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Rock Climbing Photography 101

Lesson 15 from: Advanced Lighting for Adventure Photography

Michael Clark

Rock Climbing Photography 101

Lesson 15 from: Advanced Lighting for Adventure Photography

Michael Clark

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Lesson Info

15. Rock Climbing Photography 101


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

Rock Climbing Photography 101

And I will just say, rock climbing is one of those sports that's very tough to photograph if you're not a climber, because to know what is the core, I mean you can shot if you're not a climber, but if a climber looks at your photograph they may be like eh, that's not really working because of the body position of the climber itself. So, when you're shooting rock climbing photography what you're looking for is a, if it's a figure in a landscape, a dramatic landscape. This is Chris Sharma, whose one of the most famous climbers on the Earth. Still one of the best climbers on the planet. This is in Majorca, Spain. He is not wearing a rope or a harness. It's called deep water soloing, or the European term is called Psicobloc. Meaning psycho and block is the term for bouldering without a rope. So, it's not psychotic, he's like 70 feet off the water. So if he falls he's going in the ocean. And right now there's 10 foot waves rolling in. So we're like you know maybe as far away as I am from th...

e TV to each other in this scenario. I'm hanging off a rope off the top of the cliff. It's like 100 feet tall, and we can barely talk to each other cause it's so loud with the ocean waves crashing in the bottom of the cave. So yeah, if he falls he's taking a 70 footer into the ocean. There's no lighting in this image. Just telling you the story cause it was fun. And he hung on that hold. So he climbed up, this is like a new 5. climb he put up 10 years ago or more. He's so good, I mean it's amazing to watch him do his thing. He climbed up a route, got to this hold. This is the biggest hold on the entire climb, and the crux, or one of the cruxes is right here. He hung on that hold for 20 minutes. And he climbed down, then back up to it, then up, then down, then back, and then he climbed to the top, and then he repelled back in, took off his harness, climbed back up and we did it again. And so, when you have athletes of that caliber, I mean it doesn't get any better than having Chris Sharma on a shoot. And he's a super cool guy, good friend. But I'm looking for body tension, and there's a hold just to get to this where he has to cut his feet right when he gets that hold and that's what's going on in this picture. So it makes it fairly dynamic. Here I'm watching the climber and typically I don't stop a climber and just have them pose. I have them climb through a series of movements. And I don't necessarily wanna tell them what to do. Though as you'll see in some of these videos I'm asking Kai to do something to make it a little bit more dramatic. Which they technically probably wouldn't do on the climb, but in this scenario you'll see also that I've left more space below him than I have above him. Because rock climbing's all about showing the exposure that these climbers are in. Or it's about showing the stress they're under. You want some intense facial expressions. If you put a climber on something that's right at their limit, and where the bolts are spaced out pretty far, often times you'll get some exciting facial expressions where they're a little scared. It's not like I'm forcing them to do that. It's like hey do you wanna get on this thing? And typically they do, because they're safe. He has a rope on, he's not going anywhere. I will say this, out of all the adventure sports I photograph by far, like by a huge margin, rock climbing is one of the safest sports I photograph. Base jumping and wing suit flying is a whole different can of worms. So, you can really work with the athlete. And typically, if you're working with, this is Jacopo from Italy. He's an Italian mountain guide. This is Devil's Tower, Wyoming. He's super comfortable. This is this is a 5.10 climb, so I could climb this climb. It's not that difficult, but it's super striking. It's like the elevator shaft. So when somebody, especially a non-climber sees this image they see that elevator shaft and it gives them the sense of verticality. And that's what I'm trying to show. So just so you get a sense of this. This is an actual move I did not tell him to do this or instruct him in any way. You pick climbs where you watch the climber climb the route and then you see those moments where it's the most high action. Or you're looking for the way the body tension is on the climber. And basically, I'm looking for when they're engaging their core, because if they're engaging their core that means they're all points on tensioned or three points on going for the next hold. And until you look at a bunch of rock climbing pictures it's difficult to know when that moment actually is. So if you are shooting rock climbing I highly recommend shooting a lot. Let's say it's a full rope length. It's a 60 meter rope, which means it's a 200 foot climb, 195 feet. On a one climb from the ground shooting from the side I might shoot two, three hundred pictures. So you can tell I'm motor driving in some places or really shooting a lot, because I may or may not see it while it's happening, but after the fact I can see it in the images when I catch that moment with body tension. So just to give you an idea. This is another picture, this is Red Rocks. Good friend of mine, Stephanie Forte. She was one of the strongest women in the world in terms of rock climbing. She's an amazing climber. And the shadow matched up perfectly, and I moved my position. I could stand, I had to do a little climbing to get up on an adjacent boulder, but not too much to get this shot. Sometimes getting on a rope is a really good way to go, cause it gives you a totally different perspective. This is in Potrero Chico in Mexico about a thousand feet off the ground. We'd been working all day to get into this position. It's a huge big wall. It's probably 1,600 feet tall I think. And I put her on this route specifically, because she told me it scared her. And she had done the route so it wasn't like she hadn't done it. She's got a rope on, it's hard to see, it's actually coming from behind her. And you can see those holds. She's at full extension on a wall that's over hanging. So there's huge potential. And that last draw is like 10 or 12 feet below her so if she falls off she's going for a 25 footer. She's going for a big fall. Sizable fall at least. In climbing parlance, that'd be a pretty exciting fall. Because it happens like that and that, and the next thing you know you're hanging from the rope. So, I saw the shadow coming up behind her. I mean look at the body position, you can just feel your body reaching like that. And I made her do it five times in a row as fast as she could. Like go up, grab the hold, match, come back down. Go up, grab the hold, match, come down. And after that she was not scared of this move anymore, but also we got some really cool pictures with that shadow. So, none of these are lite wit artificial lighting, but just to give you an idea of what we're looking for in climbing. Here's this picture you've seen before. He's going for another hold here. He just chalked up. So it's almost a rest position. But with that composition it seems to work really well. He's upside down on an overhanging wall so his core is pretty much always engaged at this point. Is there a few more here? So here's another arete. So I was talking about aretes sticking out from a cliff being easier to light. I don't think this image is as successful as what we created at Smith Rock. But it was a test period where I was testing out lights. And this was actually shot with a Hasselblad not with the HS system. Doesn't really matter you still get the same result. So here's an example of what I'm going for with emotion. This guys screaming not because the move is hard, but because the hold is incredibly sharp that he's pulling on. So sometimes you have to pull on what we call razor blades, and it's cutting into your skin. And that's why if you ever meet a really top climber and you shake their hand it's like a leather palm. They've got so much callus built up on their skin that they can pull on a razor blade. And this happened on the shoot, Kai pulled up on something and I grabbed it and tried pulling up on it and it cut my finger. And I was like dude I haven't been climbing that much. So a little bit embarrassing, but hey that's the way it is. But when you get that emotion that can make or break the image. So, just to give you a little insight into climbing photography. Talk about shooting a climber on a wall. These are cracks. So he's placing gear in the crack as he goes up. But if I was gonna light this, I would light it with maybe a streak coming down across or from above. I'd have to play some games to do that. Here's another one. This is the same area, same guy. And being close to the rock shooting straight down, being able to see their face, it feels like you're there really close to them, with them on the wall. So it gives you like an intimate sense of what it is to be a rock climber. Bouldering, if you're starting out and you're not a rock climber, bouldering is a really good way of shooting rock climbing where you don't have to get on a rope. Bouldering is basically climbing on boulders close to the ground. You take out what are called crash pads. So if you fall off you land on the pad which is like a stiff mattress. And you don't crack your head open hopefully. But you know I'm standing on an adjacent boulder so it's not too hard to go out and shoot bouldering. You're not really showing exposure unless it's a giant boulder, and then it's pretty exciting. But you get the movement of the climber, and be able to work with that. Let's see if there's another on here. Ice climbing is the same thing as rock climbing. In this picture she's doing what's called mixed climbing. This is Dawn again that I photographed earlier. And you see the chain, so this route is bolted. She's coming up to actually an ice flow that's like this over here that's hanging down. And then she's gonna move from the rock onto the ice to finish out the rest of the climb on the ice. So it's kind of the similar principles. And I'm hanging right next to her. The other thing to know is that I'm working with the climbers. They understand we're here to create pictures. They're not here to do the send. If they are then I'm gonna be off on a different route and I'm not gonna talk to them. I'm gonna let them do their thing and send the route. Cause the whole point here is to climb it without hanging on the rope of these climbs. At least free climbing. And here's an example, this is technically I'm shooting from below the climber. And it only works cause you can see her face and it's somewhat interesting. Typically I would avoid the butt shot. Basically, standing on the ground shooting up at the climber like this. That is usually the worst angle you can come up with. Unless you can create something really creative, like looking through a carabiner or something dynamic that actually helps it work. So, details are also really good. This is Curt Smith who's a very famous climber in Yosemite on tiny crystals in Tuolumne Meadows. It's granite so there are these little quartz crystals that he's climbing on. I mean, he's pretty much hanging on nothing. At this point he's already 10 or 15 feet off the ground. And I just zoomed in on his hands because the hands of climbers, the hands of athletes in general are fascinating sometimes. Whether a weight lifter or what their hands look like when they do all these sports or after they do these sports. It's just like a ballerina's feet or a gymnast's feet can be really torn up. Knuckles are bent. So just to give you an idea of options with climbing.

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