Barry Tessman roped himself to the overhanging rock to capture Jared Noceti shooting a 25-foot-high rapid near the end of a hairy five-mile stretch of California's Kawea River, which flows from the Mount Whitney drainage along the western boundary of Sequoia National Park. Despite the precarious vantage point and rainy weather that day last spring, Tessman was undeterred: "Barry's one for knowing what he wants to accomplish and was able to make it happen," says Noceti, a subject of Tessman's for a couple of seasons. Indeed, Tessman was famous for pursuing adventure in pursuit of the perfect imagehe once listed "climbing wall, Class V river, surf wave" among his studio facilities.
As of press time, Tessman, 41, who shot for numerous publications, including Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times,and Esquire, was still missing and presumed dead after a January 16 paddling workout on Lake Isabella, near his home in Kernville, California. He was last seen early that morning on the water's edge with his boat; only his kayak, paddle, and hat have been found. He leaves behind his wife, who is pregnant, and a three-year-old daughter.
Jenning Steger walked for three days along the upper north fork of the American River, near Lake Tahoe, photographing a first descent by superstar kayakers Scott Lindgren, Tao Berman, and Clay Wright, and extreme skier Dean Cummings. Here Lindgren plunges down the raging Heath Falls, a 45-foot drop. "After the landing, there's a Class V rapid in this tiny granite teacup," explains New Jersey-born Steger, who does film, video, and graphic design work for the sports-film firm Scott Lindgren Productions. "So when you take on the falls, you're committed to that rapid, too."
Steger balanced on slippery rocks with her 28mm lens set at f/13 and exposed 100-speed film for 1/125 second.
Greg Von Doersten caught professional whitewater kayaker Kristen Read, 30, at the lip of the three-story second tier of Lower Mesa Falls, on the Henrys Fork of Idaho's Snake River, last summer. "I was trying to find an angle that had never been shot before," says the lensman, who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. "So I jumped out to a small cliff and stood on the edge of a 100-foot precipice." Von Doersten, 41, guided rivers from Austria to Nepal before becoming a full-time photographer.
With a 24-70mm lens set at f/4, he exposed 50-speed film for 1/1,000 second.
Desré Pickers got this shot of pro kayaker and fellow South African Steve Fisher just as he hit the muddy lip of Hart's Hill Falls, on the country's Tugela River. "It's a local drop that only runs when there's rain," says the 29-year-old photographer, who splits her time between Canada and Africa for an endless summer. "People run different lines through the falls, but that one doesn't get done that often."
Shooting digitally with a Canon D60 and a 100-400mm lens set at f/6.7, Pickers used an ISO of 100 with an exposure time of 1/1,000 second.
There are two ways to huck Lower Mesa Falls, on Idaho's Henrys Fork River: Take one 70-foot free fall (paddler's right) or run the first 40-foot drop and then recover in time for the second, as kayaker Jesse Coombs did before this shot was taken. Denver-based photographer Lucas Gilman had options, too: Shoot from below, to emphasize the height of the waterfall, or from on high. He went with the latter, setting up downstream of an overlook above the falls. "From above, it gives you that sense of place and scope, of just how inconsequential the kayaker is in comparison with thewaterfall," says Gilman. "You don't get that from below."
THE TOOLS: Nikon D200, 300mm, ISO 125, f/8, 1/750 second
A warm storm from the South Pacific slammed into Washington State in January, flooding usually tame Outlet Creek, near Yakima. Jed Weingarten rappelled down a cliff opposite 70-foot Outlet Falls to get a better angle as kayaker Luke Spencer paddled over the edge. "I've got mixed feelings about watching this type of stuff," says the Portland, Oregon-based Weingarten. "It's always mildly concerning knowing they could get hurt, but if they don't go, there's no photo." The day before, three kayakers had completed the first three descents of the waterfall; no one, on either day, ran it more than once. "I knew right away I'd sustained some sort of injury that would hurt for quite a while," says Spencer. "It took three months for my ribs to fully heal."
THE TOOLS: Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, ISO400, f/4, 1/640 second