Though digital photography has become pervasive to almost every professional photographer, compositing is still new for many. This year, Seattle-based adventure & sports photographer Nick Hall decided to push his work into more conceptual territory by taking on a composite-based series unlike anything he’d done before. With the project, he set out to combine epic outdoor imagery with a bit of fantasy by blending stunning landscapes with figures hovering over pots of gold. The effect—slightly surreal and heightened—has a storybook quality that’s a new addition to Nick’s work.
As with many creative projects, Nick’s ideas began as rough sketches on paper. Of the project’s conception he adds:
The idea of exploration is a big theme for me, and I had an idea of a scuba diver emerging from a tumultuous ocean on to a beach. A couple of other concepts came to mind—a tree climber and a rock climber—but how to conceptually bind them all together? I love pirates, so the scuba diver finding a chest of gold was an easy stepping stone and from there the idea of finding that elusive pot of gold at the bottom of every rainbow. I’d always wanted to find that little pot of gold, so now was my chance.
From there, his ideas grew to involve several elaborate shoots, multiple locations (Washington’s Olympic coastline and Olympic National Forest, and Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park) and an extensive collaboration with the Seattle-based retouching team, Gigantic Squid.
One of the most challenging photos to capture was of a man climbing a tree to find his gold. Nick explains how he got the difficult shot:
There are always challenges when you’re shooting in big, remote landscapes. Weather, terrain, access and light quality are at the forefront of my considerations when planning and executing shoots. But the tree image had a completely new set of challenges for me. We climbed to the near top of a 275-foot Douglas-fir to get this shot. I teamed up with a professional arborist (Shane) who climbs big trees for fun in his spare time—a handy friend to have!
We spent the morning using his cross bow to shoot a line over the lowest branch, which was at about 120-feet off the ground. Once we laid the line, Shane climbed up and worked all the way to the location up the tree that we’d selected. He then lowered a second line down for me to use. The amazing thing about this tree was that because it was so big, one of its branches had a new tree growing out of it. Shane had rigged my line up this auxiliary tree if you will. Being in a tree so high up in the middle of the vast Olympic National Forest was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.
After shooting, Nick worked hand-in-hand with Gigantic Squid to develop each image. Drawing on Nick’s original sketches, the Gigantic Squid team helped Nick transform his photographs into the conceptual series he’d been after from the start. They kept the process fun and creatively charged, and Nick said he considers them important creative partners.
This fresh new way of working has been a big success for Nick. He used the “Pot of Gold” images for a promo piece that coincided with the launch of an updated brand and website this July, and he’s been busy ever since!