I’ve just done a piece for UKC on my thoughts on climbing photography called “Bum Shots & Shaky Vids” that people may find interesting. I wrote exstended captions for the images used, but they didn’t make it to the page, so posting them here, as they give a bit more context to what I was writing about.
Nick Lewis working his magic somewhere on Fitzroy on a 14 hour descent.
This picture was taken on the Super Couloir on a ‘near’ Winter ascent (we climbed about 45 or so pitches on the 1700 metre face before getting caught in a terrible storm) and shows Nick Lewis sorting out some rap tat. Making a compelling image from some guy fiddling with some cord may sound tough, but when you’re three days in with zero sleep, and genuinely think you may day, just getting your camera out is a story in itself. This is the number one lesson I’ve learnt in taking climbing pictures, the less you feel able to take a photo the more greater the urgency that you do so.
Ian Parnell trying to find the funny side of bottomless powder on the winter approach to Fitzroy.
Another shot from another trip, this time of Ian Parnell. One problem with capturing people is that more often than not when the camera is produced and a ‘camera face’ reflects back at the photographer (cheesy grin, thumbs up, scared face etc). The art of trying to really capture the essence of that person in that moment (up to your knees in snow with a huge sack on for example) you need to catch them off guard. Taking a shot without them being aware of it can work, but most peol, and pretending to take a photo, then taking the real one a second or two later (when their face relaxes to normal) can work well. By far the best method of all is to take photos without the camera held up to your face (sort of doc style, where you’re filming without making it look like you are).
Esmond Tressider learning the ropes on an A4 hooking pitch on Zenyatta Mandatta, El Cap
Capturing the moment is one thing (this really comes down to having a good system in place for being able to get at your camera), but also being aware of when that ‘moment’ may come is probably even more important. If you lead a pitch and come to a crux move you’re handed a great shot on a plate (especially on a traverse), as you know that you’re second will struggle at the exact spot. With modern cameras you can easily shoot several shots at the same time, nailing that exact moment, that expression, body movement, focus that makes a great shot.
Worn out cams on the Reticent Wall, El Cap
Climbing takes places on a broad canvas, very often an epic one, and so we tend to want to capture the experience in the same way, which invariably we fail to do. Instead try and set your nose to the stone, get in close, look for the detail, the needles in the haystack of the day. This little details (bloody fingertips, the stem of a broken wire, the damaged fibres of a rope) can often tell the viewer more about that day than any landscape.
Aleks Gamme jugging fixed lines on the Troll Wall in winter
Personally I tend never take landscape photos without a person in there to give it some context, and tend to find such shots a bit dull. Maybe I like stories, and no mountain really has a story to tell (but many to give), while a pin prick of a climber, or some dash of colour on the rock always asks the viewer to imagine themselves there.
Matt Dickinson on Tangerine Trip during a one day ascent (day three)
I love to try and fill in the picture, and capture what it is that I see in that moment, not a finally composed shot of a grinning partner, but one where things are happening, rushed, not comforting to the norms of good photography, feet in view, and ideally blurred. Again this photo asks the viewer to take a moment to look and figure out what is going on here (notice haul bag hanging far below).
Mind your step - Novo base camp Antarctica
Humour is always a winner in photography, and trying to mix scary shots, thought provoking shots and funny shots in any presentation always works well, as each resets the mind of the viewer before the next one.