Risky Business

This article was originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of my Newsletter.

A few months ago I photographed some good friends, Ryon Reed and Nate McKay doing some extreme mountain biking (aka Freeriding)at a brand new secret location near Moab, Utah named Canfield Canyon. Having photographed these guys before I knew it was going to be extremely dangerous, not for myself but for the riders. When we got to the canyon, which was basically a set of sandstone bowls dropping into one another Nate gave me the scoop on what he had done and what he wanted to do that day. As I usually do, I encouraged the riders to start off casual and I gave them the lecture “don't do anything you aren't sure you can do.” After some casual warm ups, or at least what the riders would call casual - 20 foot jumps off the lip of one of the bowls they moved onto jumping off another drop - this time the lip of a 25 to 30 foot overhanging cave. All of this went off without a hitch and without too much fanfare.

But the piece de resistance was an 80 foot near vertical wall ride Nate had done only a few times before (see photo on the contents page). When Nate told us what he was going to do Ryon and I stood there silent with our mouths agape. I had never seen or heard of anything like this or on this scale before. The upper part of the wall was at least 80 degrees, just off vertical and it also had an overhanging cave in the middle of the wall so that if something went wrong Nate would free fall from 80 feet at the top of his arc onto sandstone rock! On his first go Nate hit the line perfectly and it was unbelievable. By the time he dropped into the lower bowl he was going in excess of 80 mph. He thought it was so fun he did it three more times for the camera (so I could get different angles) and on the last ride he almost stalled over the cave - so we called it quits.

On the way out, Nate told us about another drop he had been looking at and we went over to check it out. I looked over the edge and the rock climber in me took over. I was looking down an 80 foot sheer vertical rock face. The bottom was a smooth transition but that wasnʼt what alarmed me. A small ledge halfway down was the only break in the cliff. I tried to talk Nate out of doing it. If he hit the ledge he would go headfirst all the way to the bottom but he was sure he could do it. At that point I told Nate I wouldnʼt photograph it even if he did do it and that I was going to hike out. I didnʼt want to watch someone die. He was still adamant that he was going to drop in and got on his bike. Luckily, Ryon, an EMT talked him into waiting
until he could get down there on another day and Nate took his advice. I was very much relieved. But I would not be surprised if he has since dropped that line. I still would not want to see it.

This article is an excerpt from the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter which is available through my website. To check out back issues of the newsletter cick here.

Shooting in the Studio

I recently shot some new images of outdoor athletes in a studio for my stock agency Aurora Photos. The image above is a portrait of my good friend Celine Cousteau, member of the Ocean Futures Society, scuba diver and all around elite world traveler. This image of Celine was worked up using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop CS3. If you would like to see the process involved in working this image up you can see that in my post on the Inside Lightroom website here:


It is always refreshing to do something completely new, and while this wasn't my first photo shoot in a studio - it has been a while and it was a lot of fun.

James Nachtwey on Documentary Photography

James Nachtwey is one of those photographers that has always inspired me as a photographer and as a human being. If you haven't seen the "War Photographer" documentary I highly recommend it.

This afternoon, while updating my website I found a video of Mr. Nachtwey accepting the 2007 TED prize. It is a heart wrenching acceptance speech and a very timely injection of clarity for the news media world. I highly recommend watching this clip if you have a spare 24 minutes - well worth your time. Here is the link to the high res version:


TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Each year over a thousand of the industry leaders, movers and shakers get together for the TED meetings. For more info on TED visit their website at http://www.ted.com.

The Straight Skinny

An excerpt from the Winter 2007 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter:

The more I look at recent photography trends the more I see Photoshop becoming an accepted reality in the photography market. I’m not saying Photoshop is bad or that manipulating your images is impure or anything. I see more and more images in magazines, ads and even newspapers that have been helped out in one way or another. The fact is that every image, digital or film, is manipulated in some way, shape or form. With film the film itself magically altered reality with deeply saturated colors and stark contrast built in. With digital the photographer basically takes a RAW image file and tries to make it look as the original scene did - albeit with a little more drama and warmer skin tones than really existed. And if that isn’t good enough then the image gets photoshop’ed (verb tense) to help it out. Is this a good thing? Is it sacrilege? Some photojournalists might think so but they do it too even though they would argue they don’t.

The truth is all photographs are skewed - images reveal the photographer’s view point just as much as a writer can imbue an article or a book with their own ideals. I can crop out the trash and poverty in an impoverished region or city and make it seem like paradise or I can focus on the poverty and change the entire message of the photograph. Photographs are like seeing the world through a keyhole. They only tell part of the story as everyone knows. But they can also bring worldwide attention to both good and bad in a way that few other mediums can.

Digital photography and the many methods we have of “developing” digital images has leveled the playing field to some degree so that everyone with the knowledge and a decent computer can alter their images to improve them - to make them more interesting and more arresting. When you get down to it, photographers are artists. And every artist loves to have a new tool to work with so they can create something they’ve never seen before. Photographers have had Photoshop for some time but the combination of Photoshop, digital cameras and the plethora of plug-ins and image manipulations tools are too tempting to ignore. In the end, it is all about the image. Save for the photojournalist - who should keep an image as it was shot for credibility sake - the rest of us are creative artists and any tools we can use to produce better work are an advantage.

The flip side of this is that images can be manipulated to look a million times better than they started out. I’ve looked at a few of the before and after images shot for huge commercial jobs and some of the before shots look like my Grandmother could have shot them with her point and shoot. It just goes to show you there are many ways to get a final image and many photographers aren’t doing all the work in-camera anymore.

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