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Lukasz Warzecha | Shooting in the Cold
Here I am, hanging from two ice screws 500 feet above the ground on a sheer ice face. Just below me Uisdean Hawthorn swings an axe into the bullet hard ice which dinner plates with every placement. I know that this is the place and moment… climbing looks hard and I know he’s concern about Raphaela Haug down below.
My mission? Capture a killer image for the Mountain Equipment winter workbook.
Sounds easy right? But simply keeping myself safe and functional is almost a full-time job in itself. Warm clothing is just the start.
For this shoot I’m using four pairs of gloves, juggling dexterity and insulation in a finely-tuned high-wire act teetering between frost-bite and functionality. I’m a climber and I had to be able to efficiently climb as well; but here there’s not much headspace left for the simple basics of climbing, which is why Paul Chiddle is acting as a rope gun for me, doing the leading, setting up the belays and helping to keep me safe.
Welcome to my office.
I’ve been cold before, nonetheless it’s an experience every single time. -30°C is about survival, especially in a very remote location. Twisted ankle, broken wrist, or being hit by a piece of ice are not that unlikely when ice climbing. But when you are in a remote place at -30°C, they can be potentially life threatening.
The thing is that -30deg gets under your skin.
It’s important to realise it affects your character and motivation too. It’s a constant mental battle. Whilst being hot can be uncomfortable it can also be a little bit relaxing; in contrast, being in extreme cold will ring alarm bells with your senses. Your eyes will be freezing over, breathing through your nose is painful. You try to hold off those thought of hot shower for as long as possible.
For me personally that’s where my limit is – the moment I can only think about a hot shower. You have got to stay focused on the process!
Since you are operating on a much shorter fuse, you have to be prepared both physically (it will be painful) and mentally (it will push your buttons).
You have to realise and accept that discomfort is part of your mind game, preparation for a cold day ahead. Personally, I’m a bit of a wimp – so it took me some time to find my limits. But the bottom line is that it’s possible to expand your limits little by little; every time. Spending winters in northern parts of Sweden certainly helped, but I’m not talking about nipping out for a pint of milk or a xc ski training session for couple of hours. I’m talking about being prepared for 16hrs sufferfest in -30°C.
At this temperature to stay focused on the job at hand – you have to concentrate real hard on managing yourself and the photography equipment. I divide my management plan into personal and photo strategies.
LOOKING AFTER MYSELF
Probably the most important. You must take special care with your gloves. And you will need a lot of them – at least three pairs.
For a winter climb/photoshoot, I will bring with me two pairs of thin gloves [G2 Alpine Glove] for the approach – plus a spare pair -, at least two pairs of climbing/working gloves [Super Couloir Glove] and a pair of down mitts [Redline Mitt]. Always bear in mind that loosing even one glove if you don’t have spares can be potentially catastrophic, that’s why having spares is so important!
I like thin gloves for their dexterity, they’re great for working with cameras and for climbing. I will most likely wear one pair on the approach too and keep a spare pair dry for later. Depending on your circulation/wind chill factor they might be too thin in -30°C though – in Canada I did the approach wearing down mitts!
Climbing/working gloves are exactly that, a compromise between warmth and dexterity but more robust providing more protection from cold. As a photographer/filmmaker I will be going through prolonged periods of time when I’m not moving, either shooting or belaying, and often a combination of both. While mitts are great for belaying and stay put moments, it’s almost impossible to operate any camera in them. Normally, I will work/climb in a pair of thin or working/climbing gloves and keep my mitts for the comfort moments, I love having hand warmers inside my mitts – that way after long periods of handling cameras my hands warm up much faster.
On a very cold day I might be using mitts on the approach and while seconding. It’s very important to keep the gloves you’re rotating around warm, keeping them inside your jacket helps massively.
LOOKING AFTER GEAR
In terms of gear – my management plan begins as soon as I start putting my clothes on, first thing in the morning. I plan my layering system, and how and where I will carry all my spare batteries ahead of time (they have to be close to your body but protected from all the moisture that your body will create on the approach). Batteries do not tolerate such extreme temps and you will be rewarded by taking extra care. There would be nothing worse than putting all that effort only to realise sometime mid-day that your camera doesn’t work.
Less is more – on a big hill day these days when shooting grassroots brands I would only carry one camera – 1DX mkII.
Sure it’s heavy, but it’s a workhorse – at 14fps I don’t waste anyone’s time asking for repeated axe swings for example, it also shoots beautiful 4K and 100fps in 1080p video.
The camera is almost bulletproof and I don’t have to worry about spindrift or cold affecting it. While I love shooting commercial work on prime lenses for fast action, on the move environments, a good L-series zoom would be my choice.
Again, I would try to carry as little as possible – I might take the 24-105mm and 17-40mm, one always on camera, the other in a neoprene sleeve in my backpack. I have so much climbing and personal gear to carry that I use a normal climbing backpack. My camera is either constantly outside ready to shoot or inside a top loader.
Despite the challenges if I had to chose I think I prefer to be cold than warm… The main reason being – at least I can get warm again – the reward is almost instant. Surviving tropical heat is a different challenge and one perhaps for another blog post.
Breathtaking images and death defying stunts: A seminar with Lukasz Warzecha and Mountain-Equipment
Friday 3rd May, 4pm – 5pm
Lukasz describes his adventures, saying ‘When you are hanging from two ice screws 500 feet above the ground on a sheer ice face, the temperature is minus 30˚C. It is cold enough that your breath freezes instantly. Your fingers risk permanent damage if exposed for longer than a few minutes. It is, in simple terms, really cold. Just below me, ME Pro team climber, Uisdean Hawthorn swings an axe into the rock-hard ice. My mission? My mission is to capture a killer image for the ME winter 2019 campaign.’
‘What it takes’ is a behind the scenes sneak-peak into my two latest assignments for Mountain Equipment (ice climbing in Canada/skiing in Sweden) showcasing unpublished work from the 2019 winter campaign.
Lukasz will talk about what it involves to create this work and the adventures he has been on, alongside how he got started.
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Lukasz Warzecha is an outdoor photographer and cameraman who has collaborated with Mountain Equipment for nearly a decade.
‘This is the most exciting time to be a photographer ever!’ says Lukasz. It’s a belief that has seen Lukasz travelling and shooting on 5 continents in the last few years on assignments for the National Geographic, WL GORE, Mountain Equipment and Petzl (among others).
Website : https://lwimages.co.uk