Chamonix, part Deux

5th Jun 2010

After 3 weeks on the road i'm finally back home, albeit only for a few days before heading off again early Monday morning. I don't mind travel, but when its constant with back to back assignments it can get a little stressfull.

Week one, with the Ash cloud finally subsiding a little, it was off to Chamonix one of my favourite places on the Planet. In a former life when i use to be a climber, Chamonix was a place i loved to visit. Its a small place with a very big impact, at least it can be when you can actually see all the dramatic scenary as opposed to the blanket of grey cloud that we had. Sit at pretty much any Bar or cafe in town and you have unparrelled views of some of Europes most outstanding rock architecture. Accessibility into the mountains is the name of the game here, jump on either L'Aiguille du Midi cable car or the Montenver railway which takes you up to the Mer de Glace and you have access into the mountains in 30mins flat!

We flew in on the thursday and after just a single day of shooting on Friday, in less than perfect conditions (see previous post - we spent Saturday exploring and drinking coffee. By the time we left Chamonix's most excellent curry house at about 22:30 the stars were poking through the clouds and you could just about make out the beacon on top of the midi station, things were looking up.

Sunday morning broke and as soon as i woke i knew we were "on" for the day. Blue Sky's and amazing views out of our picture perect window. After a brief discussion with the client all the relevent clothing gets packed into 4 huge duffle bags, The models arrive for a briefing and we head out the door, next stop first cable car of the day up the Midi. This would normally be a fairly relaxed affair but after 2 weeks of pretty shit weather, loads of fresh powder on the mountain and a huge party of tourists all vying for "first up" things were about to get messy. To add to the general stress levels of getting 4 huge bags of clothes, 2 bags of cameras (me being restrained) 1 bag with flash, 2 bags of rigging gear, Photographer, Assistant, Stylist, 3 models and the client - whoa hold on! did i say 3 models, we only had 2. Yep we were down one of our male models and time had been steadily running out (for us and him) we'd tried ringing, txting, and even sending someone round on a bike. All to no avail, he couldn't be found anywear, he could still be missing for all we know. Needs must and all that, and sometimes "things" just happen at the right time. At the precise time we decide we need to find a "stand-in" Jim, our Chalet host for the week just happens to turn up to say "hi" to a few mates on the first car - Jim's in Chamonix for the climbing and Skiing and a good looking guy to boot - the photos today are of climbing, perfect, love it when a plan comes together!


First cable car of the day - top of the midi beckons - fresh lines.



We finally board the cable car after a few bumps, shoves and scuffles and a little "banter" between the locals and a party of Pakistani tourists. We arrive at the top and drag all the kit through the dark tunnels until we get to our optimum location. First shot of the day is of a couple walking along a ridge called La Cosmique Arete, easy but with huge drop offs into space on either side. I rig a working rope so i can clip into it for safety, this way i can concentrate on taking photos and not worry too much if i find "Air" beneath my feet. All goes well, the mist clears and we get the shot we're looking for. Next up is a group shot, 2 guys and a girl sorting through climbing gear. I choose to do it in the same location as this adds a bit of drama to the scene and the light is good. We try three or four different angles and i'm getting some harsh shadows under their chins so i get my trusty SB800 with the diffuser and twist the head straight up, this just gives a little but enough fill. I'm shooting on a Nikon D700, my camera of choice when i'm working in situations like these where weight can be an issue. I really like the fact that i can remove the battery pack/vertical grip. My lenses today are mainly zooms for versatility, 14-24mm/2.8, 24-70mm/2.8, 70-200mm/2.8 and a 85mm/1.4. I usually use these (not the 14-24mm) with a Lee filter holder/Hood and a set of ND filters which always prove invaluable in bright light when i'm looking for a "wide" apperture.

The day progresses well and we manage to get another 4 shots done. Thats 6 today and 4 on Friday, which leaves 4 more to get tomorrow, doable. We even managed to briefly stop for lunch, we took it in turns while someone stayed with all the kit, its amazing what people will nick! One tourist asked Mel, as she was dressing one of the models was "all the stuff for sale" i think they thought we were having some sort of high altitude "bring and buy" sale on top of the Midi.


 Flashing the talent - Bowens Pioneer

 The next day its more of the same - same beautiful weather, same missing model replaced by Jim (after he'd cooked us breakfast, his other job) same carrying huge bags about, just a different start and end point, this time our mode of transport is the Montenver railway. Destination La Mer de Glace. As soon as we got there, Mel get's on the case of dressing the 3 models - Jim, Julio and Blanca while we took in the stunning views of the glacier, Dru and the Walkers spur - three reasons people come to Chamonix! and did a spot of scouting. The first 2 shots were walking and we managed to get them rattled off pretty quick. Next up was a little more involved and after another change of clothes we headed down to the "Ladders" - let me explain. Years ago when tourism kicked in in Chamonix, people wanted to get down onto the glacier and experience it first hand, problem was there is no easy way down, so they bolted big, metal ladders down to the glacier. They started with 1 and now there are 5, each ladder is about 40ft long, a good indicator if one was needed to point the way to just how much the glacier has receded over the years - Global warming? Our 3rd shot of the day was going to be on these ladders, a guide bringing up a client type of a shot, it worked really well. Me cramped on a small ledge shooting at about 16mm, while Jim expertly belayed Blanca up the final steps of the ladder. The shot looked great with the full expanse of the Mer de Glace unfolding below and the rock of the Walkers Spur winking in the background.


Lucy and Kevin standing in for the models so i can check angles!

Lucy and Kevin


One penultimate hike back up the hill for another gear change, then it was crampons on and down onto the ice we go. Just a couple of walking shots - i'm shooting straight into the sun so its time for my secret weapon to come out, a Bowens Pioneer. I love this thing, its basic but gives you just enough power close in (400ws), very portable and the charge seems to last forever, just what you need when you have to climb back up those ladders! I'd have to employ a porter if i was using my usual Profoto 7b packs.

We finished about 15:00, headed down on the next train and got back to our Chalet for about 16:30. No time to rest though, not even a "rap" party, everyone said their farewells and then it was time to download the days images to 2 x external hard drives and then copy them to a 3rd for the client to take away with them. Cup of tea and then i had some packing to do, i was relocating at 17:30 down the road to the beautiful lakeside town of Annecy, hopefully scouting a few locations this evening and then start shooting another brochure for another Client the following day - but thats another story.

Big thanks to Lucy Creamer my assistant, Kev and Mel. Blanca, Matt, Julio and Jim the models, Adventure base for the accomodation and Chamonix for being Chamonix.


Lucy, Kevin, Mel and Julio - Breakfast on top of the world (Midi)