Why This Action Camera Rocks Your Climbing Adventures
Why This Action Camera Rocks Your Climbing Adventures
El Capitan at sunset. Canyonlands in Utah. Nevada’s Red Rocks. Rifle Mountain in Colorado. As every rock climber knows, the greatest views can’t be seen from a luxury balcony overlooking the city. To really see the world and get in touch with nature, climbers know there’s nothing better than the wind in their hair while and the sky beneath their feet as they scale an impressively high cliff.
Capturing the goosebumps, palms sweating, edge-of-your-seat inducing excitement, however, isn’t as simple as just clicking the shutter release. Everything from your subject’s body position and clothing to the right lighting and camera placement need to come together in order to create the perfect rock climbing shot. From the Rockies to the Swiss Alps, here’s how to up your rock climbing photography game wherever the mountains call:
- Work with your subject. Before you head out for the day, talk to your subject about what makes for a great photo. Have your subject wear bright clothes that will pop or contrast with the surrounding rocks. If you’re climbing Nevada’s red rocks, for example, a bright blue or green shirt will stand out nicely against the background. Next, keep in mind that outstretched body positions generally look best in pictures, especially if you’re using a wide-angle lens for a sweeping panorama. Capture your subject reaching for the next ledge or belaying off the side of the cliff for added drama. When you’re far away from your subject, you won’t be able to yell out for certain poses, so discussing a specific move in advance will help you and your subject be prepared when the time comes to snap the big crux move shot.
- Pack the right gear.Climbing and holding a camera at the same time are a no-go. If you want to capture action shots, then you need a hands-free camera. Use a helmet mount or strap mount to keep your hands free for climbing; both mounts are available for the Polaroid CUBE+. Be smart about weight; a professional camera can be a heavy burden whether you’re climbing up a rock wall or belaying downwards. The lighter the better! Since you can’t climb and take a tripod for stabilization, confirm your camera has built-in image stabilization. A shockproof camera is a big bonus should you inadvertently hit the camera on the side of a rock on your way up or down!
- Plan first, climb second. Before you get started climbing for the day, go over the key moments you want to capture on film. For example, if you know the day’s climb includes a spectacular ledge shot, you’ll need to be positioned appropriately to capture your fellow climbers on the ledge. Assess the weather conditions and the terrain. Ask yourself, where will I find the best light? Where will the most interesting movement happen? If your goal on a particular day is to take spectacular shots (rather than completing the entire climb with the group), it may be easier to hike up the back and partially repel down so you’re better positioned to capture the action. Remember, if you’re shooting from a rope, your horizontal mobility may be compromised, so plan accordingly.
- Frame your shot. What type of scene do you want to create? Whether you’re capturing a close up of the climber reaching for a far ledge or panning out wide for a sweeping view of the entire scene, including the belayers below, shoot with intention. Follow the rule of thirds to create visual interest. The rule of thirds states that any image can be broken into thirds horizontally and vertically using four lines. The intersections where these four lines come together is known as the “points of interest”; these are the places to position your subject or other visually interesting elements, like a tree dramatically growing off the side of the cliff or the climbing team down below.
- Capture the emotion.If you’re shooting up close, focus in on your subject’s facial expressions. What emotional story about the climb do these expressions tell? Perhaps it’s the victorious clip of an anchor after a precarious placement or the day’s crux move. Don’t discount the power of negative emotions; the moment a climber misses a hold can be just as powerful an image as the moment she nails the most difficult passage. A smile, grimace, or even a tongue sticking out is far more interesting than a blank expression. Rock climbing takes passion, courage and guts! Your photos should reflect this.
- Watch out for your gear on downward shots. It takes a lot of practice photographing rock climbers to keep all your climbing accouterment like rope, gear, and slings – not to mention your feet – out of the frame. Sometimes you’ll need to use your hands as well to hold your body in place when looking downwards at climbers below. That’s why thebest camera for action shots will make it easy to do hands-free shooting. Since the Polaroid CUBE+ mounts securely to a helmet, you can also shoot action video of your climb on the way up and down without needing to use your hands.
- Shoot at the “Golden Hour”. The midday sun can be pretty harsh, causing you to lose parts of your subject in blown-out highlights or extreme shadows. Shooting a climber on a cliff at noon, and the climber could become completely lost in the cliff’s shadow. If you can, plan your climb for early in the day or late afternoon when the light will be working in your favor. Professional photographers call early morning and late afternoon “the golden hour” because the light during this time is soft, diffused and warm. Not only does the warm glow add a pleasing depth to your photos, but the less severe contrast also makes it easier to pick up details, like the expressions on a climber’s face.
- Use the light to your advantage. Whenever possible, position your body and camera so that the sun is behind you and illuminating your subject. If you can’t help but shoot directly into the sun (consequently turning your subject into a silhouette), consider what other objects you can add to the scene for visual or dramatic interest. If the climber is close up on the cliff, your subject may become completely enveloped by the cliff. Instead, try to capture your climber reaching out or belaying off the side, thereby creating space between the cliff and the sky for a more dramatic sunset shot.
- Have fun! This is your moment to enjoy the adventure as it unfolds. If you feel like you’re starting to stress out about getting the “perfect” climbing shot, switch to video mode and just enjoy the climbing experience. You can freeze frame the video for photos later, or create a fun hyperlapse video of the climb.
Lights, camera, climb!