Taking a good portrait is hard enough, but taking one hanging from a cliff with model is balancing on the edge of another cliff is a whole new ball game. Photography duo Jay Philbrick and his wife Vicki are known for their devil daring (yet utterly safe) extreme photoshoot where they put models on cliffs edges, inside deep wells, and on steep snow slopes and light them to perfection.
We sat down with this New Hampshire based photographer for a quick Q&A:
Please share a bit about that magic that you do, your unique style
I run a little bit against the current trends of natural light only and lifestyle types of sessions. I’ll do both of these things but I usually wind up supplementing what light I find with one or more lights and I direct my clients and models a lot. I like the juxtaposition of beauty against starkness, so I look for a lot of stark or dramatic landscapes, fields, streams, cliffs, etc. for use with my clients, models, and dancers. My go-to lens is an 80-200 for portraits, often as wide open as I can get it, and that and a 24-70 for figures on a landscape.
How do you convince your models to go out there, it’s not the most trivial thing?
I don’t really have to twist any arms to get models or subjects into the locations I’m interested in. We are sort of known for this kind of photography, so many come to us looking for something different. We go over how the shoot will be handled, explain what I will be doing, what our mountain guide will be responsible for and what the model has to do. Then we go for it.
How do you “do” lighting on those extreme locations?
My wife Vicki, usually takes care of the lighting bur if we need it on the side of a cliff, our guide usually handles that. He has a light on a monopod in a pack that he rappels down with. I control the light from my camera with a Phottix Odin transmitter.
How big is the team, who do you take with you on those productions?
I almost always work with my wife, Vicki, on any session so I have someone for off camera lighting. I’m even happier with two or three people assisting. I’ll often use a Phottix Indra 500 in an octobox or umbrella depending on how much I want to limit the light spread, as well as a kicker, hair, or rim light as well as possibly a reflector, scrim, or flag. So, the more hands, the better. For something like the cliff sessions we also have our mountain guide, Marc Chauvin of Chauvin Guides International, as well as a third photographer, Justin Macomber, who has worked with us for years. He captures different angles as well as a lot of the behind the scenes shots.
What is the weirdest/most dangerous place you shot at?
Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure. We’ve been underwater, on cliffs, ice cliffs, steep snow slopes, caves, wells, etc. They are all fun but have their own special challenges. We don’t go looking for trouble. I was a climbing guide for a long time and have had extensive training in risk management, client care, rope work, avalanche hazards, and so on. So, these are all environments we have a lot of experience in.
did you ever had a model to afraid to engage / how do you deal with that to make it work?
I have only had that happen once and it was for a cliff session. The model was very excited about the session and seemed OK with the whole thing until we got her right on the edge where she had to go over. She said no way! We talked about it a bit and tried a couple things to reassure her but she wasn’t comfortable with it so we moved on. There were plenty of other things to do.
Here are a few more of Jay’s photographs, followed by a few BTS shots for the sense of scale
And this is what it looks like to be “on set”
Lastly, here is a short segment The New Hampshire Chronicle ran about Jay: