Fast and light in the mountains
David Clifford’s workplaces normally don’t have heated bleachers set up for photographers. His preferred motifs are action images of outdoors sportspeople – in places where there are very few, if any, spectators. For these jobs, the new ZEISS Batis 2.8/18 opens up whole new possibilities.
When David Clifford shoots on location in rugged environments, he has to consider a few things: First, every ounce counts. Secondly, if he forgets something, there’s usually no possibility of going back to the truck. He often brings two cameras and three lenses plus food, water and clothing.
David knows that when you are embedded with the athletes, being able to keep up is very important. He often photographs the very best people in their chosen discipline, be that rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing or biking. Many of the athletes are known for being the best and at the top of their game. “The athletes risk a lot – sometimes even their lives. So as the photographer, I always strive to work at their tempo, not mine.” To stay fit himself, David often mountain bikes on his local trails in Carbondale, CO and Skis on the slopes of Aspen Highlands and Snowmass, Colorado. Staying in shape is only half the battle. David also needs every edge when it comes to camera gear. He’s usually the first one to adopt new technologies and put them to use in Sports, Adventure, Lifestyle and Portraiture. When you’re at the top of the game you need to be pushing the creative boundaries and know that your systems are dialed in.
“What’s really important for me is being able to move over the mountain relatively easily and unhindered: I often only take a backpack, but it also has to hold my food and drink and, in winter, avalanche safety gear.”
Since he’s been using the cameras from the Sony α7 series, David estimates his load has been cut by at least half. And by that he means not just the size, but especially the weight and even cost of purchasing everything he needs for his kit. He says the Batis 2.8/18 also contributes to a lighter load.
As a ZEISS Camera Lens Ambassador, he had the opportunity to test this new member of the Batis family a few months before the official start of sales. Since then, he has joined a community of photographers who now favorably compare their system of Sony camera and ZEISS lenses to considerably heavier, larger and more expensive medium-format systems. “The quality of the picture speaks for itself. For me, as an outdoor photographer, the advantages of being light and fast are obvious but the added bonus of being weather sealed and tack sharp really make this lens shine.”
When David wanted to try the Batis 2.8/18 for the first time, a heavy storm had just blown over his home mountain, and looking at his pictures you can feel the clear air, the cold, the tranquility. “After a stressful and exhausting day of editing and marketing, I need a few hours just for me alone.” He calls that time “serenity now” – the calm after the storm, you could say. “I still love to shoot personal work wether it’s sports or my kids or even landscapes and architecture.” Having a super wide angle lens in the kit is essential for every sports and adventure photographer. Being at the top of Aspen Mountain after a clearing storm is one of those moments you cherish as a photographer. It’s just amazing to be able to stand on top of a mountain and breath the fresh air and capture a perfect moment in time. The Batis 2.8/18 renders this perspective perfectly here.
In the winter sports paradise of Aspen, tourists can learn how to drive a snow cat and groom a slope. David recently shot this story on assignment for Aspen Magazine. “I was pleasantly surprised when the lamps of the snow cat took on their star-formed appearance,” explains David. “At the same time, I wanted to capture the movement of the vehicle, with the snow swirling up and get a star burst on the lights.” These two criteria were decisive for the combination of aperture and exposure time. “For this image, the Batis 2.8/18 really blew me away.” “Having the ability to use the 5 axis image stabilizer, track focus in low light, shoot super wide with close to zero distortion and get a star like pattern on the lights was AMAZING!”
The athletes risk a lot – sometimes even their lives. So as the photographer, I always strive to work at their tempo, not mine.
Different types of sports require different types of lenses in order to be able to capture the specific elements within each sport. For example, soccer photos beg for telephoto lenses, while pictures of outdoors sports love a wide angle. “I have to show the athletes in their surroundings. That’s the only way you can understand what they even do and what’s really decisive in their respective sport.” In this photo, Anna Pfaff is climbing a “mixed” route rated at M10, which is extremely difficult. The lighting provided by two Profoto B1s keeps the foreground and background in balance. To increase the sense of drama, David chose to take the picture just as the sun was setting over the mountain, in a so-called ‘sun burst’. The overhanging icicles are starting to melt; processing the picture in black and white reveals a lot of detail such as the fine drops of water trickling down in the backlight. Anna is depicted as a tiny element within a stunning natural setting, yet the viewer still feels her strength and sheer will.
Shooting athletes in stunning locations and epic landscapes is one of David’s favorite subject matter. “I really wanted to shoot a fresh perspective on ice climbing. Shooting from the bridge is easy but setting up a Tyrolean traverse and dangling just above your climber really adds a sense of drama. The Batis 2.8/18 gave me this forced perspective that makes you feel like this climb is truly epic.” Only when you look a second time you see how far down David Roetzel’s climbing partner is.
David‘s assistant Jeff Rueppel captured the behind the scenes images and made adjustments to the lighting set up. David takes the picture hanging along a so-called Tyrolian traverse – a rope suspended between two points on which he can move along to get shots completely different. The second image shows the Profoto B1 that David controls via a remote control in order to highlight the climber and give the ice that bluish shimmer. “Being on the sharp end means having to rely on your gear, your crew and your self to get the shot.”
In order to be considered one of the best Adventure photographers, one thing is immediately clear: being able to get to locations safely is a prerequisite in every situation – for the photographer and their gear. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.