What do you get when you combine world-class kayakers, a high-tech team of photographers and a brighter-than-the-sun camera strobe? Magic. Last May, Rafa Ortiz, Rush Sturges and Liam Fields teamed up with veteran photographer Michael Clark to showcase the power of Elinchrom’s new flash technology.
“It is one of the best assignments of my entire career,” says Clark, a 21-year veteran of adventure sports photography. “This kind of photo was impossible to do in the past. We wanted to show off the strobe by stopping motion—to have all this water flying everywhere frozen in the air, and the kayaker frozen too.”
“What makes these photos so unique is the flash overpowering the ambient lighting,” says Clark. Even at a distance of 100 feet the strobe is powerful enough to overcome direct midday sun.
The strobe let Clark capture the action at super high shutter speeds ranging from 1/2,500th of a second up to 1/4,000th of a second, giving the shot a hyper-realistic feel.
This isn’t the first time photographers and athletes have collaborated to create some truly cool shots at Washington state’s Spirit Falls. The waterfall is ideal because it combines gorgeous natural scenery, a relatively accessible location and a short 40-foot drop, which allows paddlers to run it multiple times to capture the perfect image.
During the two days of shooting the drop, Ortiz ran the falls 15 times, and Sturges and Fields more than a dozen each. “This takes a toll on their bodies. Running it once is similar to the forces of being in a car accident, so to run it many times in two days is pretty amazing,” says Clark.
Because it takes two seconds to recycle the flash, Clark could only get off one shot during each run, raising the stakes for both photographer and athlete to nail their execution perfectly every time.
“What people don’t understand is how collaborative the process is,” says Clark. “The athletes are working too, not just to have perfect technique, but they’re also sharing ideas and then really excited to see those ideas come to fruition.”
Going into the shoot Clark envisioned replicating ice climbing images he created at the same location a couple years prior. “The series of ice climbing shoots really gave me a sense of how I could approach this,” says Clark. Spirit Falls drops into a basin, allowing 270 degrees around the waterfall to set up camera angles and stage lights.
To get this photo of Sturges standing safety as Ortiz drops over the falls, Clark positioned himself to the far side of the gorge, so he was straight on with the waterfall curtain and used a 70-200mm lens. “These images show the entire waterfall and give a better sense of the height and the kayaker’s position on it,” he says.