Rock Climbing photography offers any number of challenges. The climbing environment changes from moment to thrilling moment.
You have the weather to contend with: sun and shadows that insist on moving, and climbers who have other things on their minds besides posing for that perfect shot.
The wind blows, rain starts and stops, and concern for your own safety sometimes takes your breath away.
In short, climbing photography is still photography that is anything but still.
From a technical aspect, climbers sometimes appear smaller than you had planned, and ideal shooting angles may be difficult to approach – or possibly even death-defying.
Climbing photography is never routine, but when you battle past the frustrations, it also offers enormous rewards.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe and bring back those breathtaking shots.
Sounds simple enough, and in many cases it is. Other times you need to devise methods for getting closer, or perhaps bring your subject to you.
Often this means waking up earlier or walking and climbing faster, all the time keeping yourself safe.
Scout the Route
I used to just go around taking pictures of climbers I could find while climbing. One day, while preparing a slide show, I noticed a great difference in the snapshots I took while climbing, compared to the photos I took on days I dedicated to photography.
- Scouting the location and preparing the route ahead of time can make the difference between a successful shoot and a missed opportunity.
- Taking shots of a specific climber, on a pre-planned route, yields far better results than shooting the guy on the next route over.
- Sometimes, just waiting at the base of a specific route can produce amazing results. This technique has bagged me some great photos of unknown climbers.
It took me years to learn this lesson, but having a firm base on the camera makes it that much more sure you will get a good, sharp image.
Climb a tree and brace against a limb, use porta-ledges or bean bags.
Learn About Your Subject
I spent many years climbing before I could take good photos of climbers.
While some aspects remain the same, interesting sport climbing photos look quite different than trad-climbs or big wall routes.
- If you’re a climber, consider climbing the route first.
- Watch other climbers do the same route to anticipate where the best shots will be.
- Placing gear or clipping bolts make nice shots.
- Be ready to capture the falls too.
- Sweat, blood and tears might be required to get the photo.
- I have spent endless hours crawling through the underbrush, rappelling the unclimbed portions of cliffs and climbing messy trees to find the perfect angle.
- The challenge was worth it.
Develop Post Processing Skills
- Learn to be efficient at post processing programs such as Photoshop CS2.
- Digital cameras tend to produce images that are flat and almost all need some form of post processing work.
- Buy Scott Kelby’s Books on processing. They are the easiest to use.
Take more shots.
What are you saving those extra gigs for anyway?
- I take 10 times more shots of a subject than I think I need.
- I also bracket whenever I have the chance.
Shoot the face—even better—the eyes.
- Seeing the climber’s face and eyes can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot.
- If the belayer is present in the photo, make sure you include him or her.
- Seeing both faces conveys a feeling of teamwork between the climber and the belayer.
Learn from your mistakes.
- Analyze your photos, especially the bad ones.
- Figure out what works and what doesn’t.
- By doing so, you can develop a method that eliminates shots you don’t like.
- Like climbing itself, the more time you spend at it, the better you get.
Buy the best lenses you can afford.
Climbing often takes place in low light and shady areas. Having a fast lens will help you avoid camera shake and blurry photos.
Don’t overlook the used camera department available in most big photography stores and on the Web.
Amazon has a nice selection of used lenses and it’s easy to search. Start Here
Watch your background.
- Being at the right place at the right time doesn’t necessarily mean a great shot.
- The background elements within the photograph will enhance or detract from it. Decide beforehand which it is.
- If the background distracts from the subject, blur it out with a faster shutter. Take several varying shots.
Climber’s posture and actions.
- I try always to be ready.
- Anticipate the climber’s next move and shoot the action versus the rest.
- Make sure the climber’s posture reflects confidence unless, of course, you’re going for fear.