Climbing Photography Series with Alex Kahn

Climbing & photography have a very symbiotic relationship. Both require considerable knowledge of the equipment you use, constant training & practice and the ability to dial in subtle changes to achieve the end result. 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.

A quick note & preface about Alex Kahn for those who may not be familiar with her – She is professional photographer, videographer and climber based out of Boulder, Colorado.  She is an Asana, Evolv & Prana athlete. Her Photography & Videography work spans working with & capturing some of the strongest climbers around the world such as  Chris Sharma, Nina Williams, Carlos Traversi, Paul Robinson, Ashima Shirashi, Daniel Woods & many others.

Alex – I will preface with saying, I did not go to school for photography. I always had the creative eye and could envision what I wanted to do with my camera, but didn’t always know what settings to put it on in order to give that affect for quite some time. I asked for advice, had lots of trials and errors, and took thousands of photos to learn what I know today. I will not claim to be an expert in all the capabilities of your camera and I will be the first to say that I am not a technical photographer. I shoot fast, I move often, I adapt, I try to capture a moment in time.

This series was created for me to teach you what I know and to show you how to look at the world with a more unique view. With creativity and a camera, everywhere you go and everything you see can be interesting and worthy of a photograph.

Disclosure – I will not be going into what each button does on your camera, this series is intended for people who are already familiar with taking pictures and have experimented with manual settings, but desire to bump up their imagery to the next level.

Climbing Photography Part 1: Basics Refresher

As a little refresher course for those breaking into the world of manual settings I will break a few things down in layman’s terms.

ISO– increases or decreases the  brightness in a photo, the higher the number the brighter it will be (useful in lower light situations) but remember that the higher the number, the grainier (or more noisy) the photo will become- which you don’t want. Typically the nicer the camera, the higher the number you can work with before you see noise.

FSTOP– the focal length or aperture. The higher the number, the more of your photo will be in focus. Higher numbers are useful for objects far away or for landscapes, while portraits, still life images, and photos meant to highlight a specific subject are typically shot with a lower f stop. The lower f-stops will definitely make the image look more Artistic giving you an effect your phone or a cheap point and shoot camera is not capable of achieving.  Note – that the lower the number, the harder it is to achieve perfect focus. Also, the lower the f-stop, the more light is let in to the camera.

Shutter Speed– this setting deals with motion. The higher the number, the faster the subject can be moving while still in focus.

All three of these pieces work together and will have to be played with constantly as light around you changes. Always look at the photos you are taking, look at the metering provided in the camera, and constantly adjust as needed.

Climbing Photography Part 2: Applying skills

With this image, the woman is jumping in the air requiring a fast shutter speed, there is also no background to worry about and I wanted to guarantee perfect focus so I had to increase my f stop- this made me also have to increase my ISO because increasing the other two numbers would have made the image darker.


With the great speed this skateboarder was coming at me in the natural skating of a skatepark (I did not know him and could not ask for a redo) I knew my safest bet was high shutter, high f stop.


You can tell by this image that I used a low f stop because the woman is in focus, while the foreground is out of focus and the backdrop is not that crisp either. She was spinning in the wind and in order to only have her in focus, while capturing her movement, I increased the shutter speed, decreased the f stop and changed the ISO accordingly. The ISO is always the last setting I touch.


Again, I only wanted my climber in focus but he was jumping to this small hold. To make sure my focus would be perfect, I pre-focused on the hold, dropped my f stop, increased by shutter, and changed my ISO accordingly.

Follow Alex Kahn on Facebook and check out her video work at AS Inspired Media

Part 3 of our Climbing Photography series continues next week with an introduction into Action & Landscape.

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