Climbing Photography: Action and Landscape

Alex Kahn of AS Inspired Media walks us through her best practices & tips for climbing photography to help you capture those moments as your climbing partners battle with the rock in part 3 & 4 of this series!

With climbing, our greatest obstacle is always going to be light. Often times boulders are in forests and sunny days provide large streaks across the boulders and ruin the chance for a good image. The optimal condition for variety of climbing photography is a cloudy day- especially for shooting the action of the climb itself. There are three types of climbing photos- action, landscape and posed. With action images, you have more choices with your body position as the photographer and if the boulder is in the shade, you can at least get closer to the boulder or shoot top down to compensate for sun in the surrounding area. Shooting landscapes requires much more patience. You are at the mercy of the light and weather.  Posed imagery, something I try to avoid at all times, is when you have the climber do a certain move or dramatize a certain move for the sake of the shot. Often times flashes are used for this style of imagery. It is most convenient at night but in my opinion, it is always very clear which images are posed and which are authentic. I also believe that if you are going to do a posed image, you should focus on the landscape of the entire image. I tend to used posed images if I am trying to highlight the commercial product in the photo- such as the crash pad or the clothing (as seen below).

A lot of being a good climbing photographer has to do with constantly moving your positioning- especially with shooting bouldering. You should find out what the beta is prior to shooting to look at what angles make the most sense to shoot from. It’s never exciting to shoot someone’s back or butt, so knowing the beta prior is essential. Ask if there are dynamic moves, and where, ask where the fall zones are, what is the crux, where is the climber’s crux, does their body swing out. The more you know prior to starting the better so you can start thinking. Then as the climber attempts the boulder, constantly be testing new angles, different crops, and different focal lengths so you have variety to your imagery.

In all photography situations- light is the most difficult thing to manage. It’s even harder with climbing because we cannot move where the climbs are or where the climbers are climbing. The best we can hope for is even light, interesting light, and a climber who will climb in good light for photos 🙂

You cannot always control the lighting situation, sometimes you just have to work with it and not fight it. A way to make it not so attention focused would be to use a lower f stop so the blown out area isn’t in as great of focus as your subject.


Here are some examples of changing your orientation to make for a more interesting image, as well as playing with f stop and angles.

Part 4: Action Climbing Photography

Like I previously mentioned, in order to capture the best action of the image, you need to know where the climber will be going, looking, jumping, cutting feet, starting and topping out. You need to know the potential falls as well. Once you understand the beta, you can begin looking for the best place to position yourself. Maybe this is from on top of the boulder, maybe it’s from a tree, maybe it’s another boulder, maybe it’s with your face pressed against the wall. Try different angles and photograph the rock without the climber in it, trying to envision what COULD look cool.

In order to capture the authentic action of an image and draw the attention of the photo onto the subject, I always shoot in manual with a low f stop and a high shutter speed. I take a ton of photos because I am going for facial expression, hand movement, body movement, etc. There are so many options to focus on and so many angles and focal lengths in which to take the photo- so have fun and start shooting the real action!

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