Facing Death While Location Scouting

Several months ago I shot a portrait of Jason Buck in one of the many coves of Palos Verdes. I met Jason about 10 years ago while traveling in Panama.   life long resident of PV and he was kind enough to share some of his secret locations which are mainly used by surfers.  ,  about an hour south of the madness in LA.   This location is spectacular, a little difficult to find, but stunning beauty with a wide variety of backgrounds for shots.   A diverse site is inspiring because when you'r messin' up the shot you can change it up in a few seconds.  Those extra possibilities can bring life back to a dying moment or a ill engaged model.  Speaking of dying, I'll dive into the death part...

My first glimpse of the location during sunrise.  I shot with my Nikon D800 and old manual 24mm 2.8 which I have never used.  Nice vignette! 

My first glimpse of the location during sunrise.  I shot with my Nikon D800 and old manual 24mm 2.8 which I have never used.  Nice vignette! 

This stunner of a location is a large horseshoe shaped cove and about a 1/2 mile in width.   A site this large I wanted to make mental notes of each location and estimate how long I would have for each shot.  This place is stunning and massive;  it's easy to lose track of time and blow your whole concept if you don't have a sense of how long you will need.

Making photo notes for review later.  The rocky beach will be a challenge.

Making photo notes for review later.  The rocky beach will be a challenge.

I shoot each location so I can create a storyboard for my model and assistant on this particular shoot.  I'm not concerned over quality of images;  I just snapping possibilities to study later.

This giant drainage from the neighborhood 400 feet above will give me some urban looks within nature.  Stoked! 

This giant drainage from the neighborhood 400 feet above will give me some urban looks within nature.  Stoked! 

I've walked to opposite side of the cove and make note that walking over rocks sucks ass.  I have about 6 possible shoot ideas which enough for an editorial piece I'm doing.

Lovely creeping vines.  I'm sure to make use of this.

Lovely creeping vines.  I'm sure to make use of this.

Crashing waves, spray, water, rocks, ocean...yeah...I find at one image with this background.

Crashing waves, spray, water, rocks, ocean...yeah...I find at one image with this background.

I run across several amazing platforms that locals have beautifully constructed.  The views are breath taking;  I'm reluctant to even mention the word cove or Palos Verdes as to not give away this secret spot.  There are only a few surfers riding the long waves that come into the mouth of the cove all the way to shore.  I watch for a few minutes over the cove as the surfers and a paddle boarder catch some seriously long rides. 

 

It's time to head back to the house and get cracking on my daily photog routine.  In the distance I see another platform which looks more like a shack.  I decide to investigate and see if there are any possibilities to add to my storyboard.

The platform won't work for my shoot idea.  Looks cool for future hang outs...as long as the locals don't catch you.  I hear the old timers in PV are fairly protective of their turf.

The platform won't work for my shoot idea.  Looks cool for future hang outs...as long as the locals don't catch you.  I hear the old timers in PV are fairly protective of their turf.

I see a path that goes up the near vertical cliff and decide that the rocks along the shoreline are giving my calf muscles a bit of a workout,  so the shortcut to the top of the 400 foot cliff looks damn enticing.  I start climbing up and take a couple of shots from about 50 feet.  I think to myself a telephoto shot from this vantage point would be another stunner to add to my list of amazing shot potentials.  #wellplayed!

Shot from about 50 feet up. 

Shot from about 50 feet up. 

As I start to climb further it gets a bit steeper and I notice the tacky loose soil.   The steep incline makes it impossible to see how far I must go or where the trail actually goes, so I keep climbing.  The locals PV surfers must use that platform below and climb this all the time, I think to myself.

I'm so relaxed talking this shot.  I'm amazed at the view from this vantage point.  Looking kind of steep.

I'm so relaxed talking this shot.  I'm amazed at the view from this vantage point.  Looking kind of steep.

My left foot slides down and I almost lose balance.  A quick glance below tells me the death or serious injury from this height would be certain if I screw up.  My heart pounds and a shot of adrenaline rushes through my body.  I see nothing but loose rock and it's steep as hell;  death flickers across my mind for a moment.  I try to remember how many times in my life I have almost encountered death.  The time an old girlfriend from Colombia almost got me killed, a firetruck at blazing speed in Charlotte, eight guys with knives in El Centro.  No time for this mind chatter.  I'm must go up;  there's no other option.  That loosey goosey ass soil that got me in this pickle isn't going to do me in.  I'm going up.  At that precise moment , like a cliche scene out of a bad movie, my camera whips around with the  Blackrapid shoulder strap and crashes into the side of the cliff.  The 24mm metal lens hood dings down the rocks and flutters in the waves below.  Fuck!

More mind chatter, "You're super friggin' cool and you got this shit."   Get up this cliff and don't look down, focus.  I carefully make each foot and hand movement with ease,  I check the loose soil before moving upwards.  20 feet away I see what looks like the main trail up,  I bloody missed it because I was screwing around with photos.   I scan the terrain for my next move; I see a small string tied to a root sticking out of the ground.  That measly string leads to freedom.  I manage to get to it,  It's almost vertical but the string and roots sticking out of the side of the cliff are the only things saving me at this point.  I get to a spot where I can relax on top of a tree for a minute and regain my composure.

I sit by this tree and chill out.   I estimate that I'm about half way up the cliff.  I feel a lot better knowing someone has put string in the tricky areas.

I sit by this tree and chill out.   I estimate that I'm about half way up the cliff.  I feel a lot better knowing someone has put string in the tricky areas.

After ten minutes of relaxing I decide to finish going up.  My ultra clean D800 has taken a bit of a beating but who gives a fuck at this point.  Move on up the cliff to safety dude!

I decide to document the cliff adventure.  My heart is still pounding and rush of chemicals from minutes earlier still linger.

I decide to document the cliff adventure.  My heart is still pounding and rush of chemicals from minutes earlier still linger.

Looks like another vertical climb.  Thank you for whoever put that string tied to the roots.  Thank you!

Looks like another vertical climb.  Thank you for whoever put that string tied to the roots.  Thank you!

Pretty damn massive cliff.  I keep saying "FUCK" over and over.  Almost home free.

Pretty damn massive cliff.  I keep saying "FUCK" over and over.  Almost home free.

Nice signage!  I wish I had seen that below.

Nice signage!  I wish I had seen that below.

I made it to the top to and saw this sign about the unstable cliff.  Location hunting is over.