, carrying equipment to spend an uncomfortable night on a small ledge as well as ropes to fix, just to get to the proper base of their route!
Again, I am very passionate about climbing and mountains in general. I would have been happy to tag along with Dave and Calum even without a camera, just for the experience. Though of course, I would have been very frustrated given how amazing everything looked!
About the Photographer
I am a commercial mountain adventure photographer, based out of Chamonix, France. I shoot all sorts of extreme sports, from alpine climbing to ski mountaineering, paragliding and BASE jumping.
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