You Can Have It All…

Last weekend me, Snoo and my good friend James went up to (the now local) Alexandra Palace for the first day of the 2012 Red Bull Empire of Dirt* event. James (or Speedie as he’s more commonly known to me) stumbled across it a few weeks ago, and mentioned that he was thinking of coming down to Manchester for it and did we want to go. Seen as it was only up the road for us, and sounded fun we went for it. It was a really fun day with some truly incredible riding from the 30+ riders competing that day.

The course, which ran down the hill from the Palace itself, and apparently took around 4,200 tons for dirt to build, featured a really varied selection of ramps, jumps, quarter pipes and berms to make for very exciting runs. The design of the course was, as you’d expect, very spectator friendly and there were lots of opportunities to get some decent views and photos. We entered the event up near the start of the course and slowly worked our way down the length of the course until we settled on a really great spot on the last corner. From here you got an almost 180° view of the last half of the course, a fairly good view of the big “jumbo-tron” screen at the finish line and with the added bonus of being situated at the top of the final straight which featured three big kickers in a line which many of the riders used to full effect. The bulk of the photos below were taken along this last stretch of the course…

 

 

The weather and the light weren’t especially great in the end, although they could have been worse and overall I’m pleased with the selection of shots that I got (through a pretty even ratio of luck and judgement). It may have been overcast, but there was still plenty of light to play with, which meant that I could keep the aperture relatively small (around f/8 for most of the day for a nice long depth or field) and the shutter speed fast (usually around 1/500th or faster). Unsurprisingly there were plenty of photographers there, ranging from amateurs to full on pros with a whole host of lights. If I’d have had the foresight, and known a bit more about the arrangement of the day and the layout of the course I could have taken my speedlights along, although I’m not entirely sure if the would have done much good. I do need to look into getting higher synch speeds with them, as I’m currently maxing out at around 1/200th which would have been too slow for what I wanted.

Despite doing a lot of Mountain Biking in my youth (with Speedie more often that not) and being really fascinated by these incredible riders, I’ve not really done much Mountain Biking or BMX photography. It’s definitely something I’d like to do more. I really enjoy watching (the wealth) of BMX videos on Vimeo too, and would love to try my hand at BMX video project as well. If anyone reading this knows any talented riders that would be interested in doing a joint project, let me know!

All in all, a very fun day was had. I hope it becomes and annual event.

*Ever since Speedie mentioned this to me, I’ve had ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails in my head, hence the title…

A New Dawn…

So, it’s that time again. The start of another year. I have no idea where 2011 went, but it certainly went quick! At the end of 2010/start of 2011 I wrote a list of goals for the year and it was a very useful exercise. It was good to go into the new year with a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve for the following twelve months. I think they were all fairly achievable and fair. I didn’t get them all ticked off, but I think I did pretty well. Here’s how it went down…

  • Learn/Practice More Lighting Techniques:
    This was always going to be an open ended one, as I don’t think you ever, or should never, stop learning. I do feel that I did what I set out to do. I now feel a lot more confident with lighting. I continued to assist Steve throughout 2011 and continued to learn a huge amount from him (not just about photography either; I’m not pretty well versed in the stresses of owning a Dutch Barge…). I did a lot of shooting with both studio lights and Speedlight strobes, and I’m really starting to feel more confident with them and inspired to do more.
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  • Build up a portraiture portfolio:
    Again, it’s open ended as portfolios have to be kept regular and up-to-date but I do now have, thanks to a lot of very helpful and patient friends, a Portraiture portfolio that I am proud of. I’m hoping for it to get bigger in 2012!
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  • Upgrade camera/lenses:
    Yep. Through a mixture of working and saving pretty hard, I was able to upgrade a lot of equipment during 2011. I am now the proud owner of a Canon EOS 5D-MkII which I love, and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM lens (which I also love!). I also managed to upgrade to a MacBook Pro, buy a new flash and various accessories and modifiers, a Wacom Intuos4 and upgrade a load of software! I now haz tha tools…
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  • Experiment with time-lapses and video:
    When I was thinking about this post, I actually surprised myself with how much video work I’ve done this year. There’s been One Week in Hueco which I worked on with Ben, and I think really upped the quality bar for us. I’m incredibly proud of this film, and very pleased by how it was received. We both got a lot of feedback from climbers and non-climbers alike about how they enjoyed it. It’s also (at the time of writing) had over 12,000 views on Vimeo which was much more than either of us where expecting. I also made my Day in the Life of the Castle Routesetters video which I think came out well (eventually) and of course The Rocklands Files (and subsequent Extras and A Short Film About Penguins). If you haven’t seen them, please have a look and let me know what you think. 

    My timelapse film, which I had hoped to have finished by the end of 2011, is still in progress but is coming together well and will hopefully be done in the next few months. It’s a time consuming thing to film, and I’m trying to keep the quality high so a lot of footage has been rejected. That aside, I’m giving myself a tick for this one!

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  • Get images on iStock:
    Arse. It was all going so well. Unfortunately, despite constant reminders, I still haven’t got my act together on this one. This shall roll over into 2012…
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  • Climb Font 7a in Font: Well, if you’re being pedantic, I didn’t technically do this one. I still haven’t climbed a 7a in Fontainebleau, but, during our trip in April I did manage to tick a (really beautiful) 7a+ (Mémoire d’Outre Tombe, if you’re interested. On the day after my birthday, too! What a great pressie!). I did also, later in the year, go on to climb a 7a and a 7b(!!) in Rocklands, as well as a V6 in Hueco Tanks (which is works out to about 6c+/7a in Font grades). I think I’m going to let myself have this one…
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  • Get strong(er):
    When I see the above written down, I think it goes to show that I must have gotten stronger over the last year. Obviously, it is a very subjective thing, and I definitely have good and bad sessions when it comes to climbing, but I can definitely see a marked improvement over the last year. Steps are in place to keep this going though!
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  • Visit/climb in a new country:
    As predicted, we did end up going to South Africa. Rocklands was everything we hoped for and more, and the trip was a great success in both sight seeing and climbing. I would definitely love to go back there one day, but, as I think this goal will continue into 2012, I’m not sure how likely that will be. Never say never, though…
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  • Design/Submit design(s) to Threadless:
    Well, this didn’t really pan out sadly. It was mainly down to a lack of ideas and time, but neither of those are a particularly good reason for not at least trying to push this forward. It’s still definitely something I’d like to try and do though. A friend of mine from uni has submitted a few designs over the last few months and that has gotten me inspired to have a crack at getting something submitted. Since buying my Wacom tablet I’ve been keen to (and have started to) produce more artwork. This one is staying on the list to hopefully spur me along.
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  • Do something I’ve never done before:
    This is a bit of a tricky one to call. I did get engaged in 2011 which was certainly a big, life changing event that I’d not done before. However, I did know in 2010 that I was going to propose (although, I didn’t know whether Snoo would accept it!), so it feels like a bit of a fix. I dunno really; I might give myself half a tick for this, and roll it on again into next year.
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    …So, 7 out of 10. Not bad. There’s definitely a few, ticked or otherwise, which I’ll continue into 2012 though. I’m viewing this as a general, on going personal development plan and necessarily just self contained things. The question is now: what else am I adding to the list for 2012?:

  • Promote my Photography more:
    I feel like I’ve come a long way, photographicaly speaking in 2011, and I now feel like I’m in a good position to start to market myself more. I have a clearer idea of where I’d like to take my career and have the skills, knowledge and gear to make it happen. I just need to find the right people to speak to! I hate promoting myself in that way. My fragile, artistic ego doesn’t fair too well under the pressure, but it’s a necessary evil if I want to progress; and I do. Steve has shown me that it’s not some impossible, impenatrable world, but, like a lot of things, it comes down to who you know. And there’s only one way to get to know them…
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  • Instagram 365 Project:
    During my time on Flickr, I’ve watched and marvelled and various users’ 365 projects (which involve taking, editing and uploading a photo a day for 365 days. Simple. On paper at least). The quality of a lot of them is truly staggering, and I’m impressed that so many people have the time to produce such great work on a such a regular basis. I’m not sure I could commit to a project like that, at least not to a standard that I’d be happy with so I’ve come up with a testing-the-water compromise. An Instagram 365. I use Instagram on my iPhone a lot and really enjoy it, so I thought that maybe a 365 project using Instagram could be the way forward. I always have my phone with me, so it doesn’t become such a chore to always have my camera with me, but I can still be creative with it. In fact, shooting within the iPhone’s limitations is also a good exercise in itself. As 2012 is going to be a bit of a milestone year for me, I thought it would be good to document it with a little visual diary, too. This one is already well underway, but still has a lot further to go. I’m logging my photo-a-day on a handy new Tumblr blog if you want to follow it. If, by December 31st, 2012 I have posted a photo every day to that blog then I can give myself a tick! I can’t guarantee that the photos will always be hugely interesting, but hopefully they’ll look nice. I like to shoot mundane things in interesting ways.
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  • Move house:
    I love our little south London flat, but “little” is the optimum word in that sentence. Snoo and I desperately need to find a bigger place, and I think it would be a really nice way to mark the start of the next chapter of our lives together. We did start looking around for somewhere new last year, and even came really close to buying somewhere, but it all fell through (in a very long and boring story which I’m not going to tell). Anyway, this is definitely something that has to happen in 2012.
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  • Finish my time-lapse film:
    I want to get stuck into some more video projects this year (and I already have some potential stuff lined up) but I really have to get this finished. I’m still excited by it, but I feel like it needs wrapping up fairly soon. I’m excited to show it to you!
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  • Draw/create more artwork:
    This ties in with the Threadless thing, but I want to try and get back into creating more artwork and drawing more (especially with the Wacom). I’ve been doing a lot of concept sketches in my little Moleskin book for the shoots I’ve been doing and it’s been a really satisfying experience. I want to continue this and start producing some new stuff. If I can work some of my photography into it too, then so much the better.
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  • Climb somewhere new (at 7a if possible!):
    Another fairly straight forward one. I want to visit another new climbing spot somewhere in the world. We’ve done a lot of long haul trips over the past year or so, and I think that time and money will prevent us for doing anything huge in the forseeable (honeymoon trip to New Zealand aside), but there are plenty of places in Europe which I’ve still yet to visit. Albarracín and Magic Woods are two that spring to mind. I think a few long weekends are in order…
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  • Read more:
    This’ll be an ongoing one I’m sure, but I really want to try and read more. There’s a load of books in the flat that I’d like to try and get through and I got the über-tomb that is the Steve Jobs biography to crack on with. I think I’m going to compile a reading list too to a) keep me motivated and b) track my progress. It might be interesting to list them all on here this time next year.
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    So, I think that’s about it. Not as many new additions this year, but enough to keep me busy (especially with the “roll overs” as well). I think they are all achievable, but I guess only time will tell. If you read all of the above self-indulgent ramblings then thanks. I appreciate it. I’d be interested to know what other people have planned for 2012. Let me know in the comments! Let’s make it a good year!

    New Year in Hueco!

    Happy new year! I can’t quite believe it’s 2012 already. I hope everyone had a good festive period; I certainly did, and that’s what I want to talk about for my first post of the new year…

    Around about July-ish last year, we found out that some friends of ours (Matt and Jen, who we also went to South Africa with as well as some other people we know from The Castle) were going to be spending their Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hueco Tanks. As many of you may know, I’ve been to Hueco Tanks before, and make no secret of my love for the place. I’d been pining to go back after our excellent week spent there in November 2010 and when I heard about Matt and Jen’s plans to head out there, Snoo and I decided, on a whim if I’m honest, that we would join them.

    Excited as I was however, I couldn’t help feel a slight apprehension about the trip as it approached. I’m not entirely sure why, but for some reason it just felt slightly under planned which was making me feel slightly uneasy. Anyone who is familiar with Hueco Tanks will know that life isn’t made that easy for climbers there. For the last ten years or so, measures have been put in place in an effort to try and preserve the (relatively small) park from erosion and general wear-and-tear from visitors. There is only now a small section of the park (North Mountain) which open to the public to “self guide” and even that requires formal reservations (which can only be made three months in advance at the earliest) to be made in advance to ensure entry. The end of September came and went, and the batch of available North Mountain spots were snapped up, so when we finally got ourselves organised to try and book places we found they were all gone. Yikes. We knew that the Christmas period is peak season for Hueco, but we’d slightly under estimated quite how busy it was going to be. This wasn’t a total loss, as most of the problems we wanted to try were located in the “back country” (East Mountain, West Mountain and the East Spur) which are only accessible as part of a tour taken out by qualified guides. We did know a few guides who would potentially be able to take us out on tour, but judging by the fact that all of the North Mountain reservations had gone, surely guides would start to become a premium too?! We’d also be hearing conflicting reports about what the weather could be like over that period, which included potentially quite heavy snowfall(!) which would also stop any climbing. Granted this was entirely out of our control, but it was still another issue to add to the list. There was additional concern too that the Hueco Rock Ranch where we’ve stayed previously, and were planning to stay again, seemed to be having some managerial trouble and there was a worrying amount of radio silence from them during the summer months. Fortunately, having stayed there previously, we had some insider knowledge and we managed to get in touch with someone who reassured us that everything would be good to go by the time we arrived. The flights were paid for, so we were committed. There wasn’t really anything we could do other than head out there and hope. So, on Boxing day 2011 we set off on our (delayed) flight from London Heathrow with our fingers crossed that everything was going to be ok…

    I think the fact that you’re reading this post at all goes to show that the trip was (eventually) a success, but American Airlines did their best to persuade us otherwise. Our flight out was delayed due to reasons unknown (although the presence of lots of armed police and sniffer dogs at the airport showed that it was something potentially pretty serious). So, we took off late on a plane which looked like it had seen better days (it didn’t even have seat back TV’s! AA are living in the dark ages!*). To the credit of the pilot, we landed in Dallas only ten minutes late, despite being nearly an hour late taking off. However, endless queues at every step of the way through Dallas Fort Worth airport meant we missed our connecting flight to El Paso by a (galling) ten minutes. Our suitcases however, had made the flight. I was very happy for them. My apprehensions about the trip were becoming worryingly real, and as I lay on the floor of Dallas Fort Worth’s Terminal A, staring at the ceiling with my tired and reddened eyes, I was genuinely wishing I was back in London.

    Anyway, to cut (what is becoming) a long story short, we couldn’t get on any of the remaining flights to El Paso that day, and despite much stress, jetlag and seemingly going round in circles we managed to get a hotel for the night in Dallas with the promise of being on a flight the following morning. So, with no change of clothes or tolietries we grabbed a few fitful and surprisingly cold hours sleep before arriving back at the terminal at 7am to finish off our journey from hell. Thankfully, everything went well on our second try. By the following lunch time we were in El Paso, reunited with our bags and driving down Montana Avenue in the sunshine en route to Hueco Tanks.

    Things improved exponentially from then on. The Rock Ranch was open for business and we were made very welcome by Mogli and Nikias who are/were running the show. Nikias (who is a also a guide, and knows Hueco Tanks inside out) also went out of his way to help us with our not-having-any-reservations problems by taking us out on tours for four of the five climbing days we were there (the fifth day we had some more good fortune fall into our laps and managed to fill a couple of spare spaces on another tour. Thanks, Cat!), despite having a huge amount of work to do organising things for the massive New Years Eve party etc. Unsurprisingly, the tours (which can have a maximum of ten customers on each one) were filled up very quickly by people in a similar situation to us. Subsequently, through this serendipitous piece of good fortune, we got to meet and climb with a huge variety of people we may not otherwise have spent any time with which made the trip even more fun. Below are a few choice highlights from our time spent in the park…

    Sunrise over Hueco Tanks

    Outside the park...

    Mogli on 'El Burro' (V3) Corey on 'Left Donkey Show' (V5)

    Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

    Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

    Pete on 'Crash Dummy' (V7) Cat on 'Jigsaw Puzzle' (V5)

    Tedi on 'Tremors' (V6)

    Tedi on 'The Flop' (V6)

    Britney & Omar at Sunset on East Mountain

    Sunset

    Nikias on 'Dragonfly' (V5)

    Pete on 'The Fin' (V4) Gustavo on 'Full Service' (V10)

    Not only did we get a load of climbing in, but we also saw the new year in in style! The Rock Ranch’s New Year’s Eve parties are pretty legendary, and it was really fun to finally attend one. The centre piece, as always was huge bonfire which is possible the hottest thing I’ve ever encountered (not to mention good fun to photograph)! I’m not usually a massive fan of huge, blow out NYE parties but this had a nice, relaxed atmosphere while still being exciting and good way to see in 2012…

    Bonfire!

    Chrissy Cartwheeling

    Mogli

    Considering I didn’t really shoot *that* many photos, I’m really pleased with the shots I got. I did think about shooting some more video, but I think it would have been much harder to do on this trip, especially on the guided tours. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been the same without Ben…

    Climbing wise, it wasn’t as successful as I’d have liked. The list of projects I created after the last trip remains largely unchanged and unticked. To be fair though, there was only a few of them that I actually got to try again (‘Dragonfly’, ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ and ‘New Religion’) for a various reasons. The fact that three of the nine are on North Mountain which we couldn’t get on was a pain. I did however tick ‘The Fin’ which I was really happy about and it was as good as I had hoped, and I also made progress on ‘Dragonfly’ (and tore myself to shreds on it in the process)! Nikias also took us right to the end of East Spur on one tour and showed us a load of problems that aren’t in the guidebook. This included a really fun V6 called ‘Tremors’ that I also managed to do! Even if I didn’t get up everything I wanted to, I still had a lot of fun working problems and trying new stuff. I’ll just have to go back again…

    If you made it this far, well done you! Sorry for my ramblings, but it feels good to have documented my feelings on the trip, both good and bad (mainly good). Huge thanks to Snoo, Chrissy, Nikias, Tedi, Pete, Matt, Jen, Paul, Al, (Other) Matt, Ty, Mogli, Gustavo, Val, Cat, Tammy, Britney, Omar and everyone else we met, climbed with or just queued outside the park with during the week. It was definitely a new year to remember. I hope the rest of 2012 is as fun!

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    (*I do appreciate that this is an incredibly middle class, first world problem, but it was annoying none the less on a long haul flight.)