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Friday, 03 June 2011


There are many levels of danger in tombstoning, or more commonly referred to as cliff jumping in the states. This stunning image presents one of the most dangerous outlets, mostly due to the fact if the "tombstonee" (?) doesn't jump out far enough he'll meet rocks. You can also do it from a much more reasonable 30-40 ft height and if you're in a good location (sheer rock wall, really deep, calm water) there's not too much danger assuming you hit straight.

I love the thrill, but I'll only do it in an area where the greatest danger is hitting sideways, which would cause some serious bruising from 40 ft but nothing life threatening.

Regardless, awe-inspiring photo, thanks for sharing!

That hurts as much as losing film......I know, I tried it from the 10 meter board. Eh, not good for emmediate procreation I can asure you!

Greeting, Ed

Minnesota has laws against cliff jumping so back in the day my high school friends would routinely cross the border to Wisconsin to indulge. The St. Croix River, which separates the two states, has some choice spots for jumping. Amusingly, the Minnesota side of the river usually had a state trooper posted to prevent jumpers but he also got to watch jumpers from the Wisconsin side. I remember watching a drunk guy do a belly flop from a 30 foot cliff. Ouch.

Just curious as to how he did this. In-camera exposures, or stitch a series of photos together via Photoshop, or something similar?

If we assume a constant time lapse between exposures, you can tell he keeps accelerating until he hits the water. Scary!

Tombstoning in the UK seems to get monthly press coverage, often when an unfortunate person is either killed or seriously injured. "Unfortunate" in the sense that no-one would wish an accident on anyone, but sometimes they are also unwise, or drunk.

I was struck by this picture, and I think it is because the sequence of the falling jumper changes in the last moments. Things accelerate at a constant rate until terminal velocity, but the gap between the last picture of the jumper and the previous one is so much more than previous takes. It is as though there is a missing frame. Once I'd noticed that, my eye is drawn to that gap time and time again.

I don't remember enough of my school physics to go and calculate the rate of acceleration in free air of a falling human, but even without "proof" it looks a bit odd to me.

Still, I'm sure that the compositional decision by Alastair Sopp was for good reasons, and no-one would claim he is trying to manipulate anything.

"Just curious as to how he did this. In-camera exposures, or stitch a series of photos together via Photoshop, or something similar?"

I asked him if he'd like to comment on how he did it, and he declined.


So... Jumping off a hundred foot cliff and landing on your HEAD is safer? :-)

I'll tell my insurance company.

Imagine a belly-flop from that height ... take off your specs before jumping!

Shades of Newton, d = 1/2 g t^2?

It's just like a wedding - better to be the photographer than a participant.

James, I also noticed the gap, but I didn't think there was anything nefarious about it--I just figured that was the point where his buffer filled.

Without correcting for air drag, the fall from 100 feet should take 2.5 sec. Time for 25 exposures if buffers don't fill first. After one second, the jumper is dropping at 32 feet per second. And hits the water at 200 feet per second. In more familiar units, that is 136 mph. I would expect air drag to slow this down before the jumper gets quite that fast.


Check out "Dødsing", a local sport in Norway where you fall flat towards the water, and collapse at the very latest moment possible. Very similar to Tomstoning.


A nice video telling a story from the lates World Championship can be found here: http://vimeo.com/14746977

Back in the late 1960's I tried this off about a 35 footer at Maeda Point on Okinawa.
The leap was successful but I had not considered that the swim back would take me across a coral reef and the tide was going out.
Orion Beer may make you a hero but it will not make you a genius. Nothing like the prospect of a million little cuts while suspended in salt water to drive that point home.

Coming back to this composite image after a day or so, there's something else that is odd. Taking the newspaper's explanation of an 11-shot composition, and acknowledging James (the other ones)'s thoughts about a hiccup due to buffering, looking closely at the final image the tombstoner must have been flapping his arms like a hummingbird.

Taking a sequential sequence.

Image one: standing.
Image 2: arms pointing down.
Image 3: arms outstretched and pointing wide, legs stretched.
Image 4: legs akimbo, arms pointing down.
Image 5: arms stretched wide and above head.
Image 6: arms down again.
image 7: arms back above the head and spread wide.
Image 9: arms back in front.

I'm still perfectly prepared to believe this is a great composition to illustrate an idea - tombstoning - but less prepared to consider it a record shot of a single attempt.

Tit for...

Um, let's clarify ... it's the jumping off a cliff part that's dangerous, right?

Now for the kids at home, if you're going to do that, I am under the impression that feet first straight down is the least dangerous method.

Dear James and others,

I think there may be a bit of confusion here. The photo is only described as an 11-shot montage. There's nothing that asserts that it is equal-interval time-lapse images, or that that was the intent of the photographer. One should not be assuming that.

It is illustrative of different moments in the event. Whether the photographer chose those out of technical necessity or aesthetic consideration, we cannot know. It is certainly fair to critique the results if they don't work for you artistically. But attempting to do so on chronological grounds is reading intent and import into the photograph that is not in evidence.

pax / Ctein

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