Long exposure night photography plays an essential role in our portfolio. Motivated by the success of numerous photographs from Chamonix, but also very positive feedback and clear demand for "how was it made" type of material, we have decided to put together "Let there be light". We have attempted to create a comprehensive micro-documentary, aimed at enthusiasts of outdoor photography who are taking their initial steps with this fantastic technique. At the same time, we had a great opportunity to test various pieces of gear, kindly donated by our invaluable sponsors: Rab, Redged, Clik Elite, Cameraland.nl, Photofuture, Lowe Alpine and Pocket Wizard, before setting on more demanding outdoor assignments.
Our photographic excursion that eventually led to the "Let there be light" documentary, starts in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in the very heart of the French Alps. The Aiguille du Midi, depicted below, is believed to be the gateway to the northern part of the Massif. In my humble opinion it is one of the most picturesque summits of the French Alps..
One of the most spectacular features of the Aiguille du Midi is the famous cable car that climbs more than 2.7 km of vertical granite wall before reaching its final destination, the summit. In the photo above, you can see a view of the summit from the intermediate station at Plan de l'Aiguille.
Just after reaching the summit, one needs to start unpacking the gear, clear the ropes and put on harnesses. During summer the ridge that leads directly to the Vallée Blanche glacier (check the photos below) becomes rather thin and exposed. The descent during a windy day can prove to be problematic (we were carrying 25kg+ of gear per person).
Another significant danger arises from numerous crevasses that expose the severely fractured nature of alpine glaciers during the summer season. Crossing the aforementioned "glacial grooves" requires some skill, experience and good judgment. It is sometimes wise to invest some extra time to scout the terrain for an easier route and find a detour rather than risk your life pursuing the most "straightforward" path.
The last factor that I should mention here is the weather. A variable that renders mountaineering so exciting yet sometimes such a risky endeavour. During our approach to the north face of La Tour Ronde (from Pointe Helbronner) low-level clouds were making this relatively straightforward route via glaciers a tedious task, forcing us to stop on numerous occasions due to a complete lack of visibility.
Below, yet another example of whiteout, this time a short peak on our "camp" on Col du Midi.
Probably the most rewarding side of a ridiculously slow process of hauling loads of gear over glaciers is the outstanding views of the surrounding summits, as the one with the teams of roped alpinists crossing the Vallée Blanche glacier with the prominent summits of: (from left to right) Grandes Jorasses, Arête de Rochefort, Mont Mallet, Aiguille de Rochefort and Dent du Géant.
The photograph below demonstrates this point even further. The glacial plains make the surrounding mountains "pop-out" even more, creating the spectacular prominence effect.
The first sequence of long exposure photographs for "Let there be light" were taken on Col du Midi, a glacial plain spanning between the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc du Tacul. On the photos below you can see scenes from daily life in a small camp.
A clear, cold night! It’s the sign that we will have work to do (more details in the documentary). The colder, the better. In the next shot, I am rigging the gear for the first long exposure photographs.
On the photo below, Lumi bravely holds on to our Redged tripod, warm and focused thanks to her Rab Neutrino Endurance jacket, our favourite piece of RAB gear. In the background is our new RAB Latok Mountain tent. It took some decent beatings by the cold winds on the next day, yet it stood solid against unholy blasts :)
The outcome of the Col du Midi night photo shoot was outstanding. Many shots were featured by National Geographic International Edition and NG Traveler. The photo below was featured on the cover and "scored" more than 160 000 'Likes' on Facebook. In the photograph, yours truly prepares a warm beverage for Lumi, around 3 a.m. In the background groups of climbers venture up the icy face of Mont Blanc du Tacul.
In this photograph you can see the Grandes Jorasses and Dent du Géant with the perplexing beam of light from the direction of Pointe Helbronner.
And... A glimpse of our camp at 4 am.
A wide angle perspective on climbers venturing up the north face of Mont Blanc du Tacul at 4 am.
An attempt to capture the essence of an early morning start: Lumi and I roped up against the Dent du Géant and the Grandes Jorasses illuminated by the very first rays of the morning sunrise.
Our camp at 5 am with the south faces of the Aiguille du Midi in the background.
As mentioned before, the first part of our photo excursion to the foothills of Mont Blanc took place in the vicinity of the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc du Tacul. However, in order to get different angles we also visited the Italian side of this great range. From here onwards, the next series of photographs were taken from our small camp located at the foothills of La Tour Ronde. In the photo below, our fellow climber, Santiago Katz, is seen on the approach to the Aiguille d'Entrèves on a stormy afternoon. In the background is the NE face of La Tour Ronde.
The alpine landscape looks far more appealing on a sunny day. This is a view of the Dent du Géant. Clear inversion of the warm air can be observed in the glacial valley.
The very first day on the Italian side of the massif was very laid back. In the photo below, Lumi, warm and happy, is enjoying a dinner at the foothills of La Tour Ronde.
On the second day, we have decided to do some basic climbing on the SE ridge of La Tour Ronde. In the photo below you can see a wide-angle perspective of our camp site.
When we reached the Tour Ronde, we could not resist and started some basic climbing. However, we found most of the rocks were quite loose. The shot below is staged because we were testing the light conditions and framing for a short promotional video for Clik Elite and Redged. In the background is the Brenva face of Mont Blanc in full sunlight.
Just after the arrival at our base camp we could enjoy the spectacular display of colours on the surrounding summits.
Strong winds and a plummeting temperature were clear signs of an atmospheric front sweeping though the massif. Hence, we decided to get some rest and prepare for a long night of long exposure photos.
We spent at least 5 hours outside, shooting the "Let there be light" footage outside our camp. The complementary footage has been acquired inside our small, heavily fortified Rab Latok tent, that stood very well against gusts of cold wind. In total, we have acquired 3 hours of raw footage, which has been compressed into a 22 minute micro-documentary about long exposure night photography in the Mont Blanc Massif.
I have to admit I am very pleased with the performance of our outdoor gear. The RAB clothing kept us warm and dry, even during a prolonged period of zero physical activity, shooting the outside-part of our footage. I also want to stress that it was the first time we have taken all our long exposure photos under relatively heavy wind conditions (50 kph+ gusts). I was afraid that our carbon-fibre Redged tripods would simply not be stable enough in these conditions. Once again, I was very positively surprised by the outcome of the photo shoot. 80% of the photographs were super-sharp even without using an extra weight attached to the tripods. Our documentary, "Let there be light", will be available free of charge on the 4th of November.
EDITORIAL NOTE: We want to greatly acknowdlege Mr. Brian Tuck ( http://www.facebook.com/ChamonixFans ) for critical reading, suggestions and necesarry revisions of this text. Cheers mate!
OUR FAVOURITE GEAR
Clothing / Outdoor
Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket (see more)
Rab Latok Mountain Tent (see more)
Tripods / Backpacks
Redged RTC-424 Tripod (see more)
Redged RNB-2 ballhead (see more)
Clik Elite Contrejour 40 (see more)
Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 90 (see more)
Photo / Video
Nikkor 14-24 f2.8
Nikkor 24-70 f2.8
Canon 5D MkII
Canon 50 f1.4
Audio / Voice
Sennheiser ew 100 GW3 microphone + transcievers