Behind the Lens: John Rathwell

Paddler/photographer uses some lights and props to make this shot pop

Ottawa-based photographer John Rathwell employs multiple flashes to make Billy Harris’ log ride on Trick or Treat Falls, Quyon, Quebec really pop. This photo appeared in Gallery of the June 2013 issue.

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The Shot:
Canon 7D with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L at 50mm
1/250 sec at f/11 – ISO 200
3 flashes grouped together fired together at full power

CanoeKayak.com: A log ride, at sunset, with multiple flashes?! How did this idea come about?
John Rathwell: Well, I can’t take all the credit for the idea. Billy Harris (multiple-times Canadian National Freestyle Team member) came to me with the idea of wanting to do a log slide on a waterfall. From there we put our heads together to think of the best waterfall in the area to do it at (the Ottawa Valley area is not known for its waterfalls because we don’t have that many). Billy’s main priority of course was something big and gnarly. Mine was finding good spots to shoot from and great lighting (preferably evening lighting as getting a kayaker out of bed and on the water for 5 a.m. seems to be like herding cats in space.)

Can you take us through the shoot? What went well and what was challenging?
After we determined and settled on Trick or Treat Falls in Quyon Quebec, Billy and I headed to it for a little scouting mission. We both knew exactly what we wanted to do as soon as we saw it. From there we walked both shores finding the perfect old washed up log to slide on. Billy found the one, and it was perfect. Our stoke went through the roof! We came back the next day with chain saws to cut the log out of the debris pile. Our thoughts where that logs always get stuck in water falls. All we have to do is send it down the river, steer it close to where we want it and it will stick. We pushed it into the current where we wanted it and watched our perfect log run a sweet line down the drop and continue down the river. That was log number one.

We decided we needed more manpower to slow the log down before the drop. We brought along our Swift Water Rescue guru Matt Hamilton to give us a hand the next day. We found the second best log, cut it free and slowly roped it down the rapid into the drop. The log seamed good and stuck … until we cut it free from the rope. That was log two.

For the third and final log, Billy and I made the call to try a much smaller and lighter log. We lined the log down, and kept it tied up this time. I liked the way the log hung horizontal over the water as it made for a more unique shot. Billy finally got his first try at the log. He paddled toward the waterfall, under one rope, around another, over the last one (yeah, it was really sketchy) up onto the log and a perfect slide. By that time we had lost all our light, and there was no shot.

We headed back the next day (fourth day in a row now), and the sky was looking good. Billy got a few practice runs. I set up my flashes and waited for the sun to be just right. It was finally go time. I whistled at Billy that I was ready and waited for his approach. That first attempted didn’t go so well. After a few tries we finally got the keeper.

What was your gear setup?
I used three flashes just on the top of the waterfall to front light Billy so he would not be a silhouette. All three flashes were grouped together and fired direct at full power to balance with the sun. I use this setup often as soft boxes tend to eat up too much power, and I find the spread of the three lights softens the lighting just enough. I stood high on a ladder to get the perspective.

What’s next on your list of photo adventures?
Oh, the never ending list of ideas and adventures … If I told you about them there will be no surprise, and I like to keep people on their toes about what I am going to be doing next! You are just going to have to keep peeled to Canoe & Kayak magazine to see what I am up to.

More of Rathwell’s work can be seen at: johnrathwellphotography.com

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Add a Comment

  • paddleMAINE

    can we get a wallpaper version of this? so perfect!

    • http://www.johnrathwellphotography.com/ JohnRathwell

      I don’t see a problem with that! Hopefully the boys at Canoe & Kayak Mag can set something up for you @paddlemaine:disqus

  • Olde Harris

    That is one superb picture. How do I get a copy?

    • Charli Kerns

      You can contact the photographer, who has a Facebook page Rathwell Photographry.

      • Olde Harris

        Thanks.

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