Rock climbing is a visually stunning and breathtaking activity capable of taking both experienced and beginning climbers to incredible places. The aesthetics of these places are one of the reasons most climb anyway.
Oddly enough, however, it is hard to capture those perfect climbing moments. From waking up before the sun is up to nail the magic light to spending hours in front of the screen to perfect the tone and color, a lot usually goes into climbing photography and it usually takes time to perfect taking that ideal shot.
There are, however, some guidelines that you can follow to improve your bouldering photography more quickly. In this article, we have outlined those tips and guidelines.
Top Tips to Help You with Your Climbing Photography
1. Do Your Homework Beforehand
Most shots work out much better if the photographer understands the area, the conditions, and the climb. Thinking ahead about the best position and angle should aid your bouldering photography.
Consider rappelling and capturing some test shots. Also, work through the lens composition and choices and get in position early enough so that you can catch all the action.
2. Choose the Right Position
In climbing photography, the position is everything. Work the angles and consider all options including your distance from the climber and the size of the frame when choosing the position.
Ensure you are in a position where you have a good angle on both the action and the climb. For example, if you are not getting an ideal perspective with your climbing or hiking camera, try to move farther out.
3. Safety is Extremely Important
Climbing safety is critical, but you may need to constantly remind yourself. When you bring photography into the mix, more can easily go wrong. If things go wrong, taking good pictures will be out of the question – it will be impossible.
As a photographer, you must be aware of the safety of the climbers you are photographing. Some people tend to get excited about being photographed and push their limits more than they would otherwise. Be prudent about what you ask or encourage the climber to do. No picture is worth dying for. It is your moral responsibility to keep all your subjects safe.
4. Avoid chopping Off Body Parts
Try to include every part of the body in the picture. A picture missing even a tip of the climbing shoe won’t be as appealing as one that has everything in it.
Also, try to avoid those artsy close-up shots that only include one foot, the hands-on a hold, or only the face. Bouldering photography is a discipline that generally demands context. Hence, try to have everything in your shots.
5. Ask the Climber to Wear Contrasting Colors
Request the climber to wear bright climbing shorts and a climbing helmet – his/her climbing outfit should contrast with the landscape. This will help the climber stand out. If possible, consider bringing a couple of solid-colored shirts with no pattern or writing on them for the climbers to wear.
6. Make Sure the Base Area is Clean
Cleaning the base area will help you avoid having to photoshop out the junk show later. Get rid of distracting climbing backpacks, wandering climbers, random crag dogs, and any other distractions. These can easily make print-worthy pictures less appealing.
7. Your Pictures Shouldn’t Look Too posed
Posing is fine. However, the pictures you take should not look too posed. If you need to, have the climber reach out to an imaginary hold, or put his foot in a place that is not necessarily useful for his actual climb – as long as the place improves your image’s composition and your climber’s body position, it should be ideal.
Consider asking the climber to look farther up and to the right or left. If you are on friendly terms with the climber, request him/her to repeat a couple of these moves.
8. Try to Shoot all Focal Lengths
If you are new to climbing photography, chances are that you are not sure whether to capture close-up, medium, or wide. All these options are ideal.
Ultra-wide shots are great – layers of mountains, the bright sky in the background, and a small climber in the middle of the picture with a body position/shirt that pops – just beautiful. Close-ups usually look cool in the context of a story while the medium images can be used for almost anything.
9. Find Negative Space
Try getting off to the side and shooting a profile to show the climb’s steepness and look for the sky – or dark background if the climber is in the light – ensuring that you are showing all the climber’s limbs.
Use the negative space to balance your photograph, to keep the photo from becoming cluttered, and to detract or add to the climber’s virtual weight. To figure out what works, play around with the subject-to-background ratios and compositions.
10. Avoid Butt Shots
As it turns out, a butt, irrespective of how artfully composed, is about the worst that any photographer can do. It does not do the climber or the route any justice. If you are belaying, using your brake hand to fiddle with the camera is never a safe move.
If it is just you and your friend going for a climb, you should focus on climbing or belaying. If, however, you need a great photo, consider bringing a third person to take the photos. When shooting from the ground, be sure to get in close to the action. Alternatively, try to get farther back and if possible, consider hiking up somewhere that is at least level with the climber if you are not hoping on a climbing rope.
11. Bright Sunlight is Not Good
Bright sunlight creates harsh shadows. The shadows usually print terribly, aren’t nice to look at, and dissect the composition badly.
If you determine that it is impossible to shoot with the route being completely in the shade, the best days to take your pictures should be the ones that are overcast with a thin cloud layer – this will ensure that the light is evenly dispersed.
12. Shoot the Shake-Outs
Catching the climber’s try-hard face on your camera can be priceless. However, you shouldn’t fixate on this crux.
Try to shoot when the climber is resting or chalking up. You will get to capture the confidence and quietness of the climber because things will be slowing down. Rest holds also allow the climber to hang back from the wall – this opens the shot with negative space.
13. Photograph Fully Outstretched Body Positions
In both climbing and bouldering photography, the best climber positions are the ones that let you see all or most of the limbs, eyes looking up, dynamic moves, helmets, etc. If the photo viewer can see the climber’s whole body, and expressions, he/she should be able to relate to the climbing experience more compared to when he/she only views part of the climber’s body.
14. Master the Ropework
One of the best ways to improve climbing photography is to get on the rope. One caveat, however, is that shooting from directly above the climber generally turns him/her into a set of shoulders with no legs or makes the climber look like he is crawling.
To capture a good photo, change the vantage slightly. An angle just slightly above and to the side should make it possible for you to reframe the climber’s four limbs, plus the climber’s face.
15. Take as Many Pictures as Possible
As noted earlier, the climber’s body position is everything. However, waiting for the crux’s exact moment is a good way to miss it. Instead of missing one perfect photo, take hundreds of pictures – this is essentially one of the best moves for a starting photographer.
If you can, fill your memory card every day. Experimenting with everything you can think of is the best way to start determining what works out and what does not work every time you get the camera out of your camera backpack.
Globo Surf Overview
Climbing and photography take both effort and time to master. The best climbing photographers are generally passionate about climbing. Hence, if you enjoy different types of climbing, becoming good at both climbing and bouldering photography should be easy for you.
While the above tips are supposed to help you become a better photographer, they won’t work if you fail to practice. Getting out with your camera regularly is the best way to improve your photography skills.