Being a Photographer and a Climber

A lucky shot of the shot.  

A lucky shot of the shot.  

My two favourite things to do are climbing and photography so when I get the opportunity to do both I find that hard to pass up. The challenge with doing both is that cameras are chunky and fragile, relative to the activity. The big issue is that I find it hard to dedicate myself to only one of the two activities while out in adventure land. If there is climbing to be done I can't just sit back and watch the entire time. With climbing there's always epic opportunities for great adventure photography, here is my dilemma. I was recently propositioned to do some ice climbing with my climbing partner so I thought I'd bring along my new Canon 6D which I am loving, by the way. The great thing about this climbing partner is that he is also a photo lover and has an affinity for a great action shot, especially if he is in it so I wasn't too worried that he would get annoyed with me snapping copious amount of photos, instead of focusing on a dilligent belay... joking. Overall the day went great, sketchy early season ice combined with some solid photos made for an epic adventure and great day out and although the the day was a success from an adventure standpoint the logistics of shooting while climbing had its challenges. In saying that I thought I would put together a list of dos and do nots in regards to shooting while climbing. 

Leading lines in a beautiful canyon

Leading lines in a beautiful canyon

Now when I say while climbing I have to be clear, I am not literally snapping photos and composing while ascending ice or rock. I do my climbing with the camera away and when the opportunity presents itself I pull out the DSLR and shoot. This opportunity comes more often when there are more than two people climbing because as it allows me the freedom to just shoot while the other climbers become the subjects. One other tool I did use as a dedicated camera this trip was my GoPro, which I used to take photos at 5 second intervals rather than shoot a bunch of video that will become more of a novelty than anything useful to my photography. The GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition shoots high-res images at 12 mega pixels, and these images, although jpeg, have impressed the heck out of me. In the works is a post on how I have put the GoPro to use for me and my photography, so heads up for that. 

The GoPro has a great way of capturing the moments between while climbing

The GoPro has a great way of capturing the moments between while climbing

The Dos and the Do nots of climbing and shooting. 

  • Do: Ask you climbing partner if it's cool to slow things up to shoot

Realistically no one is paying me to take these photos, I am simply trying to build a adventure photography portfolio and capture some epics. I ask and let my climbing partners in on my intentions. "Are you ok with me slowing things up today to take some photos. ok awesome, this is what I would like to shoot". I find if I let people know what my intentions are they will not only be ok with it but they will instantly become part of the project and will help me to get the shots I am looking for. 

The contrast in the canyon made for great black & white images.  

The contrast in the canyon made for great black & white images.  

  • Do Not : Pull out the camera at Inapropriate times. 

I say this because I am that guy. I really try not to be but there has been a couple of times when I was snapping when I should have been taking up slack or when I was standing on an ice bridge with 6 people when I should have been moving quickly across it. I know, my bad. I really try to be aware of the situation but sometimes I see an interesting shot coming and I reach for the camera. This is where I hope the GoPro can pick up a little of the slack. I know it's not as high quality of an image as my SLR but often I am using these GoPro images for social media promotion so in that case the GoPro will work.  put the GoPro on your head and point it in the general direction of the action and say a prayer. 

  •  Do: pack light  

Climbing is already a gear intesive sport, except for maybe bouldering. Make sure that your camera gear doesn't end up taking up too much space in your pack or weighing you down. It's much more important to leave the telephoto at home than your harness. This trip out I took one camera body and two small lenses and in the end I could have left the second lens at home. For almost the entire day I used the Canon 6D and the 17-40 f4. This combination made for some epic wide angle shots that displayed the climber and the terrain well.  

  • Do not: put shooting before safety 

One area that I always have to be considerate of while shooting climbing is the safety of myself and others around me. This comes back to knowing when to put the camera away but also applys to remaining conscious of the rules of safe climbing. Things as routine as double checking knots can easily become forgotten when I bring the camera along simply because I am multitasking cognitively in a situation where I should be strictly focussed on one very important task. My recommendations would be that if you haven't mastered both climbing safety skills and the ins and outs of your camera, stick to either one or the two. 

  • Do: shoot wide  

I thought I would leave this post with my favourite tip on shooting climbing, shoot wide for dramatic effect. One of the things people can appreciate about climbing is that people climb up tall rock faces that are often exposed and look incredible. By shooting wide we as photographers can show our viewers just how epic climbing is. Close up shots that capture emotion are great but I really enjoy looking at a massive rock faces that has a small speckle of a persons ascending them. It always leaves me in awe and inspires me to want to get out and challenge myself in all realms of life. Shooting wide is essential to climbing photography so I suggest leaving the telephoto at home and bringing the wide angle lens along. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed with your results. 

Shooting wide has a way of capturing the scene so well while climbing

Shooting wide has a way of capturing the scene so well while climbing

All in all this trip out was a huge success, we climbed some sketchy thin ice, had a great adventure walking the canyon, and I managed to come home with some beautiful shots on the card. One thing I try to keep in mind, whether it's photography or climbing, is that an every trip out is an opportunity to learn. Play safe out there folks and have fun!