Climbing itself has grown in popularity in the last couple of years and the photography of it has certainly seemed the same. Anyone who jumps into the craft knows that there is a steep learning curve, even if you are a talented climber beforehand. Here are a few stepping stones to get you on your way to taking some great photos.
1. Have an Idea of What you Want to Shoot Beforehand
Once you are on the wall, there is little you can change. You won’t want to change lenses, be running up and down fixed lines, or anything else of the sort when you are just learning about climbing photography. The best way for things to go smoothly on the wall is to have a plan beforehand. This will include narrowing down if you’re aiming for some intense facial expressions at the crux, the big landscape shot with the climber as a tiny addition, or anything in between.
2. Know your rope systems
Access will always be a part of finding the best shooting spots. There are various options to get yourself to where you want to be. In bouldering, this may be scrambling up onto a neighbouring boulder. For sport and trad, it’s most likely ascending a fixed line. You could be using one jumar and a GriGri, two jumars, slugging your way up with some prusiks. You know what gear you have and what you are comfortable with. Knowing what this part of the process looks like is a huge factor in the success of your day. Additionally, you’ll want to have a hands-free system in place once you start shooting, so put some thought into orientation, access to your camera and the likes.
3. Know Where the Crux Is
Sure, there can be some wild hand movements going on when someone is stretching their pumped arms on the wall and flying chalk dust can be all kinds of aesthetic, but the gems of climbing photos are often the crux. Asking your climber where it is beforehand is a good idea if you are not already familiar with the route. It’s often your best chance for try-hard faces, interesting body movements, and your climber looking their strongest.
4. Get the Climber’s Face in the Shot
It makes a lot of sense that you would want your climber’s face in the photo, but when you’re starting out you’re going to see that it’s not always the easiest feat. If anything, getting your climber’s face in the photo will ensure that you aren’t getting the classic butt shot. It’s a good rule of thumb until you define your style and see what is worth including that doesn’t have faces.
Checking out work from some of the masters of the craft is always a good idea. Michael Clark’s composition is always coupled perfectly with bold colours and dramatic lighting. You can take a look at his work here.
Savannah Cummins is another expert who creates powerful photos. Regardless of being on a remote expeditions or at a small, local crag, her style remains consistent and tells genuine stories of the climbing world. Her photos can be seen here.
Shooting climbing is a really rewarding activity. Above are just the most basic starting points to a craft that can be improved upon until the end of the time. Once you start, you’ll probably be hooked. Enjoy it!