For the Hiking Photographer, Platypod Proves Priceless
I drive the 118 in Simi Valley on the regular when heading to shoots (and avoiding the 101-405 exchange for any of you in LA, you feel me!) Anyway, the one good aspect of the 118 drive is the views. From high to low, there’s so much scenery that makes my time in the car much more enjoyable than my old stomping ground on the LIE in NY.
Off to the left is a rocky mountain that I’ve always wanted to shoot in. I called up long-time fitness pro Diego Sebastian to see if he’d be game for a shoot (and a hike!). Diego is always game for a good shoot.
The hike is quite steep, so I wanted to keep equipment to the minimal. I knew I would need a few lenses, as whenever working in the field on an unknown surface, multiple lenses are a must in case you can’t get here or there based on the terrain. That can, however, add quite a bit of weight to the bag. Hauling 35-50 additional pounds on your back can make for a tough hike, so I am cognizant of what’s in the bag.
There’s always some risk when packing light; there’s nothing worse than not having what you need when you get to a location.
Here’s what I brought:
· Canon 5DMk4
· Canon 5DMk3
· Canon Lenses:
24-70mm II Lens
· Extra Canon camera batteries
· Cable Release
· Hoodman HoodLoupe
· Hoodman Memory Cards (32GB and 16GB)
· Gerber MultiTool
· B-Grip Camera Harness
· Joby and Benro Ball Heads
· Plenty of water and protein bars
· Lowepro Lens Exchange (Awesome for changing lenses in the field!)
I prefer afternoon light, not only because I hate getting up early and hiking in the dark. I prefer the ability to squeeze out the last light versus rushing to shoot before the sun gets too high. That said, winter shooting is great with the lower level of light. I always prefer to scout before a shoot if I can, but when it’s busy before a personal shoot, sometimes I have to wing it.
My plan was to shoot as much as possible on my 135 mm. I love the quality of it, far beyond my 70-300 mm, and I don’t get to shoot with it nearly enough.
Diego and I started at the top of the first hairpin trail on top of a series of boulders. Note the straight-up shot was made with the intent of adding some drama in the sky. I was happy to have the nice warm sun, but in an ideal world I would have shot a day with some dramatic clouds. But you can’t control the weather! The nice thing with a clean backdrop like this is adding clouds in post-processing is very easy.
As we went on, Diego said he wanted some general fitness images to add to his regular social-media presence, so we played around with a few ideas as we moved our way up the mountain:
I’ve always loved the idea of a solo figure in the landscape so in-between jumping shots, I instructed Diego on occasion to stand and flex his famous abs.
Collaborating with your subject can lead to strong images, even when not necessarily planned. Diego mentioned some work he does with @leomicci clothing brand and we started to play around with the idea of some images they might like to see.
As we approached the top of the trail, I was running up and down the hill from a side view to a view from the bottom of the hill. I was going back and forth from my 135 mm to my 24-70 II.
The Platypod’s screws not only work on uneven surfaces but also help “grab” the rock in a case like what you see below, ensuring a solid platform for my Canon, even with a heavy lens.
Here’s a final image of one of our set-ups that we thought clothing brand Leo Micci may be interested. Hey, you never know!
This is my version of on-the-fly location scouting. As Diego changed outfits, I lined up my shot. I really wanted to get a good angle from below, but I wanted to wait for the light to drop.
Rather than lose valuable time shooting other angles, I set one of my cameras in position so when the light hit the right spot I could climb down from my rocky perch and shoot. I had chosen to mostly hand-hold this shoot since we were on the move, and I left my tripod behind- not expecting to use it.
This is precisely why I keep my Platypod Max and Platypod Ultra in my bag on every shoot. Whether it’s for a camera, my iPad or a strobe head, there’s a use for my Platypod on nearly every shoot. I set my 135 mm on my Mark 3 and thanks to a boulder, I had a perfect angle to set Platypod Max up. The spiked feet help Max ‘grab’ the rock to create a solid platform for my camera, even with a heavy lens like the 135 mm.
We finished up the last frame, packed up and headed down the mountain.
As we passed the last turn before the final part of the trail, I asked Diego If he had one more shot in him. Always the consummate pro, he did! I instructed Diego to scamper up a rock, and I quickly pulled Platypod Max back out the bag. I added a Really Right Stuff L Grip to the camera and found an angle to mount Platypod Max to as the last bit of light scooted across the horizon.
At this height, we were straight across from the sun before it set behind the distant mountain. The sturdy base Platypod Max provides on the most uneven of surfaces is invaluable when working in the field like this, especially in low-light conditions. The ease of set-up in a hike-in scenario makes it that much more valuable. Platypod Max and Platypod Ultra being able to fit in places where a larger tripod may not be able to makes both options priceless.
Ian Spanier is an award-winning, LA-based photographer. Check him out on Instagram and at ianspanier.com.