One of the aspects of action photography that I often think about is the idea that you can get a good workout in as you, well, work. That said, when you collaborate with off-trail ultra-runners, you’d better be able to keep up. Louis Arevalo has learned this during his assignments with Scarpa, a footwear company he’s worked with for a half-decade.
Scarpa is an Italian footwear brand known around the world for hiking, climbing, skiing, and general outdoor uses. I have been working with Scarpa for the last five years, during which time I have been fortunate to be able to create images across all of their lines.
Twice this year Louis worked with Joe Grant, an endurance athlete and ultra-running savant based in Gold Hill, Colorado. Louis felt a little apprehensive ahead of the first shoot, which took place in May.
Working with Joe this past spring was a bit intimidating. I had been primarily shooting skiing leading up to our dates and wasn’t exactly feeling in trail shape. Luckily, he was kind and patient and immediately put me at ease with a reasonable pace and great humor.
When Scarpa asked Joe about making new imagery for the 2020 colorway of the Spin Ultra, they asked if I could be the one to do it.
So earlier this fall the pair got back together for another running-based shoot, one that also called for a video testimonial of Joe lauding Scarpa gear. This being the second go-around for Louis, it was much less stress-inducing.
This time around, I felt completely different. It felt more like we were just two friends out for a run on the vacant trails above Leadville. We discussed the Colorado Trail, analog photography, being creative, family, and the journeys that led both of us to being here.
“Here” for Joe is the top of the ultra-running food chain, as he’s one of the most successful and well-known endurance runners in the world. America is the province of the “freak athlete” — think of people like Serena Williams, Cam Newton, or Michael Phelps — these genetic marvels look like they’re a more evolved version of our species. While Joe Grant doesn’t smack of a “freak athlete” at first blush, the sinewy-framed runner has been pushing the limits of human ability for years.
Joe has been a prominent figure in the off trail ultra-running scene for more than a decade. More recently, he has transitioned from competing in organized events to more creative endurance pursuits that challenge not only the body, but the mind as well.
In 2016, he used a bicycle to travel from his home in Gold Hill, Colorado to climb all peaks above 14,000 feet in the state within a calendar month. In 2018, he set the fastest known time for Nolan’s 14, enchaining peaks above Leadville, Colorado, in less than 48 hours.
Can’t lie, that’s kind of a demoralizing paragraph to read for multiple reasons. But hey, kudos to Louis for keeping up with this dude. The duo traversed tricky terrains during the shoot, getting as many shots of Joe as possible as he ran across the Colorado mountaintops.
We repeated sequences two or three times, reviewed each of them on the camera, then swapped shoes and shirt and repeated. I believe having a high frame rate helps speed up the process of getting a pleasing running shot showing the runner in peak form.
We try to avoid the shot of the foot impact and focus on the soft moment right before the foot touches down or at the very beginning of it.
During this portion of the shoot, a rainbow sprung up and gave Louis a chance to add another layer of visual appeal to his imagery.
We called in the rainbow two weeks in advance, and they still turned it on early! In reality, we completely lucked out. As we hit the ridge between Sherman and Sheridan, it appeared.
Joe dropped his bag, and I ran to position. I under-exposed to preserve the colors and we shot until it faded into the afternoon sky. I moved each pass to keep improving the composition. In truth, I didn’t think [these pictures] would turn out [well] as the rainbow was very faint, but we shot it regardless, and they did.
Even though Louis isn’t the athlete that Joe is, he’s an incredibly experienced sports and adventure photographer. As such, his work stays true to its subject matter while maintaining its artistic credibility. For example, you’ll see a set of pictures within Louis’ final images that show Joe using hiking poles — a key part of mountain running — expertly set against the horizon line.
With mountain running, the reality is that you are not actually running up everything, particularly when it gets steep and loose. It was nice to highlight a moment when things were steep, loose yet still show the athlete pushing hard.
I’m also always looking at the horizons. Where will the athlete fall within all the horizons? And at what spot will they make the most impact visually? In the alpine environment, it is fairly easy to ensure the runner is breaking the horizon. In the forest, it became a little trickier.
Though those forest shots were tougher to frame, they became some of Louis’ favorite images from the project. Crisply shot while still leaving something to the imagination, these pictures nicely encapsulate Louis’ photographic acumen.
I really like the ones in the forest. After we shot in the alpine environ on day one, it felt exciting to dive into the forest. I had no idea what we would get, so we just ran until we saw something that caught our eye.
What I like about these is that they are not the typical mountain shots of wide open spaces. Instead we are given a limited perspective where everything is not illuminated and some curiosity remains as to where we might be headed.
A second successful shoot this year for Louis and Joe left Scarpa satisfied with the results. The Salt Lake City-based photographer kept pace with Joe for multiple days of shooting across two separate assignments (no small feat! feet?) and will continue to work with the Italian footwear brand for the foreseeable future.
The reaction has been extremely positive. ‘We don’t know how we are going to narrow down the selects’ was one comment. Maybe this is a bad thing, although Scarpa has committed to more contract work for 2020.
See more of Louis’ work at louisarevalophotography.com.
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