On the outskirts of Las Vegas, a city well-known for its bright lights, you might find Luke Rasmussen with LED’s strapped to his body, climbing while his Sony a7rii captures the geometric patterns of light that follow his motion, “freezing time in a moment”, as he so gracefully describes it. From a city where you should expect the unexpected, Luke has created something that the judges had never seen before – innovation at its finest!
Read our interview with Luke below!
How did the idea for this shot come about?
This shot comes about at the intersection of my two passions. I have been a rock climber since I was 11 years old, a lifelong passion. My interest in photography came later and truly began to grow under the influence of long exposure photography techniques. These techniques allowed me to capture a long-running fascination of mine, the passage of time.
This study of the passage of time led to an immediate passion for long exposure photography. Soon after discovering this passion, I knew I had to find a way to connect it to my other passion: rock climbing.
The experience of climbing is rooted in a flowing state, moving from one hold to the next, connecting the natural features in a rock face. In order to study this flow, this passage of time, I wanted to be able to visualize it in a single image.
How long did it take you to capture the image?
The beauty of being a Las Vegas climber is that I can decide to go rock climbing at 8pm, leave my house, drive 10 minutes to the crag, get a good session of climbing and shooting in, and be back in bed before 11pm. That being said, these shoots always take longer than expected and I always end up with fewer shots than expected.
It’s an odd feeling to get home with your arms thrashed and your skin gone from what felt like an all-night shoot, to open your laptop and transfer a grand total of 14 photos. Not only is the set-up time consuming, but each individual exposure takes the duration of the climb, and I almost never get it right the first time.
This particular 60 foot 5.11d route was taking me around 100 seconds to climb. The final shot was a 92 second exposure that I got on my sixth and last try of the night.
Did the final image go exactly to plan?
From the first time I went to this crag, I knew I was going to take this photo. The sweep of the road heading towards the mountains drew my eyes. It begged to be photographed. And I knew that it would be especially interesting to see the road at night, lit up by the commuting cars on their way to and from Vegas
I also knew that I had to wait for a night with a quarter moon to add light to the mountains without taking away too much from the stars. From there it was just a matter of nailing the climbing element, the most important part.
That part of the shot takes very little planning. In fact, my goal is to capture the unplanned, natural movement of climbing. I leave it up to the climb itself and its intrinsic movement to do the “painting.” In a certain way, it’s a lucky coincidence that the flowing motion of climbing produces such aesthetic patterns.
How did you find this location?
Vegas had an unusually wet winter this year. It even snowed! And while the snow was certainly beautiful and great for some stunning landscape photography, it really put a damper on the sandstone climbing in nearby Red Rock (sandstone is a porous rock that becomes fragile when wet). However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it really made me open my horizons and check out all the nearby limestone climbing that Vegas has to offer.
This particular cave is known as The Blue Diamond Cave and the route is called M16 (5.11d). It was established by the late Flyin’ Brian McCray.
Biggest challenge with this shot?
The biggest challenge with this shot, and really all my shots, is the climbing itself. I have a fairly good grasp on the gear needed to make the shot work. My Sony a7rii has been the perfect tool that I needed to be able to just focus on dealing with the challenges of the climb. I can use my phone to wirelessly control my camera and even preview the images at the top of the route.
I have realized that you have to climb as quickly and evenly as possible. If your speed is varied, or if you stop for just a second in one position, the image will contain hotspots where the lights are overexposed and blown out. Climbing quickly produces the most even exposure as well as the best sense of a flowing movement up the climb. On many climbs, especially more difficult ones such as the one in this shot, this becomes my biggest challenge.
How do you achieve the change of color?
The lights are the second cheapest programable LED strip I could find. Sometimes I choose to shoot in a solid color. Other times, I will bring the remote with me, so that I can manually change the color as I reach certain sections of the climb. I’ll do this if I’m trying to highlight different features of the route with different colors. I also have the option of choosing preset effects.
For this particular shot, I had them cycling from red, to green, to blue every 3 seconds. By cycling through the colors at set intervals this allows you to track the difficult sections of the climb in the image. Even though, I am trying to climb as consistently as possible, there will invariably be difficult “crux” sections where my climbing slows down. These sections appear in the final image as more jumbled, brighter spots, where the colors begin to meld into each other.
Are there any plans to further develop your style of shooting? Any upcoming hot projects?
Currently, I’m really struggling with getting an image that I’m happy with of longer (100+ feet) routes. From a climbing perspective, these are much more interesting to me. In my personal climbing, I enjoy climbing long multi-pitch routes, so I would love to successfully photograph one.
Many of the routes that I would like to photograph traditionally take hours to climb if not all day. And that’s in the daylight without a string of distracting LEDs tied to me. Climbing them in the dark through the night will certainly add a much stronger sense of adventure. And, I can’t wait to take on that adventure.
I look forward to bringing my photography to the canyon walls of The Black and the sandstone spires of Utah. To combine photography and climbing in these magical places will certainly carry a much deeper meaning for me. And hopefully, that deeper meaning will translate into a “better” photograph (whatever that may mean).