Red Bull X-Alps: Words

Turn Point: Insight at Red Bull X-Alps has been positively received as much for its words as its imagery.  Stephan Haase and I are gratified by this.  It was a gamble to try and express the inner workings of an athlete’s mind during such an event.  The transcript has been requested by several viewers and appears below.  In addition to this, you can view the photo gallery Red Bull X-Alps 2013.

Transcript for Turn Point: Insight at Red Bull X-Alps

Paragliding……..the ultimate freedom to have an adventure.

It’s endless decisions each with their own rewards and consequences that affect every following action with endless permutations, much like life in its purest form.

Soon after I started paragliding the experience became so captivating that I gave up everything in pursuit of it. Six years after taking off for the first time, I received a coveted invitation to the Red Bull X-Alps, the ultimate paragliding race. One thousand thirty one unforgiving kilometers from Salzburg Austria to Monaco, by foot or flight. This edition would be the toughest designed ever and my first.

In preparing for this race I was confronted with the gravity of my decisions. I had given up everything I had ever strived for; superior fitness, a rewarding career, a successful small business, the foundation of a home, and even a union. I moved to Austria to learn the topography and train in the Alps. Unwittingly what began was a journey of personal and piloting discovery.

Surfing lines of the mountain crests, hooking rising thermal cores like a surfer enters well formed waves, taking me to higher altitudes, cooler temperatures and panoramic vistas.

It’s soaring and climbing with hawks, eagles, vultures, and sparrows as they look at me with inquisitive eyes and helpful movements. For a moment, it’s as if my sky family and I are communicating with flight.

This is fun at its simplest and purest definition, it’s an incredible experience that you just can’t recreate outside of the race.

It’s learning to balance thoughts and emotions of intellect, insecurity, desire, wisdom, cockiness, discipline and focus.

It’s perseverance, confidence, frightening, elation, tranquility, and an undying thirst for discovery.

It’s letting go of inhibitions, reading the terrain, studying the sky and making a deeper, perhaps spiritual connection.

In many ways, both personally and professionally, I had won this race long before it was over. The hardships revealed the importance of sincere and honest relationships.  The challenges revealed the importance of consistently intelligent piloting.  Life, like piloting, requires thoughtfulness for it to be a meaningful journey.

Panasonic GH3 Test #4: Timelapse

I have said it before, the 5D MarkIII simply has far better still image quality than the Panasonic GH3.  It follows then, that time-lapses are superior from the 5D MarkIII.  I have found this to be true.  The one caveat with the 5D is flicker.  For the uninitiated, viewing your first timelapse from the 5D, even after setting everything correctly to manual, is usually a disappointment because of this flicker.  A quick search online, and the solution is found: disable the Auto Lighting Optimizer.  I was subsequently very happy with all of my time-lapses until a recent project.  Instead of avoiding foreground plants in my composition to address the unpleasant shaking the produce on time-lapse, I wanted to include them as a video layer.  This particular poppy field was moving gently in a light breeze.  I wanted to capture that, but have a more interesting sky with the time-lapsed clouds.  Upon juxtaposing the time-lapse with video footage from the 5D MarkIII, I discovered that my time-lapse was essentially unusable; there was simply too much flicker against the more stable video footage. I had experimented with the GH3′s built-in time-lapse function in the mountains and was quite happy with it in a pinch. I decided to give it a try and basically with no effort found that there was no flickering. Yes, dealing with the magenta is tough and the image quality is not as good as the 5D MarkIII, which has better blues. However, those are small issues and worth the sacrifice to have no flicker, at least in this application.  I admit it is difficult to see in the comparison, but it stands out to my eye as completely unsatisfactory.

For those that argue the image quality from the 5D outweighs the remaining flicker problem, I would like to point out two things. First, take an honest look at the final edited GH3 clip at the end. What is left to be desired? Second, the GH3 is half the weight with lens, much smaller, much less expensive, yet stands as a serious rival.

The music is by Alberto Ziliotto.  If you want to relax to some amazing acoustical guitar, look not further.


Panasonic GH3: The camera made for adventure filming

I have spent quite a bit of time in the mountains, now in summer and winter, with the Panasonic GH3 and the Canon 5D MarkIII.  I have gotten to know the limitations of both.  More importantly, I have gotten to know when one camera’s benefits outweigh those relative limitations.  After a winter of carrying both cameras, occasionally at the same time, while ski touring in the Austrian Alps, I found myself convinced that the GH3 was for video and the 5D MarkIII is for still photography.  They each offer the beauty of doing both when needed, but clearly have different primary purposes in my hands.

In early July I was invited to follow Stephan Haase, a Red Bull X-Alps athlete, on his bid to complete the 1031km paragliding/hiking event from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco.  For a week, I ran and walked up and down the mountains carrying both cameras as a one man multimedia outfit.  I used both cameras constantly during that week for both photography and videography.  Nearly every waking moment was goal directed movement with only one chance to get my shot.  I came away from the experience much more adept at handling both cameras.  It strengthened my resolve regarding the still image capabilities of the 5D MarkIII.  You can see the shots on my Red Bull X-Alps gallery.  However, the GH3 closed the gap by maintaining its superiority in regards to video, while at the same time producing some fantastic images like this on on the Zugspitze in Germany.  The timelapse function turned out to be amazing and required no fuss.  My video, “Turn Point”, will be released in September 2013 for you to further see the capabilities of the GH3 for video.

I got inspired to post this follow-up after receiving an email from Bjarne Salén.  He is a notable film maker in the world of extreme skiing, especially for his work with ski mountaineer Andreas Fransson.  He is going into extremely difficult and/or remote terrain to capture his imagery; places that require a careful balance between quality and portability.    We communicated a couple of years ago when I launched my Backcountry Ski Stash website,  a source for guides, services, and film makers to reach their audience.  Here is his email which he kindly agreed to have posted.   You owe it to yourself to check out the links to his videos.  I follow it with my reply specifically to him, but hope it will also be useful to others.


My name is Bjarne Salén and I am working as a professional film maker.  I produce web episodes, documentaries etc for brands like Salomon, Oakley, The North Face, and Haglöfs. These are a couple of my films:

I’m looking to buy the Canon 5D Mark III or the Panasonic Gh3.

Whats your opinion on these cameras?
I do mostly filming in difficult environment as you can see on the films above.
Filming 90%. Photo 10%.
Having a some canon lenses that I love!

Looking forward to hearing from you as soon as you can answer this, need to invest in a new camera on monday or tuesday before I leave for next trip.

All the best, Bjarne

Hi Bjarne,

Thanks for your question. I recently finished a piece for Five Ten covering the Red Bull X-Alps.  I was lucky enough to work with Stephan Haase.  He is an athlete like Andreas, in that he is a good writer and a great narrator.  Those traits set videos like yours apart from many extreme sports videos.  Your work is great and displays a high level of commitment to telling difficult stories in the world’s biggest mountains.

Given your comment regarding Canon lenses, I assume you are currently using a Canon DSLR and question abandoning that glass.  It is not important in answering your question, because for the cost of the 5D MarkIII you can get a GH3 and a nice set of lenses for it.  I do get this question pretty often as you can imagine.   Most of the time I go into the standard “it all depends” conversation.  In your case, there is only one answer if you are looking for one camera.  The GH3 is amazing for the work that you do.  The video quality is on par or better than the 5D Mark III with a weight and size that is amazing.  You clearly depend on telephoto to capture Andreas Fransson in action.  You are almost always outside, so you could forgo the weight of the 70-200 f2.8 and get the lighter weight f4.  That on the 5D MarkIII comes to 1620g and 25cm long.  The GH3 with equivalent lense is 910g and 18cm!  The real difference starts to come in as you add more lenses, with the GH3 being at least half the weight on average.  You could add the 200-600 35mm equivalent to the GH3 with 70-200mm equivalent and still be under the 5D MarkIII weight.

These numbers are easy enough to find, but after many days in the mountains, I find it is worth mentioning what a huge benefit the size and weight are.  At a 90/10 video to photo ratio, you would essentially be getting these bonuses with absolutely no sacrifice in image quality.  I just do not see how you could justify any other camera if you were taking only one.  It is packed with usable features.  Two of the most notable for your purposes is the Extended Telephoto and built-in timelapse.  The former takes advantage of sensor size to create more reach without sacrifice to image quality.  The latter is an extremely simply, clean, and effective interface to creating fantastic timelapses, especially in difficult places.  See my recent post about the fantastic time-lapse function compared to the 5D MarkIII: Panasonic GH3 Test #4: Timelapse

There are several things that you should know about the GH3:

  1. As I already mentioned, the still image quality does not compare to the 5D MarkIII, especially for action photography.  Images of a quality for commercial use are difficult to achieve.  However, the images from the GH3 still excellent for documentation and web platforms.  One could also argue that you are more likely to have it on difficult journeys and thus get spectacular composition.
  2. I have only had one disappointed with the video of the GH3.  It has several gimmicks like fast and slow motion frame rates that I stay away from.  One the I have come to like is the auto focus during video in special situations.  My one disappointment was in the snow.  While using AF, everytime I would hit record the exposure would completely blow out before coming back to normal.  It is very odd and the workaround is to start recording well before your subject enters the frame; suboptimal in that you need the subject to set the AF point.  Not a deal breaker for me.
  3. There is a definite magenta bias coming off of the sensor.  It is fairly easy to correct, but makes getting rich blues a bit more of a challenge than with the 5D MarkIII.
  4. While it may get it, for now RAW video is not available on the GH3.  RAW may do a lot for your very distant skier footage.
  5. Not important for video, but major for photography.  The flash solution from Panasonic is simply horrible, while Canon’s is amazing (but the same cost as a GH3).

Best Regards,  Tracy

Please comment one and all with any specific questions you might have regarding the difference between the GH3 and 5D MarkIII and how those difference related to your specific needs.

GH3 Multiple Exposure Overlay: ‘Cannot merge using this photo’

Just a quick post here about using the Multiple Exposure function of the GH3 with Overlay set to ON.  Overlay gives you the ability to choose a photo that you have already taken to use as the base image.  This is useful for both creative imagery and aligning subsequent photos (roughly) without actually using the Multiple Exposure function.  There is one problem that Panasonic fails to make clear that has been frustrating me and, upon looking at the forums, many others.  Panasonic kindly displays ’Cannot merge using this photo’ upon my screen with absolutely no explanation anywhere as to why.  I can choose some photos, but not others.  It always works with overlay off, but that requires you to actually use the Multiple Exposure function and plan ahead for it.

After much trial and error, I have pinpointed the two issues that were consistently creating problems for me.  I am sure there are others settings that will bring up the ’Cannot merge using this photo’ message as well.  The first issue for me is relatively obvious, but it took me a bit to find it because the second issue was still creating the problem.  The first setting required to use any image for Overlay is that it must be shot in RAW.  The second setting that is required has to do with ISO.  The ISO must be set between 200 and 1600.  I was using Extended ISO and had a number of images shot at 125.  These images result in the ’Cannot merge using this photo’ message when trying to use them for Overlay.  You can have the camera setting for Extended ISO to ON, but you must have the ISO set between 200 and 1600.

I hope this helps some folks out.

Serles North Couloir-West Arm



A good friend of my brother’s, Peter Gregg, made an impromptu visit to Innsbruck after seeing some of my posts from this winter.  While he was in London, he quit his job, shipped his ski gear from Santa Cruz, and came for a taste of skiing in Tirol.  Approaching mid-April, conditions could have gone either way.  However, the incredible 2012-13 winter season continues to deliver epic ski conditions.  We decided to take advantage of it and go for the West Arm of the North Couloir on Serles (Nordrinne Im Echo) south of Innsbruck.  Earlier this winter, John Stanec and I skied the East arm in deep powder conditions.  At that time we confirmed that the couloir was essentially unaccessible from the backside in winter conditions.  I was unable to find good information about the west arm.  I enjoy climbing in couloirs in order to spend more time within them, so it was an easy decision to explore the west arm from below as well.Serles_West_Arm-1-April 08, 2013Starting off with a cold morning, we were optimistic about the conditions we would find.
Serles_West_Arm-6-April 08, 2013And6moreAt the top of our climb, we discovered that the couloir was accessible by either two small mandatory airs in steep terrain or booting down with a fixed rope.
Serles_West_Arm-13-April 08, 2013 The view in the other direction was one of luscious powder giving way to the greening valleys around Innsbruck with the Nordkette in the background.Serles_West_Arm-14-April 08, 2013 Serles_West_Arm-17-April 08, 2013High above Innsbruck, this is what we signed up for!Serles_West_Arm-18-April 08, 2013 It is always disappointing how flat couloirs never look from this angle, but check out the size of those walls.Serles_West_Arm-20-April 08, 2013

Easing from 37 degrees to low 30s, it is certainly steep enough to lay in some hard turns.Serles_West_Arm-22-April 08, 2013

Finishing the days with sunshine on our tracks and big fat grins on our faces.

Links not appearing in WordPress comments

I recently discovered that in both WordPress versions 3.5, 3.5.1, and possibly others, that links do not appear in comments when using the link function provided within the WordPress Editor.  The link function works fine when used to create posts.  The problem is related to posting both outside and existing content to comments.  It effects both subscribers and administrators.  Much to my surprise I was not able to uncover a solution anywhere on the internet.  It is possibly related to my Invictus template, but that is unclear to me.  I did however figure out how to fix this problem.

WordPress uses this html for links:

<a href=”http://websiteDOTcom” title=”Text to Display”></a>

However, nothing will appear at all in the comments related to this link.  You must edit the html to look like this:

<a href=”http://websiteDOTcom”>Text to Display</a>

When I Publish or Update the comment, WordPress automatically adds  rel=”nofollow”:

<a href=”http://websiteDOTcom” rel=”nofollow”>Text to Display</a>

Now the links work correctly.  If anyone knows how to change this from within WordPress to make the Link function work correctly, please comment on how to do this.

Kleegrubenscharte-5-March 22, 2013

Kleegrubenscharte Runde: Ski tour under the Olperer

The incredible ski conditions for the 2012-13 ski season simply will not stop.  Kerstin and I were joined by Dave McCahill for a tour around Jochgrubenkopf and through Kleegrubenscharte.  Located in Schmirntal, Tirol, Austria, this one has been on my list for awhile because A) I love loops and B) its proximity to the glaciated Olperer.  Having unfortunately forgotten her boots, Kerstin was done before we started.  Dave and I were left in Schmirntal needing to figure out how to get home.  However, our immediate concern was ski touring under clear blue ski in boot deep powder conditions.  (Technical Note for photographers: I really want the weight and size of the Panasonic GH3 to work, so I gave it another trial today.  I was happy with the speed and focus tracking, but the image quality is simply too inferior when compared to the 5D Mark III.  Flaring is also a real problem, especially in red. 5D Mark III )

Kleegrubenscharte-3-March 22, 2013Kleegrubenscharte-5-March 22, 2013 Kleegrubenscharte-6-March 22, 2013The little people.Kleegrubenscharte-8-March 22, 2013 Kleegrubenscharte-9-March 22, 2013Hohe Warte and, further back, Habicht above Stubaital, Tirol, Austria.Kleegrubenscharte-10-March 22, 2013 Kleegrubenscharte-15-March 22, 2013 Kleegrubenscharte-19-March 22, 2013 Kleegrubenscharte-20-March 22, 2013I guess that series of photos just didn’t need very many words.  Dave’s smile pretty much says it all.  To cap it off, the only people we met the whole day were Dave’s friends Lorenzo and Rory just getting back to their car after skiing Jochgrubenkopf.  By meeting them, we satisfied both our transportation and beer needs quite conveniently.  Awesome day!

Karwendel-11-March 16, 2013

Spring Powder Bonus in the Karwendel

My buddy, Dave McCahill, and I had all but given up on winter.  February delivered what was the best three week period of skiing either of us had had in our entire lives.  Given my 42 years, compared to his 26, it says more coming from me, but I digress.  The snow got nuked the first two weeks of March, so we didn’t have a reason to speak.  I had to get reacquainted with my family and he had to do whatever 26 years think they have to do.  Then I get the SMS from Dave, “39cm on the Nordkette, lets tour from Hafelekar to Halltal tomorrow (Saturday).”  I cashed in some chips with my lovely wife and picked up Dave for the first tram out of Innsbruck to the top of the Nordkette.  It was pure mania.  I almost had to leave Dave behind after he got stuck behind someone that did not know how to use a lift card.  At the top, skiers were doing their awkward run in ski boots to be the first on the slope.   However, we immediately found ourselves in a silent peace as we were the only ones hiking to the summit of Hafelekar, another 100m or so above the lift.  I set up to photograph the first turn of the day.  It was a bad turn.  Proof that avalanche reports are only part of the safety assessment, the slope ripped around Dave.Karwendel-1-March 16, 2013He skied out of it unscathed.  I tested a slightly different aspect and slope ripped again.  With tails between our legs, we boot packed back out.  Back on top of Hafelekar, many more people arrived.  After seeing our slope, those tempted decided to ski the lower angle slope to the east instead.  We spent 30 minutes deliberating and almost decided to bail.  We decided to follow the others and spent the rest of the day enjoying amazing spring powder conditions.Karwendel-2-March 16, 2013After the first descent (seen in the left of the photo), we immediately left main track and had a great climb through the incredible terrain of the Karwendel  Region.Karwendel-33-March 16, 2013Putting first tracks in like this is why we are here.Karwendel-43-March 16, 2013The second descent of the day can be seen above Dave as he inspects the masses hiking around and skipping this series of incredible chutes.  Yes, there are a lot of people in the Alps, but fortunately for us, most stick to the designated routes.HafelekarThe chute we aborted after the avalanche is in yellow.  The following two descents are in red (the first goes behind the ridge).  You would never know that over 150,000 people live on the other side of that ridge we started from.Karwendel_Runde-1-March 16, 2013Karwendel_Runde-3-March 16, 2013

We climbed directly up a west facing couloir to bypass the group on the main route and…

Karwendel-54-March 16, 2013
…get wicked first tracks down this.  Our third climb was up to Stempljoch, the obvious saddle in the upper left of the photo.  The impressive Rumerspitze is on the right.

Karwendel-57-March 16, 2013Karwendel-60-March 16, 2013

Dave continuing the incredible descent above Pfeifhütte, seen in the middle of the photo next to the cliff.

Karwendel-70-March 16, 2013

After a nice lunch break, we head up to Stempljoch.  The previous descent is above and the left of Dave in the background.  You can see the second slide of the day as well, more of a large slough.

Karwendel-71-March 16, 2013

We had a bit of a “Candy Store Problem”.

Karwendel_Runde-7-March 16, 2013

Our final descent into Halltal was fresh powder turns most of the way to our road out.  The third slide of the day (no photo) was a predictable rip in the new snow layer.  Once it was gone, things skied great.

Karwendel_Runde-9-March 16, 2013

The terrain was and is constantly awe inspiring.  This is the view out to the Inn Valley.

Karwendel-76-March 16, 2013

And the view back up to where the previous photo was taken.

Karwendel_Runde-11-March 16, 2013

We almost forgot it was spring.  We only had to walk down a couple hundred meters to catch the bus back to Innsbruck.  Needless to say, we were fully stoked that we did not bail.  For my part, it was a spring powder tour like no other.

Nockspitze-178-February 27, 2013

Nockspitze: Unsung ski mountain of many chutes

Like Serles, I have stared into the north chutes of Nockspitze for nearly three years.  Conditions in February 2013 were such that I was all of a sudden able to ski it 3 times in 3 different ways in one week.  In that time, I realized that there was much more than the lines I noticed from below.  We skied one of those shots and realized that led to even more shots.  To be certain, we were super lucky with having a lot of stable snow.  Last year it was almost always too dangerous and the year before there was hardly any snow it at the bottom.  There is great skiing on every aspect of that mountain, but I will focus on the north side for this post.Nockspitze_chutes_01_

I wanted to ski this as a loop from the summit.  In late January with two friends from Durango, we found that the ridge from the main summit of Nockspitze to the south summit was not navigable.  It was a knife edge wide cornice above a steep unstable slope.  3 weeks and a lot of snow later, this is what it looked like.  GAME ON!Nockspitze-22-February 28, 2013


You can see for yourself that the skiing was incredible.

P1020502 Nockspitze-259-February 27, 2013 Nockspitze-224-February 27, 2013 Nockspitze-97-February 27, 2013 Nockspitze-56-February 27, 2013 Nockspitze-50-February 27, 2013

5DMarkIII: Skiing Nockspitze

GH3 vs 5D Mark III: Action sport photography

I spent a lot of time deciding between the new Panasonic GH3 and the Canon 5D MarkIII.  In the end, my decision was based upon actually using each camera for 1 day each.  I was immediately sold on the video quality, size, and weight of the GH3.  However, after my day with the 5D I quickly figured out why I was unable to find any helpful posts comparing  the two for still images, particularly sports photography:  there simply is no comparison.  Noise, detail, sharpness, color, AF, you name it, are better on the 5D.  This comparison is mostly about teh 5D MarkIII having 40% more megapixels at 22.1 vs 16.2 for the GH3.  For professional work, the GH3 simply will not cut it for still photography.  It may be a relatively expensive prosumer mirrorless MFT, but it appears the technology is just not good enough yet.  The only possible exception is of course if all of your work is intended for web based images.  See the images below for yourself.  Both cameras were shot at 1/1250(1300 on the GH3), f14, AWB, Manual Focus, and 28mm(35mm equivalent).  5DMarkIII: Skiing Nockspitze

The Canon 5D MarkIII captures John Stanec skiing a sweet line above Innsbruck, Austria.

GH3: Skiing NockspitzeThe same line captured with the Panasonic GH3

GH3vs5D 100% Crop: edited in post

100% crop comparison applying my best skills in Lightroom 4 to maximize image quality.

GH3vs5D 100% crop unedited100% crop of unedited images.  This just makes it that much more obvious that the GH3 is not up to the job.

Please comment with helpful input and your experiences.  I am not attempting to dish out technical expertise, just one dude’s experience.



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