How to Take Rock Climbing Pictures

Photos taken during a rock climbing trip can provide you with dramatic memories. See our collection of extreme sports pictures.
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One of the most popular adventure sports out there is rock climbing. It's a great way to experience landscapes and views few other people ever get to see. So, it's no surprise that lots of rock climbers want to capture those rare panoramas on film.

Before you can take rock climbing pictures, though, you have to get some experience with the sport. Probably the easiest and safest way to try it out is at an indoor climbing wall. Lots of athletic centers and gyms have their own walls, and they offer classes on procedures and equipment. Usually, the facility will offer supervised climbs with certified instructors, and climbers can qualify for a belay certification that will allow them to climb without an instructor present. (In rock climbing, belaying involves securing yourself at the end of a rope in order to climb.)

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Once you get comfortable on indoor climbing walls, grab a climbing partner and check out some of the easier established routes. State and national parks publish information about the location and difficulty of their climbing routes. Joshua Tree National Park is a good example, offering up-to-date information about route closures, local wildlife that might be impacted by climbers, and emergency response contacts.

There's a lot of equipment involved in safe rock climbing, including a helmet, special shoes that allow you to get a better grip on the rocks, hand chalk or gloves, carabiners and harnesses, rope, and equipment for belaying and repelling. If you're establishing your own route instead of using pre-placed bolts, you'll also need to bring along an assortment of hand- and foot-holds (called "protection") to place in the rock. In such cases, the lead climber will place the protection, and the second climber will remove it.

Like all adventure sports, rock climbing is dangerous. It takes a lot of practice and concentration to make the experience as safe as possible, so make sure you're completely comfortable on indoor walls and outdoor beginners' routes before trying anything more challenging. And, since this is just a quick introduction to the sport, see How Rock Climbing Works for lots more information.

Once you're an experienced climber, you'll be ready to photograph your adventures. But what's the right equipment for rock climbing photography?

Rock Climbing Photography Equipment

Make sure that you're comfortable with the equipment you'll be carrying.
Make sure that you're comfortable with the equipment you'll be carrying.
Kevin Arnold/Getty Images

There are two important things to consider when you're buying rock climbing equipment: portability and durability. That's especially true for photography equipment, which tends to be cumbersome and easily broken. So, how do you know what will work best out on the rocks? Here are some things to keep in mind when you're shopping:

  • See if the camera is waterproof and guaranteed against a fall. If so, to what depth of water and from what height can it survive?
  • Make sure the camera has a quick start-up. You don't always have the luxury of holding still for a long time when climbing, and you don't want a good photo opportunity to pass you by.
  • Look for storage and carrying straps that are protective but accessible. A single, bulky carrying case will probably be more of a hindrance than a help, and you'll have to dig around for just the right piece of equipment. Instead, consider smaller individual carriers for your camera, lenses, batteries and everything else. There are lots of choices out there, from simple padded cases to hi-tech aluminum alloy boxes.

There are plenty of accessories to consider, too. A tripod can help you get the steadiest shot possible, but will you really use it? Though it's not terribly practical for taking photos mid-climb, you might find it useful once you're at the top. Solar battery chargers are environmentally friendly and cost-effective, and they'll keep your pockets free of extra batteries. A microfiber cloth is useful for keeping your lens clear of dust or moisture, as well as scratch-free.

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And, of course, there's the big question: digital or film? That's largely a matter of personal preference. If you're tight on space, though, considering going digital; not having to carry rolls of film will lighten your load. The other advantage of digital is that you don't have to worry about wasting film in search of the perfect shot. As long as you've got enough memory cards, you can shoot as much as you like.

Now that you've got your gear in order, you're set to head out and try your hand at adventure photography. Check out the next page for tips on how to make your shots extraordinary.

Tips for Taking Rock Climbing Pictures

Giving your images some context -- like a wide background of mountain trees -- can make a rock climbing photo more successful.
Giving your images some context -- like a wide background of mountain trees -- can make a rock climbing photo more successful.
Kevin Arnold/Getty Images

The number one consideration for taking a picture mid-climb is whether or not you can do it safely. Before you even reach for your camera, make sure your footing is secure, your lines are anchored and that those climbing with you are aware you're stopping. Once you've done all that and have a prospective target in mind, you're ready to get your gear in order.

Climber and photographer Alexandre Buisse has a lot of helpful tips. One of the most useful is to prep all of your gear -- like putting in fresh batteries -- inside the camera bag instead of out in the open air. One moment of clumsiness can mean a lost lens cap, memory card or even the camera itself, so try to do everything within a secured space. It's also important to make sure your camera is tethered to you before it leaves its storage case; the camera strap on its own doesn't afford much protection when you're clinging to a rock wall [source: Buisse].

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Now you're ready to actually take a picture. But what kind do you want to take? Are you shooting the landscape below, your fellow climbers, wildlife or the peak above? Whatever your preferred subject matter, remember to keep it interesting. For example, instead of focusing at a person head-on, shoot them from above or below to change the perspective. When photographing another climber, it's also important to give the photo some context; showing the environment in which you're climbing will provide a powerful frame for your shot.

The best rock climbing photography often comes from capturing the unexpected. An intriguing cloud formation around a mountaintop can turn an otherwise mundane view into something mysterious. Watch the light change throughout the climb and see how it affects your surroundings -- dramatic shadows can abruptly transform the landscape. Instead of posed portraits, photograph your fellow climbers in action. The results will go beyond ordinary sight-seeing snapshots.

Feel like you're ready? Then grab your gear and start snapping. Soon you'll have an exciting visual record of your rock climbing adventures.

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Sources

  • American Mountain Guides Association. "Certification Program." (Jan. 18, 2010)http://www.amga.com/programs/
  • Buisse, Alexandre. "The Ultimate Guide to Digital Photography in the Mountains." Climbing Magazine Online. (Jan. 13, 2010)http://www.climbing.com/exclusive/features/the_ultimate_guide_to_digital_photography_in_the_mountains/
  • Hatcher, Bill. "Going Beyond the Iconic Image." Outdoor Photographer. May 1, 2007. (Jan. 16, 2010)http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/how-to/shooting/going-beyond-the-iconic-image.html
  • National Park Service. "Joshua Tree National Park - Rock Climbing." (Jan. 15, 2010)http://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/climbing.htm
  • Outside Online. "How do I keep camera gear safe, but easily accessible, while backpacking?" July 22, 2008. (Jan. 14, 2010)http://outside.away.com/outside/gear/gearguy/200807/20080722.html
  • Outside Online. "Which camera should I take on caving and climbing trips?" Jan. 4, 2008. (Jan. 13, 2010)http://outside.away.com/outside/gear/gearguy/200801/20080104.html
  • Reeves, Mark. "Photography for Climbers." Plas y Brenin. (Jan. 14, 2010)http://www.pyb.co.uk/information/top-tips/top-tips-photography.php
  • Samet, Matt. "Free Hand." Climbing.com. August 2009. (Jan. 15, 2010)http://www.climbing.com/news/justout/august_2009-277/free_hand/