Play Like You Work

01_wallenda_110314Nik Wallenda walks on a 3/4″ cable stretched 600 feet above the Chicago River between Marina City and the Leo Burnett Building as seen through a bridge traffic gate on Wabash Ave. in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014. Wallenda set a world record with this portion of his performance, with it being the steepest tightrope walk (19 degrees) between two buildings.

All across the world, photographers follow many tried-and-true rules to capture the best images. Of course, there’s the “Sunny 16″ rule. There’s also the one about your shutter speed being equal or higher to the focal length of your lens to avoid blur. And, from the Guy Rhodes photo rule book: When a world record attempt is taking place less than an hour from home, assignment or not, you must photograph it.

Such was the case yesterday evening, when I journeyed to the Chicago Loop to photograph Nik Wallenda on his world record-breaking high wire walk between Marina City and the Leo Burnett Buidling, as well as a second blindfolded (and also world record-setting) walk between the two Marina City towers.

I’ve heard a lot about Nik Wallenda over the years. I watched his Grand Canyon walk on the Discovery Channel, and caught clips of his walk above Niagara Falls online. The chance to see him perform in person in my hometown wasn’t one I was going to pass up.

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Chicago-based jib camera operator and longtime colleague / friend Mark Sofil readies his live shot for Discovery Networks during the Nik Wallenda Skyscraper Live special.

Even though I wasn’t on assignment for anyone, and even though I wanted to enjoy the event as a spectator, I still came fully outfitted with my gear as if I was shooting for an editorial client. I’ve always lived by the adage, “Play like you work,” and this event was no exception.

Shortly after I arrived at Wabash and Wacker, I began planning shots in my head that I would execute as Wallenda began his walk across the river. The idea of photographing Wallenda tight on the wire against a dark sky seemed boring to me, so I identified several foreground elements in the vicinity of the viewing area that would work well when composed with Nik on the wire.

03_wallenda_110314“Sway guides” (steadying Nik Wallenda’s main cable) are anchored along Wacker Drive at sunset.

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Nik Wallenda walks on a 3/4″ cable stretched 600 feet above the Chicago River between Marina City and the Leo Burnett Building in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014.

When the walk finally got underway, I started grabbing my shots and crossing them off my mental list. I was surprised at how quickly Nik was progressing across the river, and I fought to make it from spot to spot easily though the massive crowd that had built in the two hours or so that I waited for the walk to begin.

In fact, one of my favorite shots (the one of Wallenda with the clock on the Jeweler’s Building) required me to apologetically push my way through a block’s worth of shoulder-to-shoulder spectators who’d gathered on then-closed Wabash Avenue. People grumbled as I slithered my way to a spot in the middle of the street where the composition I’d envisioned hours earlier could be achieved. In the end, the awkwardness of being “that guy” was worth it.

The Nik Wallenda walk was a great time, and certainly made up for the Great Chicago Fire Festival that so many people were let down by at the same location just a month prior.

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Nik Wallenda stepping out over the edge of Marina City.

06_wallenda_110314A helicopter providing aerial video for Discovery Networks flies over Nik Wallenda as he crosses the Chicago River on a 3/4″ steel cable.

07_wallenda_110314Nik Wallenda walks on a cable stretched 600 feet above the Chicago River between Marina City and the Leo Burnett Building in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014. The clock in the foreground is on the Jeweler’s Building at the intersection of Wabash Avenue and Wacker Drive.

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Nik Wallenda approaches the Leo Burnet Building on a cable stretched 600 feet above the Chicago River from Marina City in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014. Wallenda set a world record with this portion of his performance, with it being the steepest tightrope walk (19 degrees) between two buildings.

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Nik Wallenda walks blindfolded on a cable stretched between the Marina City Towers in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014. Wallenda set a world record with this portion of his performance with the highest blindfolded tightrope walk.

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An overall view of Nik Wallenda’s second, blindfolded high-wire walk between the Marina City Towers.

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Nik Wallenda celebrates after successfully walking blindfolded on a cable stretched between the Marina City Towers in Chicago, Ill., Sunday, November 2, 2014. Wallenda set a world record with this portion of his performance with the highest blindfolded tightrope walk.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Pop Culture by Guy Rhodes on November 3rd, 2014.

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