In June we ran a competition in conjunction with Keith Sharples - the UKC and Keith Sharples 'Be in my Calendar' Comp which is now into its forth year. In August Keith travelled with the lucky winners to Dinbren in the Eglwyseg Valley north of Llangollen. Here is his report of the day...
I knew from past experience that UKC devotees are fast to respond to posts and comps etc. so it was no surprise at all that the first responses to the 2011 Be in my Calendar UKC competition dropped into my inbox within minutes of the posting going live! This was the fourth Be in My Calendar comp – snappily titled as it was by that doyen of the tinterweb Mick Ryan – yet it was still a total blast to see that so many people wanted to get involved. In fact, more people than ever were up for the chance of following in the footsteps of Liam Lonsdale, last year's comp winner. I photographed Liam at St Bees on a cloudless blue-sky day and used one of the images bumped all the others out of the frame and was used on the front cover of Climbing:2011.
Sadly, cometh the hour, I had to whittle down the long list of would-be calendar stars from this year's comp to three runners up and a single winner. So without further a-do, and in traditional style, the three runners up are Laura Hudson, Ian Robinson and Jesamine Bartlett and the winner, and hence the name in the frame for Climbing:2012, (cue drum roll....) is Craig Bailey, a would-be molecular biologist-cum-geneticist from the north west.
Arranging the comp and getting a winner went well; like clockwork in fact. Even sorting a day and possible venues to suit both Craig and myself wasn't a problem either. However, dovetailing these two with the weather forecast, especially during the August we've just had, was very nearly a whole world of pain though! August should, of course, be half decent weather wise but it was pretty pants as we all know; bad enough in fact for the boffins deep within the Met Office to officially list it as 'unsettled'. I'd hate to think what a 'poor' month would be like! So predictably enough, the morning of the photo shoot dawned very wet and windy; not a good start! I ignored it and busied myself with my essential pre-shoot prep – a full English and a couple of pints of Earl Grey tea before ringing Craig to finalise arrangements. It was obvious we needed to zero-in on a rainshadow venue – or two – from the several that sprang to mind in the North West. The tides and summer holidays killed the Ormes and Tremadog and Anglsey both looked a bit iffy and were too far really for an easy hit. Clwyd Limestone it was then. I love it when a plan writes itself...
In last year's Be in my Calendar article I wrote a little about my motivation for doing the comp and the challenges it brings. I'm going to concentrate this year's write-up more on how I go about a calendar shoot. As we'd chosen a limestone venue let me say straight off that for shooting limestone I'll take a bright but cloudy day over a bright sunny day any time so the lack of sun wasn't a problem for me. Dry rock though is a pre-requiste and it was with more than a degree of relieve that the rain stopped on the drive down to Clwyd and we saw that the crag was dry when we pulled up at Dinbren. Result!
There's no great magic involved in doing a photo shoot for the calendar. Having chosen a venue and selected some routes, the most important thing for me, and call me old skool, is capture some 'real' action. It follows therefore that I let my subjects get on with their climbing without intervention from myself. Banter is one thing, but I'm not into the posing malarkie – I'm looking for genuine action, a grimace, a body swing or a great shape; all the things that most climbers do automatically. I'll suggest a route based on quality, position, access difficulty etc. but then I'll keep quiet and let the action happen. It's my job to get into position to capture what I think will give the best shot of the route in the circumstances. Sounds easy egh? If only! Step #1 is to get round to the top to rig a fixed rope to abseil/jumar on. At outcrops like Dinbren that pretty easy, just a quick walk round then build a rap point to get down to what I think will be the sweat spot. Step #2 is to choose a camera position then pick a lens – typically a zoom so that I have as many options as possible. Step #3 is all about setting up the camera to influence how the image looks, ie fiddling with pesky f/stops and shutter speeds and focus points. Step #4 is to finalise composition and framing and then finally step #5, shoot! Having said that there's no great magic involved, the old adage of turning the camera on, pointing the lens away from you and then shooting doesn't quite come up to scratch...
So starting out with a warm-up, Craig got stuck into some of the routes on the Climb High Wall at Dinbren. It's far from the biggest wall around and it's relatively featureless so for the image to work I needed to create an interesting composition/framing and then it was over to Craig to strike an interesting shape. The Traction Trauma/Without Walls (E4/E5 6b) combo photo'd OK but I was intrigued by the description of Climb High (E4 6b) and suggested to Craig that he give it a whirl. Not only was it listed as one of the best routes in the area at its grade but the guide suggested it had the 'mother of all mantelshelves' to contend with. I wondered if I'd be able to capture some gnarly facial expression mid-mantel. The top of the crag juts out a bit past Climb High so I could get a bit of an angle on Craig and so shoot slightly 'inwards'. Despite the thunder-black clouds rolling in from the coast to the north, the sun had burst through by this stage. Suddenly, there was real interest in the sky, pretty good light and then Craig hit a great shape as he outsmarted the mantleshelf with a thumb-down rockover-cum-eagle spread. Thank you Craig, nice shape, I'll take that.
There are those that think Dinbren is on the short side. Others though take this as an opportunity to bang a load of routes in; Craig and his climbing partner for the day, Julian Heath, were clearly in the later camp and keen to crack on. Moving left, Walking with Barrence (F7b) and Technicoloured Yawn (F7a+) were fully loaded (with stars) and it seemed rude not to tick at least one of them off as well. Julian was also knocking out the routes so I photograph him as well which was great for the stock library if a little tough on the kidneys – note to self, get an ab seat, stupid!
We stopped for lunch just as some more climbers arrived. They'd travelled up from Pembroke on-route back to North Wales and were looking for dry rock along the way. It's not unusual to find Clwyd dry and climbable in dodgy weather and, as if to reinforce the point, the sun was properly out now and the sky blue and cloudless. Strangely though, I now faced a different problem; super bright sunlit limestone rock, generally featureless walls above a sun bleached (and drenched) grass bank under a blue sky! Something of a dilemma photographically; who said photogs were never happy! Unexpectedly, I was marooned on a mid afternoon island of brightly lit and mono-tone rock/ground. This is where careful lens selection and/or aperture control would become important weapons in the war against blandness but the crag offered few vantage points from which to get an angle to shot long and wide-open (to blur the background) and going in for a tight crop wasn't what I had in mind for this calendar shot. It was either time to switch venues or at least get a different angle to the sun. Alternatively, we could chill-out and wait for the light to move round and then start again.
Actually, we (kinda) did both. Firstly, Craig did A World of Harmony (E2 5b) and then I swopped my camera bag for a chalk bag and did Return of the Gods (E3 5c) on the right-hand wing of Dinbren. That passed an hour or so before we cut back left to take a look at another 3-star classic, The Bandits (F7b+). By the time Craig and Julian had a burn up each up The Bandits, the falling sun-light was casting a long, low glancing angle on the rock. Within minutes though it was gone, replaced for a few minutes only with some magical rim-lighting. It was time, as DCI Gene Hunt would have said, to fire up the Quattro for one last set of images of Craig before we called time and headed for home after an awesome day. I've said it before, if you've not been to the Clwyd Limestone you should, you really should. There's some sweat little gems there waiting for you and the weather's usually more than half decent too.
My thanks to all the UKClimbingites, including the three runners-up Laura Hudson, Ian Robinson and Jesamine Bartlett, who wanted to get involved in the calendar and to Craig and Julian for putting up with me poking a camera up their noses all day. Finally my thanks also to Al and Mick over at UKClimbing – keep up the great work guys...
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