Chris Burkard Travel #4
Canyoneering from the Inside Out
I was intrigued by the vertical world and the opportunities it could provide to shoot different areas in new perspectives. That’s what initially got me into climbing. I had no idea how many opportunities it would eventually open up for me. It’s been an incredible way to experience some amazing places in a new light.
Through this experience, I naturally progressed toward canyoneering: feeling comfortable on a rope, rappelling, learning all the crucial skills that are so much a part of each adventure. Beyond that, my fascination with the canyons in Utah was a driving force. Remote, almost mystical environments, where few people have really explored. I return to these canyons every fall, and over time I have learned the best ways of getting in and out safely. Photographing them on the other hand was a challenge. Using your gear really has to be second nature. Small, lightweight, and most importantly, durable. Dialing in my ideal set ups took me awhile since each scenario varied slightly. In this post, I share a few tips to help you capture the beauty of canyon landscapes.
The types of shots you’re going to take while canyoneering are largely based on the canyons themselves. For instance, Utah’s canyons generally have less running water and are more conducive to rappelling than jumping and swimming. In many of these canyons, I don’t even bring water housings, and instead opt for dry bags.
Here are some possible scenarios you could encounter while canyoneering.
- Cliff Jumping
- Swimming (depending on the canyon)
- Scenic (waterfalls, moving/flowing water, etc.)
Being “safe” while canyoneering is much more complex than simply watching your step. You need to be diligent in your research when scouting a location, utilize reliable sources, and invest real time into preparing your gear. The time spent on planning and preparing for a canyoneering trip ties directly into how smooth the overall experience will be.
I’ve fallen in love with the intricate process of packing gear, and can honestly say I learn something new on every trip. Here’s a list of items I run through in preparation for an upcoming trip.
- A6300 (small lightweight mirrorless camera)
- GoPro — some canyons may be too dark but since this camera is small and lightweight it’s worth bringing along
- Wide angle lens to capture the depth of the location (as fast as possible)
- Small prime lens to capture the intricacies of climbing
- Bag housing (depending on if the canyon is going to have a water element). Another option is to bring a full on water housing, but I prefer bag housing for this scenario since they aren’t as bulky and heavy.
- Tripod (again depending on the canyon)
- Bringing appropriate clothing depends on two things: temperature of the water and the amount of swimming you plan to do. Canyons are always colder than they appear. Utah can be 120 degrees up above, and 60 degrees down in the canyon.
- SWISS: Full Suits with canyoneering shoes
- UTAH CLOTHING REC: Keep in mind this would depend on the time of year as well, but generally speaking I’d go with board shorts and lightweight breathable footwear/water shoes.
- Be comfortable with the activity, it’s hard enough to rappel down a 100ft waterfall. Shooting while doing so is an entirely different ball game.
- Equipment. Try to preset your camera settings as much as you can before hand.
- Make sure you know the route you are taking and always have as much info on it as possible. Bringing a guide is a good idea sometimes!
- Self-arresting is an important part of canyoneering. Make sure you’re comfortable removing yourself from a keeper pothole or any type of obstacle you might face.
- Stay ahead of the pack, sometimes a rappel, jump, or slide will shoot better from below. Get there first to assess the scene and decide where to shoot from.
- When shooting from a bag or water housing, watch the water droplets! If you don’t keep an eye on these it could totally blow the shot.
- Canyoneering can be a fun, fast-paced activity, but don’t be afraid to slow it down a bit if you see something truly worth shooting. (ex image: Utah long exposure images)
- Shooting shallow when you can get away with it, and balancing your shutter speed and ISO. The general take away: don’t be afraid to use ISO when you need to. Most of the time you are shooting in pretty difficult lighting situations.
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