Abseilon USA

Continuing my 'People at Work' project, I had the breathtaking opportunity to spend the day with a team of rope access technicians from Abseilon USA as they descended from the roof of downtown Phoenix high-rise The Summit.

The team at Summit that day was making drops down the side to clean windows and balconies, with one member remaining on the roof for safety should any on the team require assistance. Summit was a great choice for this shoot because of it's height relative to the surrounding buildings and it's fantastic views of both downtown and the surrounding valley.

After signing in at the security desk, I took the elevator to the roof where the building has a beautiful open-air lounge. Rick, Abseilon's site supervisor and safety guy, escorted me around the various parts of the roof and talked to me about what I'd need to be aware of while working up there, fall safety, etc., while the rest of the team was still about 30-45 minutes away from finishing their drops.

I brought a good assortment of equipment up to the roof with me because I wasn't able to do a good scout of the location in advance. Also, I didn't want to make multiple trips to my truck for more gear, so I got it all loaded up onto my cart and hauled it to the roof in one trip.

After a few moments just taking in the gorgeous views of the city, Chase Field, the desert, and even the airport off in the distance, I wandered around a little bit to decide on my backgrounds.

The city's skyline was an important shot to be because I wanted to show relative height of where we were against recognizable landmarks in Phoenix. I began shuttling my gear to that corner of the roof and I ran about 50 feet of extension cords to set up my lights, four in total. It was a bright day, I wanted enough power to underexpose the bright background, and still have some flexibility in my lighting setups. This first shot, above, was with two main lights set up to work as a powerful single light, letting the sunlight work as fill and no rim lights because they'd have to be floating or on a long boom to get them behind him.

I liked that first shot a lot, but I wanted to get more use from all these lights I brought up. While I shot the first image at 18mm to show the scale of the surroundings, to show Rick about to go over the side of the building, and to utilize the leading line of his rope, I wanted to move him away from the edge a little and add some rim lighting.
This second image, above, was shot at 145mm on my 70-200mm f/2.8 and used just one 1600ws main light, raised to about 5ft above his helmet, and three rim-ish lights. I say 'rim-ish' because the 400ws light on camera left was more of a fill for the sunlight hitting his right side than a true rim light, but only because of the same floating light or long boom issue. On camera right, and about 6ft behind him, I had two speedlights paired up for more power and they functioned as a true rim light.
I like this lighting setup, but I'm not sure how I feel about the compression of the background. I think I would've preferred  more city behind him.
After that set I shot a few more frames with Rick before he had to get back to work, the team was finishing their drops on the south side of the building and they needed to set up on the east side to finish up their day over there. The timing was good because I wanted to move to the south and the east sides of the building for the different background options.
I love the sense of height this next set gives, and for this all I did was set up a few lights on different channels and used them to fill the sun.

Up until this point I had been shooting with a pretty narrow aperture to have the flexibility to keep the depth of field or to lose it in post, but I decided to open it all the way up and isolate the men a little more. This last image, below, is one of my favorites, showing not only the sense of height I wanted to capture, but the dynamics of their job, the isolation of the subject from the background, and the cool industrial background provided by the train yard and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in the distance.

I want to thank Abseilon USA for the opportunity, and the team working at Summit that day for their great attitudes and cooperation. I had so much fun working with them up there and I cannot wait to work with them again exploring a few different high-rise locations in the future. Check out their website for some other projects they're working on and to get a better idea of the scope of work this company is capable of.


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