“On the highline my thoughts are simple and clear,” says pioneering rock climber, BASE jumper, and wing suit flyer Dean Potter. “Fundamental needs shine through the mental clutter. I focus completely on my breath, my connection with the line, and making it safely to the other side.” This highline was set up on the summit of Cathedral Peak, in Yosemite National Park, at an elevation of 10,911 feet. Though Potter is untethered, he is in control. “I’ve always been a ‘free soloist.’ Whatever I do, I long to be untethered and free,” notes Potter. “I am completely confident with my ability to catch the line if I were to fall. I’ve practiced this catch move successfully for the past 19 years.”
Getting the Shot
“Hands down this was the most complicated shot I’ve ever taken,” says photographer Mikey Schaefer. “It started a year earlier with Dean [Potter] seeing the moon rise over Cathedral Peak and noticing that it would make a great shot.“ A bit skeptical, Schaefer used an app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris to locate where the moon would rise from a relative location. “I went out the night before the shoot with a GPS and lined everything up. Sure enough, the moon rose exactly where I thought it would,” says Schaefer.
In Tuolumne Meadows, Schaefer set himself on an adjacent ridge from Potter, about 1.2 miles away, and began shooting at 7:30 p.m. “Thankfully the light was absolutely perfect, as it was just ten minutes before the direct sunlight would be off of Dean. This allowed me to balance the exposure evenly between Dean and the moon, as there weren’t too many stops difference between the two,” recalls Schaefer.
Schaefer worked throughout the filming of the show, from rigging ropes to operating video cameras, all while shooting still images as well. The image of Potter against the moon stands out from the rest of the shoot. “The whole scenario seemed crazy,” Schaefer says. ”I was over a mile away from my subject, who was walking a tightrope with certain death consequences if he fell. I was running through the woods with $20,000 worth of camera gear, making the most unique photo of my career. I’m still a bit amazed that I managed to stick the shot.”
This image was captured using a Canon 5D Mark II and an 800mm, f/5.6 lens with a 2X doubler.