Growing up, I remember a camphor tree that grew in my parents’ front yard. I used to have a great time climbing it and resting under its cool shady canopy. There was one low-hanging branch that I used play on all the time. It was about 4 to 5 feet from the ground and just big enough for me to grip in my hands. I would hang from it and swing back and forth without a care in the world. One day, I must have been about 9 or 10, I was doing just that when I heard a quick snap and in an instant later I landed with a thud, flat on my back. I lay there, the wind knocked out of me, wheezing, trying to catch my breath. A few minutes later I was fine, nothing hurt but my pride.
Delta College track team member Craig Wafer runs some sprints while training during a team practice at Delta’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)
The other day I shot sprinters practicing at Delta College’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. I wanted to isolate a runner against a backdrop of the lined track surface to enhance the impression of movement and speed to the photo. For that I needed to get some altitude. A 15-foot tall berm where football seats are located on the west side of the field helped, but it still wasn’t quite tall enough. Trees line the crest of the hill and I found a pine with a branch low enough for me to climb on. It was about 4-1/2 feet off the ground, but a bit thin. Not quite as agile as I was when I was a kid, I gingerly clambered up. With about 10-lbs worth of camera and lens and a none-of-your-business amount of me, I was a bit worried that the branch could hold my weight and my camphor tree experience flashed in my head. It bent and wobbled, but it held.
(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)
Even at that height I still wasn’t tall enough. Fortunately, I could see a clear spot higher up so that I could shoot without being l blocked by any of the branches. So I screwed up my courage and climbed some more. finally settled on a branch about 7 to 8 feet above the ground. I wasn’t ideally positioned so I had to contort my body around the tree a bit. My left foot held the bulk of my weight on a branch the size of the very first one. My right foot was perched on a bigger one about 2 feet higher and three feet to the right. My right arm rested on a third branch and my left wrapped around yet another so that I could hold the lens.
It was a windy day, and when I concentrated through the lens, the swaying of the tree gave me a slight sense of vertigo. Not a good thing, I thought, considering where I was. A fall from my position probably wouldn’t have killed me, but something would likely have broken when I hit the ground. I forced the swirling feeling to the back of my mind and got my shots. The journey down was only slightly more graceful than climbing up, but I made safely to the ground.
Sometimes pictures happen right in front of you, other times you have to go to great lengths to get the shot you want, both mentally and physical.