1. Get off the Ground and Go for Perspective
This is probably the simplest step to improve your climbing photography. butt shots are simply unflattering so get off the ground! If you want to get that killer shot you are going to have to start moving around. Do whatever it takes to get that unique angle on a climb, start jugging up a rope, climb a nearby tree or hike up a ridge. Youʼre looking for a shot that gives a sense of height and adds drama, you wont get this from the ground. Now that you are off the ground get to the side.
Very often shots from straight above a climber end up making the climber look like he is crawling on the pavement. To avoid this rather rap down on a line next to his so you can get a more side on perspective
whilst still shooting from above.
Try mixing it up a little. Once you have nailed one angle try something else, experiment and shoot different sizes for a different feel to you shots. Including a horizon line can be useful to show the steepness of the climb.
2. Rule of Thirds
Its amazing how many shots i see everyday that are centre framed, this is very useful when aiming your cross-hairs on another level of Doom 2, but is pretty useless in most photography. The simplest rule to follow when framing your subject is the rule of thirds. You can find plenty of information for this online by simply Googling ʻRule of Thirdsʼ but in simple terms divide your frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally and place your
subject at the junction of one of these lines, top thirds work particularly well for climbing. For people who find all of this talk about imaginary lines and thirds confusing, some cameraʼs nowadays even have and option where you can see the rule of thirds lines in your viewfinder, what could be easier.
Remember however that this is not the the hard and fast rule for all framing, but i would suggest learn the rule and why you use before you break it.
3. Light and Colour
Pay attention to the light. The best time shoot is early morning or evening. This is when the light is softer and casts gentler shadows. Try and get your climber to climb at these times as this is when youʼll capture the nicest light, unlike midday when the light is particularly harsh and unflattering especially on the face. Overcast days can be good as the light is a lot softer and easier to handle, this is the same for shooting in the shade.
When shooting in these flatter light conditions your shots can look a little, well, flat. So to spruce things up a bit, get your climber to wear a bright t-shirt or find some other ways to include some colour.
A good way to include colour in your shots is to add some blue sky or foliage. Sky can sometimes be tricky as it usually a lot brighter than the rock. To get the exposure right, look into getting some Neutral Density Graduated filters also known as ND Grads. With these you can bring down the exposure of the sky whilst keeping the same level for the rock balancing out your whole photo. The other option is to brighten up your subject to match the background by using either a bounce or a flash, look it up if you donʼt know how to use these.
4. Get the Action, Get the Climber
Climbing is about movement and action. A shot where both the climbers feet and hands are squarely latched onto holds are pretty dull and boring. Most cameraʼs have some sort of motor drive function where you can rapidly fire away whilst a climber is doing a move and then choose that perfect action moment later back at your computer.
Now that you are focussed on the action donʼt forget that you want to see whoʼs
climbing. Whatʼs the point of having a brilliant action shot of Chris Sharma if you donʼt see his face … ʻthatʼs Sharmaʼs back I promise!ʼ Before you spend all your energy rigging for the crux of a climb check with the climber which way they will be facing during the key moves and position yourself in such a way that they will be facing you during those moves. In a good climbing photo you can see a climbers face, their expression, and see their foot and hand placements.
5. Learn from Others
One of the quickest ways to improve your photography is to learn from the experience of others. Study the shots you like in magazines, and replicate this in your own shots, then use what youʼve learnt to develop your own style of photography.
There are also a number of online communities where photographers can submit their photoʼs to be critted by other members of the community. Youʼll learn very quickly what people like and donʼt like and will gain a huge amount of help in judging the technical and artistic aspect of your shots.
6. Be Sharp!
Soft or blurry shots just donʼt cut it. There are a number of factors which may lead to your shots being soft. Hold your camera steady and shoot at high shutter speed, around 1/250th of a second to avoid blur. Good lenses also make huge difference in the quality and sharpness of your shots. If you have the budget its definitely worth it to splash out on high quality Canon or Nikon lenses as opposed to the cheaper Tamron or Sigma lenses. If you cant afford the expensive Canon or Nikon zooms, look into getting prime lenses will not only be sharper but will also force you to start thinking about how to use your lenses properly.
Be careful when using your autofocus, the most important part to be in focus is either the climbers face or eyes depending on the size of your shot. Unless you are purposely focusing on something else in a creative shot, out of focus eyes or face just donʼt cut it.
7. Be Tech Savvy
If you really want to get creative with your gear its vital that you know everything about using you camera to its full potential. Read the manual, watch tutorials online, and read photography books. If you understand and know how to use all the features of your camera youʼll know how to create the shots you want. You donʼt want to get home to find that you shot your killer climbing shot with an ISO of 1600 and shutter speed of 1/15.
8. Background Basics
The background is a critical element in making a good image. Get your pals to clear their junk from the shot, make sure the spotters are actually spotting, your belayer is paying attention and not lighting a cigarette. also donʼt include background unless you think its adding to your shot.
9. The Digital Darkroom
Learn about using your digital post processing software effectively. There is a huge amount of information out there on setting up your post processing work-flow from colour calibration to colour space conversions. Post processing is huge part of digital photography too much to be discussed here. People who say they donʼt want to learn how to post process because its cheating are the same as film photographers saying they refuse to learn how to work in the darkroom because its cheating.
For digital photography, your computer with Photoshop is your darkroom! If you do a lot of colour work on your shots make sure your monitors are calibrated, if they are not calibrated all your work is pretty much guess work and will more than likely look pretty horrible on other peopleʼs computer screens.
10. A Final Word
Once your photoʼs start improving the demand for them will increase too. Here is where things can get tricky. Magazineʼs and websites will want your images as it makes their business look better but are they willing to give you something in return? At some stage you will have to realize that if your photoʼs are in demand its time to start charging for them otherwise people are going to use your creativity to improve their business at no cost.
Lastly get out there, experiment and shoot. Make mistakes and learn from them, the more you practice the better youʼll get so just keep shooting.
About the author:
Micky is a free lance sound engineer by trade and has worked all over the world.
The last couple of years he has been focusing primarily on professional photography and climbing.
His images frequently grace the home page of Climb ZA.
Micky was last spotted at Cape Town International Airport clutching a a ticket to Spain – have a great holiday Micky!!!
Be sure to check out his website: mickywiswedel.com
You can read a 2008 interview with Micky here.