Details of the competition are on UKC HERE
Keith talks us through the day:
Rachael Crewe, the spandex-loving 22 year-old graduate and winner of the top prize in the 'Be in my calendar competition' has now been subjected to the full works – photographically speaking.
The idea of running a competition and then photographing the winner for the calendar had been on the slow-burner for a while but when UKClimbing became a page sponsor for climbing:09 the opportunity to run a comp became too good to miss. Public participation seems to be where it's at these days, especially where the www comes in. The popularity of UKClimbing, with its public forums, photo galleries and competitions, must surely be proof positive that people have a burning desire to get involved?
But would the idea hold good for a comp related to the calendar? Would people want to be thrown into the spotlight? Would photographing someone who hadn't been 'shot' before work and would it give me the results I was after? I postulated, but it was a waste of effort for once an idea is floated past UKC's chef de mason, Mick Ryan, there's no going back. UKC posted the competition up and amazingly, the first entry was back in my inbox within about 15 minutes! Others followed in quick succession. It looked promising. Timescales were tight but throughout the competition period the entries carried on coming in; it was 'shoot-on' to miss-quote that infamous dart's saying. The challenge was there; I had to take someone who had never been photographed before and make it work – no pressure then!
Rachael Crewe was pulled from the hat as the comp winner but the weather remained truly shocking. Calendar shoots were stacking up. It wasn't easy getting all the ducks in a row but eventually, Rachael, Chris James (her partner) and I got together for a day out in the Peak in late August. We planned for a long day of classic grit action, beautiful blue-sky with (or without) the odd fluffy white cloud and golden-coloured autumnal heather. It didn't quite turn out that way though...
It was pretty obvious that Rachael was trying her best and putting a brave face on it. The crack was damp and the footholds were obviously no better. Yet she plugged in another cam, clipped the rope and pressed on in stoical British style. Her partner, Chris, was super attentive; his was gold-level belaying. The final bulge should have given the best photo op – but it just didn't happen. By the time Rachael pulled over the final bulge into the upper niche the situation was dire. She was looking pretty wet and so too was the rock. Perched on the cliff-edge, taking photos, I'd been blasted by the wind and rain and hence hadn't faired any better. Chris got the unenviable job of seconding whilst I stripped my abseil, coiled a wet rope and retreated to the shelter of a small corner at the base of the crag. I dried my camera kit and contemplated what we had achieved in the two hours we'd been rolling. The images on the back of the camera looked (not surprisingly) rubbish! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - they looked that grim. Definitely not calendar material; things needed to get a whole lot better if we were gonna get the job done today. Rachael and Chris looked like drowned rats when they got down. We packed up and bailed. This was not the start we'd hoped for; not a day for spandex and definitely not the conditions of choice for a calendar photo-shoot either!
“Three teas please” I said investing in some cheer for the team. Sitting at a corner table, as far away from the windows and the weather as possible, it was time for a re-think. We were in Outside, Hathersage. We'd just been comprehensively rained off Stanage. The forecasted light showers had turned into persistent rain and it was looking set for the day. I'm big on optimism but the weather was grim.
“Lets give it a while and then we can go check out a few other crags” I offered. A phone call to Sheffield confirmed that the latest forecast was for the weather to get a bit better. Good news; but boy did we need it. I offered my thoughts. “If Lawrencefield is dry you could try Pulpit Groove. The move across the groove from the pulpit might look pretty good from close-in with a wide angle. Failing that, there's always Stoney - that WILL be dry!” Rachael and Chris smiled and went along with the idea but boy, did they look sceptical. I didn't blame them either. They were up from the Midlands for a day or so but time was ticking and (calendar) deadlines were looming. We were all keen to get something in the proverbial can but we needed a break.
We finished our teas and left. Walking out, we bumped in 'Big Ron' Fawcett. For Ron to be inside Outside it must be grim I figured! We pressed on regardless. Lawrencefield, my #1 alternative, was soaked; hardly surprising given that the rain was still lashing down. “Right then, off to Stoney” I suggested. “I'm 100% confident that something will be dry” I added by way of qualification. This was turning into a real quest.
We arrived at Stoney and parked up. It had stopped raining and there was even a small patch of pale blue sky out in the west. I felt much more up-beat; beau temps were clearly coming our way. We grabbed our stuff and walked in. Rachael and Chris revealed that they hadn't been to Stoney before so to put myself into their shoes I cast my mind way back to when I first visited. I recalled that it had all looked very intimidating back then and certainly very, very different to the grit which I was used to. I introduced Rachael and Chris to the hidden delights of Stoney, skirting past the wet rock as I gave them the tour. With relief, I saw that Froth was dry. “Knew Froth would be dry” I blurted as I glanced at my comrades. They are smiling and nodding but they are smiling and nodding in the way that agnostics do when cornered by those of religious persuasion. In their position I would have smiled and nodded in the same way too! There was no time to lose and we hatched a game plan as we geared-up. Chris would lead the first pitch and Rachael the second. I set off for the long hike around to the top with half a tonne of camera and climbing gear. I'd photo'd Froth before so knew exactly where I wanted to be – though this time I hoped for some sun to lift the images and give it some mood. The path along the top of Stoney was almost totally overgrown with every conceivable species of bush, thorn and bramble. Eventually I abseiled in to see that the sun was shining and casting dark shadows on the back wall and behind the tree below Froth. The sun was adding depth and a sense of exposure to Froth's second pitch. Whilst Froth can be done in a single pitch there's something quite nice about doing it in two. Belayed in the corner, Chris was closer to hand and able to offer encouragement to Rachael as she prepared to do battle with the exposed traverse that is the meat of the pitch. I wanted to capture the feeling of exposure and commitment faced by Rachael and the supporting role played by Chris in my images. I switched lens and worked the angles and amazingly I managed to get some sunny images too. Result! Things were looking up and hey – we were only six hours into the shoot. As quickly as it had come, the sun disappeared behind the cloud cover once again. Our work at Stoney though was done.
I was keen to get back to Stanage for a rematch; I hate to be beaten, even by the weather. We pushed our luck and walked back into the Popular End for the second time that day. This time thought, it looked way more promising. But what to shoot Rachael on? I wanted something a bit different; something beyond the popular end of the Popular End. I suggested the 3-star Balcony Buttress (S). Rachael racked up and set off. Weak evening sun was piercing the clouds and lighting the dying heather, lifting the muted autumnal colours. Perhaps a tight-in shot with some nicely out-of-focus heather might work? I dashed around and perched on the top of the crag to get the angle. Rachael approached the final headwall but then a rain shower blew through. I got that déjà vu feeling but fortunately the rain didn't last. I got some more shots and then switched sides and shot from the north. Shooting with the light gives way more colour and it was looking quite nice but something was missing. I contemplated what the illusive ingredient might be, but then suddenly the light died and it was game over - again. It had been a long day but I felt that we had got as much as we could given the start we'd had. Packing up back at the base of the crag I glanced around to check Rachael and Chris' progress and I was confronted by a dramatic sunset which had materialised from nowhere. I pulled my camera back out again and in double quick time I fired off a few shots on instinct before the light finally died for the day. I intuitively knew that the few shots I'd just got of Rachael and Chris would slot right into the calendar. The saying, “it ain't over till it's over” proved true photographically.
We packed up and walked down to the cars and talked over the day. It had been a roller-coaster and certainly not the easiest photo shoot I'd ever done - thanks UK weather! Driving back to Sheffield I reflected some more. I felt sure that we'd done okay. But for next year's shoot, I figured, I'd go with the blue sky and fluffy white clouds...
Postscript: Two shots of Rachael and Chris on Froth appears on the April page of climbing:09 whilst the silhouette shot of them on Balcony Buttress is on the inside front cover. We'd spent a total of ten hours running around The Peak, been wet through, visited four separate locations to come away with three shots for the calendar. I don't mind maths but I'm not going to do the sums on this one. Was it worth it? You bet, and I hope to do it again next year. Did I learn anything? Ditto - keep shooting, make you own luck, look over your shoulder from time to time and it ain't over till it's over. Finally, did Rachael enjoy it? She says so – certainly she's having a hard time choosing her favourite image from the day to have as a poster print!