Insights and ideas from Jeff Rueppel, Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® user
Adventure photographerVisit this innovator's website
Documenting daring expeditions
Whether he’s hanging off the edge of an ice cliff; extreme skiing; or trekking in Nepal, India, across the Mediterranean, or in U.S. National Parks such as Joshua Tree and Yosemite, Jeff Rueppel has an unparalleled zeal for adventure. He’s a self-taught photographer who constantly strives to hone his craft and who’s passionate about documenting his memories and sharing his images with fellow adventurers. Here, Rueppel shares how photography helps him capture and remember the precarious, precious moments he and his companions treasure.
Photoshop.com: When did you become interested in photography?
Jeff Rueppel: I'm very passionate about exploration and adventure, everything from full-bore trekking expeditions, to ice climbing in Ouray, to rock climbing in remote areas of the Mediterranean. In my 20s, I went with a friend to one of my favorite climbing spots in Kalymnos in Greece. I didn’t have a camera because I just wanted to be there in the moment and not worry about taking photographs. When I saw my friend’s photos afterward, I noticed how they affected and shaped my memories. Through his photos, I had a new and reinvigorated experience of our trip together. I then realized that I had to carry and use a camera to really capture each moment and relive it once I’m home again. My photography is a visual diary of my trips and all the experiences along the way.
Photoshop.com: How did you learn photography?
Jeff Rueppel: I took one photography class in college but didn’t do very well. The teacher didn’t like my work, and I was discouraged to say the least. Since then, I have been self taught. I’ve learned what I know about photography from just being present in many different environments. The camera helps me define space, and it empowers me to see scenes from different perspectives and uncover beauty that I didn’t initially even know was there. I also document the people who are on expeditions with me. As a photographer, you have the freedom to bring a new view to every interaction, to help everyone see things in new ways. I’m always learning, practicing, and refining my craft.
Photoshop.com: What else has helped you grow and develop as a photographer?
Jeff Rueppel: I work with a variety of cameras to help develop my photography skills. I typically take several cameras with me when I’m on an adventure. I have a Nikon D700 Digital SLR, a Nikon COOLPIX P7700, a GoPro HERO3 camcorder for video—and my simple cell phone camera. I use one of those depending on what the situation demands. I probably wouldn’t pull out my big Nikon in a smaller, more intimate setting, because it can be intrusive and makes people uncomfortable. But if I’m taking action shots when climbing, skiing, or capturing other fast motion, then the high-quality DSLR camera is the way to go. And shooting in raw allows me to easily recover highlights and shadows, apply tone curve, and basically rework images for better results.
Photoshop.com: After you’ve captured your photos, what’s next in your process?
Jeff Rueppel: I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software for all of my processing. Cropping is natural and seamless. However, my favorite feature is the Gradient filter because—with climbing and mountain photos—I often end up with extremes of light and dark in the same image and must even them out so the photo is more balanced. The Gradient filter lets me rebalance the dynamic range and adjust both extremes for an overall better effect. I also really like the Tone Curve, so I can adjust the highlights and blacks directly. I regularly use Noise Reduction to create creamy blacks in noisy images, without degrading sharpness. Collections also make handling thousands of images from a particular shoot a no-brainer. The new Radial filter in Lightroom 5 is great for being able to sculpt with light on a digital negative. It’s a great complement to the Gradient filter and gives a completely new way to illuminate and darken specific areas of the image.
Photoshop.com: How do you share your images?
Jeff Rueppel: I’m just now learning to use the Book module and web galleries in Lightroom. But currently, I share images with friends and colleagues at Adobe—where I work in translation services—in a variety of ways. I share high-end images on Flickr; I use Adobe Creative Cloud for sharing personal image galleries; I use Adobe Revel software for photo stories; and I use Instagram, Facebook, or personal blogs for sharing quick photos and narratives about experiences with friends.
Photoshop.com: What’s the most challenging shoot you’ve done and why?
Jeff Rueppel: Shooting climbing photography requires you to get off the ground and into the same space that other climbers are in. That's the perspective that really makes for great climbing photos, but it makes getting good shots a lot harder—from balancing for shoots to working with so many other factors out of your control when you’re literally suspended off the ground.
On my last climbing trip to China, I spent the first half of the day climbing with friends. Once I felt comfortable with the physical environment, I was easily able to determine how elements would align for a shot. Then I broke off and let my friends climb while I went into photographer mode. I grabbed 20 to 30 pounds of camera gear and headed back up the same line. It's already a lot of work just to get myself in a place where I can hang for 30 minutes and photograph the climber coming up next to me. I anchored myself in once I found the best spot.
When I'm only shooting with one camera, I usually change lenses a couple times during a shoot. I start off with the 70-200mm Nikon to grab top-down shots as the climber is working their way up the rock toward me. At some point, I shift from the 70-200 to a wide-angle or super wide-angle lens to get the richly varied climbing-scapes—my name for them—where I have both climbing action and a landscape in the background. With the super wide, I can just barely get myself out of the frame and still get great images of the climber from above as his hands reach out searching for the next good hold.
It's actually fun to shoot, because you're also in the climb and end up enjoying a perspective that you otherwise wouldn’t likely have noticed.
Photoshop.com: What’s one of your favorite images and how did you create it?
Jeff Rueppel: One of my favorites is from ice bouldering in Ouray Ice Park in Colorado in February. I liked the shape of the climber against the ice and how they both turned into elemental set pieces. I used Lightroom and the Curve tool to make the snow behind the climber very white and pull down the blacks on the climber’s profile to make her profile pop. I used the Sharpening brush to highlight the fine teeth on the ice axe. I also used the Neutral Gradient filter to achieve an even exposure value across the entire image. The Clone tool in Photoshop helped me clean up extraneous gear and post-crop vignetting in Lightroom let me darken the edges of the image a bit to draw the viewer’s attention toward the climber.
Photoshop.com: You provided a Lightroom preset to share with our readers. Can you tell us more about that?
Jeff Rueppel: Sure. The preset offers a simple mix for making a silhouette pop against a white background, which is great for my images of ice climbers. The preset pushes the exposure up to give just a hint of detail to the human form. At the same time, it increases contrast and pushes the highlights up to add whiteness to the ice and a clean separation from the blacks of the silhouette.
Photoshop.com: What’s next for you?
Jeff Rueppel: I’m increasingly interested in and working on time-lapse videos and photos, and I use Adobe Premiere Pro software to edit them. I think starting with compelling, large images and shooting in full raw with DSLR and then compressing the images into a 15-second video is an incredibly powerful technique. I work by editing images in Lightroom and then exporting them as sets into Adobe Premiere Pro to transform them into short movies. And, as always, I’m learning as I go.
Jeff Rueppel’s Silhouette on Ice