Last weekend I spent an afternoon down at Red Ledges, Utah, making some great images of silk aerialists Cory Hansen and Tabitha Freeman. It’s part of a larger project I’ve been working on for several years—under the working title of "Defy Gravity"—to produce pictures of aerialists, climbers, highliners and other people with acrobatic hobbies.
While the photos speak for themselves, I wanted to give a brief explanation of the rigging work my friend Brian Long and I did to get the angles we’d need.
Red Ledges is a picnic area and popular rappel location about 15 miles up Diamond Fork Canyon. The brilliant ruddy sandstone bluffs stand in stark contrast to granite and conglomerate formations found around the rest of the canyon. The Diamond Fork Arch dominates the view of the parking lot and was to be the background for our images.
It's a picturesque location for photography, but the trick would be setting up all the ropes necessary to shoot the performers and have a safe, high angle off the ground.
Having scheduled the shoot to take advantage of mid-afternoon sun, Brian and I arrived at about 1230 to begin rigging. We ascended the half-arch’s back side—which included some class four scrambling over sketchy sandstone—and came out on top of the feature to find two sets of bolts.
We decided to use the first set—closer to the edge—for rigging the aerialist hammock with extended slings to a masterpoint. From the masterpoint we extended the line to the second bolts as a backup in case of a catastrophic failure.
The second set would be a hardpoint for the rappel line. We had to be sure to set both lines at the appropriate distance from each other. Too close and I’d crop out their limbs and possibly collide with them. Too far and I’d get a messy, disjointed background.
I had to create a second anchor point around a tree roughly 20 feet from the main anchors and rappel down over the wall’s western side. We used two girth hitched slings around the tree to keep the line on a secure directional point exactly where we needed it. Anchor bolts from a climbing route below the tree provided another directional point to keep me from swinging too far while shooting. The system wasn't completely ERNEST—had the tree failed I would have taken a pretty long extension—but it was as secure as we could make it with the tools available. The sketch below shows the rope work.
To move up and down the lines, I used a pair of Black Diamond Ascenders with foot ladders. Not easy going, but faster than trying to up belay myself. When I got to the correct height, I transferred the rope to a Gri-Gri belay device and had Brian manage a fireman’s belay to maneuver me around the performers.
The rope angles lined up almost perfectly. While we weren’t able to capture the entire arch in the background due to other rappellers on site, the high angle vantage points let me shoot from mid air to crop the ground out of the aerialists as well as put them in front of the gorgeous sandstone cliffs.
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