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From remote skiing to extreme climbing, photographer Jordan Manley is always up for a challenge. To shoot kayaker John Irvine paddling Seymour Canyon in British Columbia, Canada, Manley knew he wanted to photograph the action from above the river. It took two friends and a Tyrolean traverse to make it happen.
How many scouting trips did it take before you located the perfect combination of the best river position, huge trees to rig ropes to, and great light for the photograph?
Jordan Manley: John Irvine and I did two scouting walks in order to find the right spot for this shot. We walked the forest on both sides of the canyon, looking for a place that had very steep walls and interesting whitewater running below. At first, I was in search of a place that I could simply rappel from the edge, directly down, similar to a rock climbing photo, and shoot. The location also had to have the right light. Some canyon walls have certain angles that make them quite dark. Any good angle also had to align with a big tree to rappel from.
I was having a tough time finding the right angle to show how dramatic the canyon could be. John suggested we rig up a Tyrolean line across the canyon so I could be further from the wall; it turned out to be a good idea. Ultimately, it was a gamble; I had to guess what the angle would look like “out there.”
Tell us about setting up the Tyrolean traverse.
J.M.: I showed the spot to my friend, Marcus Waring, who is a professional rope access tech. Based on exactly where I wanted to be, he planned where the rope had to be anchored, to which big trees. Marcus also went back a few other times with our friend Cheddar Watson, another rope access tech, and they figured out it is about 60-meters from tree to tree, across the canyon. On the day of the shoot, they worked quickly and set everything up, got the line across, anchored and tight. Marcus finally gave it a test and it was good to go.
You shoot in all types of challenging environments, which require extra technical support and skills, beyond the photography. Was this setup any more difficult than past shoots?
J.M.: This was one of the more complicated shoots I’ve done because it involved not only a technical challenge, but a team of people to pull it off. I hadn’t done a Tyrolean setup before. It was a good exercise in teamwork and relying on each person to do what they are good at. I didn’t have all the skills to make it happen on my own – I’m lucky to have talented friends with good ideas; they were crucial to making everything work. Planning is the most important part of a shoot that has difficult logistics. Planning gives yourself the best chance, to create the shot that you’re looking for. Luck is also important—we lucked out. Weather is always a big factor in any outdoor shoot, and when it doesn’t cooperate, it can bring the entire shoot down.
Once you’re floating on the rope, what’s your tactic to stay steady and make sure you get a solid, sharp frame?
J.M.: I was fairly contorted, legs wrapped around the main line, and my body twisted, so I could be steady and still looking straight down. Not the most comfortable position. The camera was attached into my harness, but loose enough that I could freely use it. It was a good core workout to hold myself in the right position while shooting. For these types of shots, I take a deep breath and then hold it!
Once all the hard work and planning is in place, is there a great element of fun in the challenge of getting this shot? Or, does your concentration block out everything, beyond the shot?
J.M.: There is a great element of fun to it, for sure. These are my favorite kinds of shoots; where the shoot merges photographic, technical, and environmental challenges. I get an adrenaline rush out before and after the shot. During the actual shot I’m very focused, looking through the viewfinder—my physical circumstances almost completely fade away. I remember a helicopter shoot where I was shooting out of the side of the helicopter, while the pilot performed a difficult sideslip maneuver. We landed safely, and the pilot said to me “We were actually in free fall for a moment there!” I had no idea.
What’s on tap for your next challenging shoot?
J.M.: Next on the list for this book project are some images from the air. I’ll be shooting glacier textures from a small, fixed-wing plane, and also some point-of-view paragliding angles, which have more exciting technical challenges.