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Getting the Shot: Tim Kemple on Shooting Kayaking in New Ways

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Photograph by Tim Kemple

Adventure photographer Tim Kemple often finds himself dangling from a rope, scaling a mountain, and photographing hard to reach spots around the world. In the fall of 2012, Kemple and filmmakers Anson Fogel, Skip Armstrong, and Blake Hendrix headed into the Mexican jungle with extreme kayakers Erik Boomer, Tyler Bradt, and Galen Volckhausen to capture visuals no one had seen before. The resulting eight-minute video Cascada is breathtaking (watch it below). Here Tim tells us about his time in Mexico and his new, exciting personal project for 2013, ‘My Week With….’

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The Team, from left: Blake Hendrix; Tim Kemple; Tyler Bradt; Erik Boomer; Skip Armstrong; Anson Fogel; Galen Volckhausen. Photograph by Tim Kemple

Adventure: How did the idea to shoot in Mexico evolve?

Tim Kemple: I shot with Erik Boomer and the rest of the crew in the spring of 2012. It was one of those teams that had incredible creativity, energy, and an anything-is-possible attitude. That’s a pretty special thing, so we knew we wanted to all work together again, soon. This past summer, Boomer mentioned the words “huckfest”—a trip focused on dropping waterfalls—and the seed was planted for the fall.

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Tyler Bradt with his boat; Photograph by Tim Kemple

A: You captured incredible angles of these amazing waterfalls and talented kayakers by rigging lines incredibly close to the falls. Were you hanging in the air for the majority of the trip?

T.K.: The narrow, gorge-like nature of the two big rivers in Tlapacoyan meant there would, hopefully, be opportunities to set up a line across the canyons. We just didn’t expect how great it would look and, with a little creativity, how frequently we could pull it off. For the shot of Tyler, next to Tomata Falls, we were able to tie off a large boulder on one side of the river and then equalize some climbing anchors 200-feet away on the other. Once we had that set up, we just used a pulley system to tighten up the static line and we were good to go. That actually became the line of the trip, “good to go….”

A: Tell us about the gear you were using—were you shooting with a Phase One?

T.K.: Yes, we shot almost exclusively with the Phase One 645 DF+ and the iq180, an 80 megapixel back. The camera system is really exciting because it allows me to take pictures that you could never take before. Using leaf shutter lenses we are able to sync with our flashes at 1/1600th of a second.  In other words, I can freeze fast moving action and use my lighting to really bring dimension to the landscape.

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Photograph courtesy Tim Kemple

A: This trip to Mexico was the first installation of your 2013 personal project, ‘My Week With…,’ featuring Tyler Bradt. What are you looking to accomplish with this personal project?

T.K.: It’s about bringing epic landscapes to life. My goal is to use light and unique perspective to create dramatic images of the world’s best outdoor athletes. It’s also about collaborating with the athletes. What are their stories? What are those locations they know about that have that little extra something special? My goal is to release six editions of “My Week With…” in 2013, but I’m not going to rush it. I’d rather wait another month and shoot the badass shot, rather than settle for something less.

A: You’ve been experimenting with new gear, including the Phase One. “My Week With” seems to be a great opportunity to technically experiment with the stories as well. Is that the case?

T.K.: One of the most dramatic things the Phase One allows is that we’re able to use our flashes at the fastest shutter speeds, ever possible. That means I can freeze the action and add depth to my images, with off camera lighting, even when the sun is overhead. The dynamic range and resolution is through the roof. These images are meant to be blown-up big. We’ve already been experimenting with some very large prints. Maybe we can have a gallery show down the road…that would be killer.

A: Is this a creative break that helps you refresh and try stories/concepts that don’t always work on assignment?

T.K.: Absolutely. It’s also about storytelling. I want to tell truly great stories about these people that I’m lucky enough to call my friends, peers, and heroes.

A: What will be the toughest shoot for this project?

T.K.: Honestly, I hope they are all tough, that’s when the best work happens.