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Michael Clark: Pushing the FUJIFILM GFX 100
to the Limit with HS and HSS

Michael Clark: Pushing the FUJIFILM GFX 100
to the Limit with HS and HSS

Over the last few years, with the rise of mirrorless cameras, I have been trying out all the different mirrorless options and last year that included Fujifilm’s cameras, both their APS-C cameras and their medium format options. After testing their cameras out, I kept the conversation open knowing that they had a few new cameras in the pipeline. Last fall they announced the development of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Digital and my interest was piqued. I have been dreaming for many years of having a medium format camera that was as fast as my DSLRs and also had the ultimate image quality and would work with my Elinchrom strobes as well.

In my twenty-three years as an adventure sports photographer I have photographed just about every outdoor sport. I started out as a climbing photographer documenting rock climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing. Climbing is at the core of who I am and it is still one of my great passions. Hence, for this assignment with Fujifilm, I chose to go old-school and set up both a rock climbing and a downhill freeride mountain biking shoot. These two sports offered up a wide variety of scenarios that would nicely show off the capabilities of the FUJIFILM GFX 100. Of course, when you are hired by a major camera company the objective is to show what the product is capable of and in particular show how some of it’s features help that product stand out from all the other similar products on the market. GFX 100 is pretty unique as cameras go so that task wasn’t hard.

© Michael Clark

Of course, keeping with my current style, I love to add advanced lighting techniques to any and every assignment I work on. This one was no different, and Fujifilm was keen to let me spread my creative wings so I worked with Elinchrom to make sure we could pull off some adventurous lit images. Elinchrom is the only strobe manufacturer that creates both High Speed Sync (HSS) and Hi-Sync (HS) style battery-powered strobe units. For this assignment I used both the ELB 1200 and the ELB 500 TTL strobes.

For the first part of this assignment, I decided to head to Indian Creek, Utah, which is one of my favorite climbing areas in the world and a world-class climbing area. Indian Creek is home to a very specific type of traditional climbing on splitter cracks that are typically the same width for the entire climb. Savannah Cummins, a North Face athlete and a stellar climber, agreed to come on board as the principal athlete and with her she brought in Angela Van Wiemeersch, who is also a stellar climber on both rock and ice. Rounding out the crew was Ted Hesser, a fellow pro photographer and an excellent climber as well.

Capturing the sport of rock climbing is physically intense. It involves carrying huge backpacks loaded with climbing gear, ropes, food and water as well as camera gear up to the base of the cliff. These packs can weigh up to 75 pounds ( 34 kg ) or more on average and that is without lighting gear. Add in lighting gear and the packs start to get really heavy. For this shoot, Ted was there not only to help carry some of the gear to the base of the cliff but to also be up on the wall holding my ELB 1200 pack and an HS flash head. Ted could just about climb anything I pointed at, which was critical, because we typically placed him on an adjacent route across from or next to the one that Savannah climbed. For this assignment, having the right crew had a huge impact on the quality of the final images.

© Michael Clark

Savannah Cummins climbing the route Go Sparky Go (5.11) on the Sparks Wall in Indian Creek, Utah. Tech Specs: f/4 at 1/2,500th second, ISO 200, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 32-64mm f/4 lens, Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe pack with HS flash head attached and pack set to full power, Elinchrom High Performance Reflector.

One of the best images we produced on this assignment was captured on the very first shoot day (shown above). For this image we had Ted posted up on a route across from and above “Go Sparky Go,” the route that Savannah is on in this image. Ted, and the strobe, were approximately 40-feet (12 meters) from Savannah. The Elinchrom High-Performance reflector was key to boosting the light so it could reach Savannah. With a little experimentation, we were able to dial in the lighting and then waited for the route to be shaded. Ted held the strobe and feathered it off the climb to create the pleasing light you see in the image. I underexposed the background by about two-thirds of a stop to create the dark, ominous clouds.

When using strobes to light up climbers on a rock face, having a strobe with a lot of power is the key factor, as is the Hi-Sync (HS) flash technology, which allows me to overpower the sun from up to 60-feet (18 meters) away. For all of the actions shots, for both the rock climbing and the mountain biking, I used the ELB 1200 and the HS flash heads to light up the athletes. Of course, we also shot a variety of portraits as well and for those images I used the ELB 500 TTL because it too can sync at all shutter speeds with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 and also because it is so easy to use.

Savannah Cummins on Anunnaki (5.11+) at the Optimator Wall in Indian Creek, Utah. Tech Specs: f/5 at 1/1,600th second, ISO 1250, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 32-64mm f/4 lens, Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe pack with HS flash head attached and pack set to full power, Elinchrom High Performance Reflector.

On the third day of the rock climbing portion of this assignment, we captured Savannah on another climb named Anunnaki. Anunnaki is one of the few overhanging climbs in Indian Creek, and as such it presents quite a challenge. This climb is the result of a giant block falling off the cliff face and landing so that it leans against the cliff. Where the block meets the cliff face there is a hole, a skylight of sorts, between the cliff and the top of the block. Luckily, there is also a crack that runs right up to that hole, which allowed us to get Ted up there with the light. When I photograph adventure sports I tend to only use one light and try to match the shadows of the artificial lighting I am introducing with the shadows in the background. For this climb, photographing the route late in the day with artificial lighting simulated that effect. The idea was to create an image where it appeared that light was coming through that skylight at the end of the day.

With climbing photography, it takes a lot of time to get into position. When artificial lighting is introduced, it takes even more time to get the light in position and then line up the shot. Once Ted was in position, we sorted out the lighting. For this image blasting the light straight at Savannah created a rather hard light that wasn’t very pleasing. With some experimentation we figured out that if Ted bounced the light off the wall behind Savannah, the light quality dramatically improved.

The intent here with using artificial lighting was to create something new and different. Not many photographers have used artificial lighting in Indian Creek. The amount of work involved is kind of ridiculous. But on each of these climbs (and others) we ended up creating images that are completely new and different than what has been created in the past. The hope is that we have created something stunning and aesthetic as well.

For the downhill freeride mountain biking portion of this assignment, we spent three days in Virgin, Utah, which is the Mt. Everest of that sport. Carson Storch and Dusty Wygle were our athletes and they are two of the very best in their sport. Carson in particular knew the Virgin mountain biking scene incredibly well and on our scout day we looked at a wide array of options. We shot a lot of images sans strobes just because of the difficulty of the descents and also because of the risk involved in riding some of these lines over and over to get the shot. But when we could control the situation more easily, as in those times when Carson and Dusty worked on a specific jump, we set up the ELB 1200s to create something different.

© Michael Clark

Dusty Wygle throwing a Can-Can off a jump in Virgin, Utah. Tech Specs: f/5.6 at 1/3,200th second, ISO 800, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 23mm f/4 lens, two Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe packs, both with HS flash heads attached and both packs set to full power, Elinchrom High Performance Reflectors.

For the image above, Dusty is doing what is called a “Can-Can.” We had two ELB 1200s pointed directly at the center of the jump with the flash heads pointing upwards to where the riders would be at the height of the trick. Carson and Dusty sessioned this jump for us to give us ample opportunity for images.

© Michael Clark

A Portrait of Savannah Cummins. Tech Specs: f/2.8 at 1/1,600th second, ISO 200, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 110mm f/2 lens, one Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL strobe with Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa (100cm) softbox as the main light up front and another ELB 500 TTL with a grid reflector and a 20 degree grid spot on the rear light.

A Portrait of Carson Storch. Tech Specs: f/4 at 1/1,600th second, ISO 160, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 110mm f/2 lens, one Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL strobe with the flash head attached to an Elinchrom Litmotiv Octa 120cm softbox.

As with all of my adventure assignments, stellar portraits are a necessity. For this assignment, we made time to capture portraits of all the athletes. For these portrait sessions I used the ELB 500 TTL kits. The 500 TTL allowed us to play with a variety of lighting techniques and as a result get a wide variety of high-end looking portraits quickly. Both of the above portraits were shot outside on location, even though they look like they were shot in a studio.

© Michael Clark

Dusty Wygle catching some air off a hip jump in Virgin, Utah right at sunset. Tech Specs: f/5.6 at 1/2,500th second, ISO 800, FUJIFILM GFX 100, GFX 250mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached.

For every assignment I take on, I am always looking to create jaw-dropping, amazing images that stop the viewer in their tracks. As part of that goal, I have been on a constant search for the best image quality possible and part of that is due to the camera, the lenses and the strobes I choose for each shoot. For this assignment, the fact that FUJIFILM GFX 100 already worked perfectly with my Elinchrom strobes is a huge bonus. Without the strobes, these images would not have the same impact. Add in the incredible image quality of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 and the fact that these images will be printed huge and that only adds to the overall impact of these images.

My thanks to Elinchrom and Fujifilm for all of their support on this project. Beyond the crew we had working with me on location, the Elinchrom and Fujifilm engineers put in some long hours to make sure everything synced up and worked properly. I couldn’t have pulled this off without their tireless efforts.

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