Skip to main content

Pre-production and Location Scouting for Rock Climbing

Lesson 13 from: Advanced Lighting for Adventure Photography

Michael Clark

Pre-production and Location Scouting for Rock Climbing

Lesson 13 from: Advanced Lighting for Adventure Photography

Michael Clark

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

13. Pre-production and Location Scouting for Rock Climbing


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Evolution with Lighting


Why Use Artificial Lighting?


Pre-Production and Pre-Visualizing


Equipment: Overview of the Gear


Equipment: Selecting the Right Gear


Strobes vs. Speedlights


Lighting 101: Flash Sync Speeds


Lesson Info

Pre-production and Location Scouting for Rock Climbing

Rock climbing shoot at Smith Rock we did three or four weeks ago. There was a lot of thought-- So there's all kinds of preproduction meetings that happen between the folks at Red Bull Photography, the people at CreativeLive, myself. I tend to like to challenge myself, so I didn't pick a location that was close to my house, which may or may not have been smart, but it was fun. It made it harder on me, but... I shot climbing for so long, and I still shoot a lot of rock climbing and mountaineering and stuff. I'd never been to Smith Rocks before. I'd never been to Bend, Oregon but I knew it was a cool place. I have some good friends that live there. And I thought, you know it'd be fun to go somewhere new and exciting. And I knew Smith Rock was there, it's one of the few crags in the United States that I hadn't been to. And I knew of this climb, and I knew of a few other climbs that would probably work, so I did some research before our conference calls, and looked at a whole bunch of topo ...

maps of the area and I had the climbing guidebook for the area so I could look at the... the guidebooks typically show you the rock face, and they actually show you the angle of the ground, so I could see if the ground went up next to certain climbs which means I could stand on the ground and shoot across, or actually place my light on the ground. For this climb, Chain Reaction, which is a difficult climb but it's not by any means the most difficult climb at Smith Rocks. It's an arête that sticks out as you can see. It's a very, super iconic climb. It's been on the picture of Time Magazine and Life Magazine and Newsweek, you name it this climb has been shot for 25 years. It was put up quite a while ago in the 80s. Smith Rock is also a climbing area that has had in the past, some of the hardest climbs in the world, and it still has some of the hardest climbs in the world there. Very famous among climbers. I knew at least then-- typically when I'm shooting climbing one of the things I've found with the lighting is having some part of the cliff that sticks out, as a protrusion, is easier to light than a flat wall. Cause if it's a flat wall... If you stick your flash on the ground, and let's say the wall's over here, you're just going to get the light, we call it a "butt shot" in climbing, cause it's just gonna to be this weird shadow that's on the cliff from behind the climber, and it looks very odd. For me, I prefer to get the light either on par with the climber or above the climber, which, if we're on a flat wall, means I need to put up a climber holding my strobe so it streaks across like that ice climbing image across the climb, which is still kind of the "alien abduction" lighting, but it's a little more natural than being on the ground and putting some strange light on the flat wall. So that's why I picked this climb, because I knew we could light it in a certain way, and I knew the flash could be on the ground and we wouldn't have to play too many games. As you can tell, I'd never been to the area, but I'd done so much research online that I knew we could pull it off. I knew that we could position the flash within 60 to 100 feet, and I had a feeling there were other climbs nearby that we could do similar stuff with. And we had a climber in Kai and Ian, who could cruise this thing all day long without even... They could do this climb blindfolded cause they're so strong. This climb is technically 5.12c, I won't go into all the how that is established, but the hardest climbs in the world are like 5.15a, so that's 12 levels higher than this climb. Even thought I probably couldn't climb that climb, for them this is like walking down the sidewalk, which is key. In all of this adventure sports stuff, the athlete is such a huge part of the image, and what they can do is... I can basically throw a stick at the cliff and they can probably climb it, if they're that strong, which is great for me cause it gives me all options. If you're using a climber who's not as strong, you may only be able to do this route, that route, and that route, which really limits your options. Also, look at the background. It's a beautiful area. It's super jagged as you'll see in the video we're going to show in just a bit, so it's a stunning background. Whenever I'm shooting these adventure sports, the location is as important as the athlete. In some ways, photographically it's almost more important than the athlete depending on what you're shooting. If you have a world-class wingsuit flyer, than they're definitely the important part of that image, but if I'm going to create a figure in a landscape, than that landscape better be epic. There's a lot of thought that went into the location, seeing the background, and plus I'd seen hundreds of pictures of this, so it's like taking a classic image and changing the lighting and crafting it in a totaling different way to create a new, classic version of that image. Which is exciting. The funny thing is when I show this to Red Bull and CreativeLive they googled it and two pictures came up and they were like, "Oh yeah. That's great. We love that." When you've picked the amazing landscape, you get not only your client excited, yourself excited, but also the athlete excited. Kai had never been here. He's a gym climber who's been on the world cup circuit, climbing plastic, he's climbed outdoors, and has climbed very hard outdoors, but he had never been to Smith Rock. So for him, he got to come experience a place he's always wanted to climb at, and we not only brought him here, but he got to get on one of the most classic routes ever. Even though it's way below his level, in terms of his hardest climbs, it's still fun to get on the old classics. I mean, just look at the thing, it looks... so cool.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Reference Guide
Chapter 2: ABCs of Lighting by Michael Clark
Advanced Lighting Keynote PDF - Day 1
Advanced Lighting Keynote PDF - Day 2

Ratings and Reviews

norah levine

This is a course that I could watch repeatedly and be able to learn something new each time. Michael is a truly an expert in his field and is so generous with his knowledge. This course really breaks down the process of adventure photography, but it's more than that. I don't think you need to even be an adventure sports photographer to get tons out of this course. Michael is really good at breaking down some very complicated technology. Thank you!

a Creativelive Student

Great course that combines the technical aspects of shooting with light in different situations, with the art of making a great image of athletes. Michael is a great teacher and I'm sure his lessons will continue to help guide over and over again!

Jeph DeLorme

Great class with dozens of tips, ideas and lighting strategies for tough outdoor lighting challenges. Advanced class taught in a way that allows even a beginner to get a handle on lighting tough situations. The location videos provide real life examples that make this class a definite must have for my Creative Live collection. Thank you Michael Clark and Creative Live! Jeph DeLorme

Student Work