Ace that shot: Life on the line

Pro photographer Jacques Marais on capturing the drama (and danger) of an extreme slackliner attempting Victoria Falls

Slacklining is an edgy adrenaline craze taking the world by storm – and the German athlete Lukas Irmler is certainly taking this sport to new heights. I shot this image of Irmler during his first-ever crossing of Mosi-oa Tunya gorge. The athlete used a fabric band less than 5cm wide; it stretched over the dizzying abyss, with the deafening roar of Victoria Falls in the background.

TO GET THE SHOT…

Change the angle of view

This technique works for pretty much any subject, and allows you to re-imagine the image. A low shooting angle ensures that your subject will stand out against the sky, while an overhead camera angle – say, from high up on a cliff – will give you a bird’s-eye view perspective instead. In this case, before we could start shooting, we had to first get the slackline across the gorge. This required an arrow shot from a crossbow, with fishing line attached. Then it was up to the athlete to commit to an excruciatingly difficult first step…

Use an extreme wide angle lens

I wanted to capture the moment of ultimate equilibrium, placing the human form within the vastness and grandeur of the surrounding landscape. This required an extreme wide angle lens and a down-scramble onto a rather exposed ledge, changing the angle to silhouette Irmler against the spray of the falls while simultaneously capturing the breathtaking backdrop of the Smoke That Thunders.

Find the focal point

The key consideration was to find a focal point where the subject – however small within the overall frame – still stood out as the main visual point of interest. I was fortunate to be given free rein to explore the precipitous edge of the falls, which helped me to pick the perfect shooting angle and capture the drama of this hair-raising feat.

“I wanted to capture the moment of ultimate equilibrium, placing the human form within the vastness and grandeur of the surrounding landscape”

 

THE TECHNICAL STUFF

Equipment

I use the latest generation of Sony mirrorless camera. In this case, the extreme 180-degree angle of view from
the 15m lens enabled me to capture the full gamut of visual drama unfolding alongside Victoria Falls.

Shutter speed and exposure

An aperture of f5.6 gave enough sharpness on the focal plane, while a 1/1000sec shutter speed would freeze fast motion if necessary. A low ISO level of 100 equated to no grain or visual noise, as well as excellent colour rendition.

Exposure

Backlighting meant I had to overexpose by half a stop to ensure my subject remained well within the dynamic range of the camera’s full-frame sensor. Constantly changing light – the result of the heavy mist from the falls – meant I could not use an external flash, and had to trust the quality of the mirrorless camera.

Post-production

Final post-production was done in Adobe Lightroom.

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