Seeking the Light
Sony New Zealand
-
Event Host

Alpha Creator Project: Seeking the Light by Gavin Lang

4 Oct 2021
Sony New Zealand
-
Event Host
Image: Sony New Zealand, Seeking the Light

If you told your friends and family that you were going to spend two years climbing all 24 of New Zealand’s highest peaks, they would probably question your sanity. But for Gavin Lang, a professional mountain guide based in Wanaka, setting himself this incredible challenge was a way to prove that alpine adventuring can help improve both your physical and mental health.

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM lens. 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 100 

 

Gavin is only the 11th person to climb all 24 of Aotearoa’s highest mountains, and he plans to share his experiences in an upcoming book called Seeking the Light. The 300 page volume will describe the challenges he faced, alongside images that capture the enormity of this extraordinary adventure and the magnificent beauty of the mountains he summited. Gavin has also started post-production work on a documentary film, featuring the video footage he shot while climbing the 24 peaks.

While this project has been two years in the making, Gavin initially came up with the idea 17 years ago. He felt there was a gap in the mountain photography genre, a gap he had the skill and desire to fill. “I want to see that epic landscape photograph with someone moving through it,” Gavin says. “My goal with Seeking the Light is to capture the energy and emotion of the climbing experience, rather than simply create more pretty pictures of mountains.”

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 24-70mm F4 Zeiss lens. 1/640 sec, f/11, ISO 100

 

Mountaineering can be an extremely dangerous sport. Regardless of how experienced or prepared a climber may be, on every expedition they will still face many unforeseen obstacles - some of them life-threatening. Gavin always prioritises safety above all else, and fortunately, he didn’t have to deal with any major falls or serious injuries during this lengthy project. However, in the book he does recount a near miss from a previous expedition. “In 2014, a friend and I were climbing to Gardiner Hut in Mount Cook National Park. The snow was fresh, soft and slow to travel through. We realised that it would take a lot longer to get to the hut than we anticipated, so we decided to turn back.” When they returned to the village, they were told about a rock avalanche that had severely damaged the hut. Had they been in the hut at the time things could have been dire. “Death is a touchy subject, but it is one that every mountaineer needs to face,” Gavin explains. “Understanding that death is a possibility is something we need to accept before starting each trip.”

As you’d expect, the weather conditions were often very challenging. Because photographing and filming each expedition was a key objective, Gavin didn’t see any point in climbing during whiteout conditions when he couldn’t see anything. Having the patience to wait for the right conditions to come along was a fundamental part of the process, and this sometimes took weeks or months.

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 24-70mm F4 Zeiss lens. 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 100

 

Gavin also had to contend with equipment breaking, such as crampons and ski bindings, or the possibility that he had forgotten something. This meant he had to be flexible and willing to adapt quickly under stressful circumstances.

When asked about his favourite expedition from the past two years, he recalls his journey across the Torres-Tasman Traverse. Gavin and his climbing partner, Ruari MacFarlane, were the first people to complete the traverse during winter, which involves climbing three 3000 metre peaks. He reminisces about the freezing conditions in the middle of June, and the sickness they had to endure from the altitude and exhaustion. It was overcoming these obstacles that made this the highlight for Gavin, because navigating tough situations such as these really puts life into perspective and allowed him to appreciate what his body was capable of.

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM lens. 1/500 sec, f/11, ISO 100

 

While sharing his spectacular imagery and tales of adventure are a key part of the project, what motivates Gavin further is the opportunity to showcase the psychological benefits that can be gained from outdoor activities. “I’m interested in the mind-expanding deeper space you can reach when you’re stimulated by the challenges that come with mountaineering.”

Gavin is passionate about using the natural environment and climbing to improve peoples’ mental health and resilience. He has developed specific therapeutic programmes for his guiding business, giving his clients life changing experiences by encouraging them to explore their physical limits. This produces many positive outcomes that he hopes will stay with them long after they’ve reached the summit and safely returned home.

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 24-105mm F4 G lens. 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 100

 

The Gear

For mountaineers, every single gram counts, so Gavin tries to carry as little weight as possible. Back in 2015 he switched from using a Canon DSLR to a Sony Alpha mirrorless camera, as the reduction in size and weight allowed him to take on more technically challenging climbs without having to compromise on image quality.

Gavin used his Sony Alpha 7 III throughout the Seeking the Light project, which allowed him to quickly switch between shooting video and stills. For lenses, he began with the compact but versatile Sony 16-35mm F4 Zeiss and 24-70mm F4 Zeiss combo, and later switched to using the Sony 16-35mm F2.8 GM and 24-105mm F4 G lenses. Unless he was attempting to climb a very difficult section, Gavin had the Alpha 7 III strapped to his chest, so it was always within easy reach. To protect the lenses from the inevitable scrapes and bumps he made sure he kept the lens hoods on.

Other equipment that Gavin takes on his climbs are a Rode Video Micro microphone and a Pedco UltraPod mini tripod. These are both lightweight, durable, and take up minimal space in his pack. His camera strap/harness is a homemade contraption made from thin accessory climbing rope that he has attached to him via a carabiner. “It’s the lightest system possible, and there are no plastic or metal bits banging the camera and making noise when I’m filming,” Gavin explains.

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM lens. 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 100

 

Parting Advice

Gavin’s advice to someone starting their mountaineering photography journey is to make sure to separate climbing from photography. He suggests concentrating on learning them individually, as each skill is challenging enough, let alone when you combine them together. “So many people get attracted to the romanticism of mountaineering, and when you’re sitting at home that’s an easy thing to do,” Gavin says. “You don’t feel the pain and discomfort. You don’t consider the fact that you could get frostbite if you drop your gloves, or meet your end if you trip over your own feet. Learn how to be safe on the side of a mountain before adding the creative buzz of capturing photographs too.”

He also draws attention to the importance of satisfying yourself first with your imagery, before trying to please others. “Think about what motivates you to take photographs and what emotions you want to convey, or what energy you want to capture.”

To learn more about this amazing project visit seekingthelight.co.nz, or follow Gavin on Instagram - @gavinlangphotography

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 24-105mm F4 G lens. 1/125 sec, f/11, ISO 100 

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 24-105mm F4 G lens. 1/20 sec, f/8, ISO 3200 

 

Photo by Gavin Lang
Sony Alpha 7 III with FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM lens. 20 sec, f/3.2, ISO 1600 

 

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