I’ve always been fascinated by good craftsmanship. It doesn’t really matter to me whether the work is a painting or a wooden chair or a musical instrument. Malicious tongues may claim that this is because I’m a lazy bastard who prefers watching other people do the actual work.This may partially be true, but in truth I simply enjoy the company of people who are passionate about their work. Recently I had the chance to follow my friend H.G. as he replaced a couple of huge advertising banners high above Munich. A demanding job for two to three guys, H.G. does it regularly on his own each month.
A job like this requires keeping track of multiple ropes, biners and knots, each one crucial for a) keeping the whole rig from turning into one huge ball that will keep you occupied for a week in order to unravel again and b) keeping you from getting killed. Like many jobs that involve heights, big machines or aggressive animals, it’s tough to find the right balance between doing your job efficiently and always keeping in mind that fucking up can mean that you hurt yourself. Although the risks are all controllable, stupid mistakes or a moment’s inattention can have pretty drastic consequences.
Weather was windy, crisp and clear, which meant great conditions for me but rather unattractive conditions for the one doing the actual work. Later, the sun was coming out and the snow on the roof started melting, dripping down on us as HG was struggling to undo dozens of frozen knots with numb and hurting hands.
It turned out to be a long day, and although I wasn’t the one doing the actual work, I was dead tired when we finally wrapped up.
Most of the above shots were taken in manual mode with my SB-600 firing off camera via the D90′s pop-up flash commander. I was lucky that the building had a huge row of windows just above the top of the banner, so I could shoot from these most of the time. Much easier than I had anticipated and also much less hassle for HG.
I usually like to secure the flash to the camera while the camera’s neck strap is rigged to my climbing harness. I don’t carry the camera around my neck as I find it restricts movement too much. While rigging it to your harness does prevent the camera from falling on someone’s head, it doesn’t keep it from swinging into the wall below you and damaging the lens. Carrying the camera around your neck would be the safest way, but I prefer freedom of movement to the safety of my equipment. (Dropping your gear is, after all, still unlikely)
One more piece of advice: When shooting all day, make sure to stay fed and try to rest anytime you can. Pressing a button all day might not seem like the most strenuous of activities, but it does wear you out. Having a couple of candy bars in your camera bag pays dividends when you’ve been running around all day and never found the time to eat something. People worry endlessly about better image quality when buying new cameras, but a fed, warm and rested photographer is the key to good image quality. If you are hungry, wet and tired, you start to be indifferent about your subject. You opt to wait inside when your subject heads out onto the roof “just to check something”. You start loading your camera gear into your car before the subject has left the scene. You are too lazy to jumar another ten feet just to try yet another angle. Treat your body well and your images will thank you!