Lucas Gilman: Going to Extremes
After running Palouse Falls, a 189-foot waterfall in southeast Washington State, 24-year-old extreme kayaker Rafa Ortiz of Mexico described experiencing part of the descent in what felt like slow motion. But for photographer Lucas Gilman, who covered the attempt, the drop was very much in real time.
“Rafa was actually visible for only three frames of the 4-second free fall, because after he got over the tongue, he was engulfed in white water,” says Gilman. “That’s just a split second basically to make the shot. And there would be no second chance to shoot it, no take two, because I couldn’t really ask him to go up and do it again.”
To capture the wild ride, Gilman — a go-to adventure and travel photographer for some of the top magazines and companies in the world — deployed an arsenal of well-tested gear, including several state-of-the-art Nikon cameras. And in the headlong rush to get the photos published, he used a MacBook Pro running Aperture to jump-start his editing process before he even left the site. “My client, Red Bull, wanted to see the images as soon as possible,” he says. “They didn’t want some tourist with a point-and-shoot camera to post it first and steal the fanfare. So being able to use the fast browsing feature in Aperture to process those images onsite was critical.”
Because waterfall runs are so difficult to photograph, Gilman typically plans those shoots for several weeks with the athlete, plotting angles and figuring logistics. But for the Palouse attempt there was next to no planning. “I got a call from Rafa right before this all went down, and he asked if I could be in Washington State the next day. I said, ‘How about Tuesday?’ He said, ‘Tuesday’s no good. You need to be here tomorrow.’”
Gilman flew from his home base in Denver to Portland the next day, arrived at the river late on a Sunday night, scouted the falls on Monday, and photographed the descent on Tuesday.
Conditions for rigging the shoot were difficult. Palouse is the highest waterfall ever run by a kayaker — it happened only once, in 2010. And the danger of Ortiz’s attempt to equal the earlier successful descent influenced Gilman’s setup. Anticipating that concern for his friend’s safety might cause his hands to shake, Gilman decided to mount and lock down several cameras on tripods with prefocused exposure sets so they could be fired remotely. The cameras fired perfectly. But after Ortiz successfully navigated the face of the falls, he was launched — uninjured — from his kayak on impact, and his attempt to match the record was disqualified.
After confirming that Ortiz was safe, Gilman returned to his car to download his images into Aperture using a MacBook Pro. “Because I was shooting in a massive gorge, it was going to take Rafa and his support crew a couple of hours to climb out,” he says. “We had no cell phone service or Internet. So it was critical to be able to download the images onto a couple of drives to make sure the data was safely backed up.”
Gilman’s Nikon D800 camera produces super-high-resolution 36.3-megapixel RAW images — “the largest image that a DSLR has ever produced,” says Gilman — so they typically download slowly. But using fast import browsing in Aperture, Gilman was able to inspect sharp, clear preview images of his huge RAW files even before they had finished copying from his memory cards.