Lessons from the Mountains – Five things we have learnt for successful filming in the Alps!

At LWimages we’ve been taking cameras into the mountains for as long as we have been climbing, a combined total experience of well over half a century. During that time we’ve learnt a lot – about how to handle a camera in sub zero temperatures, how to handle ourselves on super steep terrain, and how to work with clients in such a risky environment.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

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We’ve steadily built up the knowledge, skills and confidence to come back with the highest quality images from this beautiful but challenging environment. But there is always something new to learn. These last months from our Chamonix base have been busy ones heading up into the Mont Blanc range with the Magnetic Mountains film crew and each time we’ve experimented, fine tuned and tweaked how to work best in the high hills. None more so than Lukasz and Ulrika who have spent time working as Director of Photography and Production Assistant (LWimages Producer) on the Magnetic Mountains Project – a film documenting the alpine climbing accident and recovery of climber and award-winning editor Steve Wakeford. Here Lukasz shares the top five lessons he has learnt from the challenging shoot on the Petites Jorasses.

1. The Weather Doesn’t Read The Forecasts.

Come prepared, with storm gear for you and your equipment, a shelter ready and a retreat plan fully thought out in advance. Of course sometimes even before you get in the hills the weather can shut down. The mountains don’t care that you have the talent, guides and helicopter booked, so make sure you have a Plan B. Mountains are unpredictable places, none more so than their weather, which can change for the worst within minutes. We’ve come a long way with long term forecasts and elaborate weather radar images easily available. It’s true that you’ll get the best results when the conditions are the most challenging but… Top Tip: Shooting in the mountains is time consuming, as a rule of thumb we would at least double any guidebook timings for a typical A to B for a purpose of a shoot. All good things in life take time.

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2. Learn From Your Peers.

As one of the world’s most beautiful mountain ranges, the Alps attracts some of the best climbers, skiers and mountain creatives around – it is why we base ourselves each winter in Chamonix. There is always something to learn from people like these. On the Magnetic Mountains Project working alongside Steve Wakeford, who has won Bafta’s and EMMY awards for his broadcast editing, I have pushed my camera skills further than ever before as a DoP. Filmmaking is a team effort and the creative process is a flow between the Director’s vision, the DoP’s eye for detail and the Editor’s ability to translate both into a captivating and engaging storytelling sequence in a film.

Top Tip: The transition from still photography to filming isn’t easy, from a single frame perfect shot approach to thinking in whole sequences, trust me you never have enough B-roll!

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3. You Never Have Enough Batteries.

Sometimes it is the small simple things that get overlooked and can ruin a shoot. Filming up high in the cold of the mountains saps power both from your batteries and yourself. Make sure you’ve prepared properly pre-shoot – batteries fully charged, the spare set ready to go, and backup your backup with another set so you’re ready for that surprise alpenglow just as you are packing up. Similarly think through the fuel for you and your crew, filming days in the mountains are often long and wearing – power snacks keep the concentration up and the shivers away.

Top Tip: Keep all the spare batteries warm, close to your chest (a chest pocket of your base or second layer is perfect). The cold drains the batteries quicker than you think, by keeping the spares warm you’re extending their life and also they’re handy and ready when you need them at a snap.

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4. Get Better At What You’re Already Good At!

Film-making is a craft. Master craftsman hone their skills over decades. Every time you go into the mountains is a chance to refine your camera work, your sound capture or your storytelling. It can be tempting to hire in the latest gadget to give your work an innovative spin but often a little brain work mixed with traditional leg work can get you a fresh angle. Top Tip: Practice, practice, practice! There’s no substitute for practice!

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4. Get Better At What You’re Already Good At!

Film-making is a craft. Master craftsman hone their skills over decades. Every time you go into the mountains is a chance to refine your camera work, your sound capture or your storytelling. It can be tempting to hire in the latest gadget to give your work an innovative spin but often a little brain work mixed with traditional leg work can get you a fresh angle. Top Tip: Practice, practice, practice! There’s no substitute for practice!

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5. Bring On The Smiles.

Sometimes things go so sideways that I wish for a job at a coffee shop. Ultimately, filmmaking is laborious, but persevere and you will bring on the smiles! It’s going to be tough, things will go wrong. You will run out of batteries, that new piece of equipment won’t work despite all the practice and test runs. Plan A will turn into Plan B, C, D… You’ll get tired, cold, thirsty and hungry. You get the idea. At your toughest hour try to be grateful and thankful.

Top Tip: Leave your attitude at home.

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