In over 20 years of adventure photojournalism, Alex has accumulated a wealth of experience and a fair few stories from behind the camera. In this series of blog posts, Alex will be sharing his experience documenting people and places around the world from Indian Creek to Everest Base Camp and Hindu Holy Men.
If you’re interested in learning more about outdoor photography from Alex, take a look at our Outdoor Photography courses.
In 2011 I travelled with Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker photographing their ascents of Americas most famous off-width rock climbs. Our two month road trip culminated in the first ascent of Century Crack, the worlds hardest off-width.
We flew into Salt Lake City, hired a car and headed to Vedauwoo in Wyoming for the first set of climbs before moving south into Utah via Zion National Park and then into the Canyonlands and Indian Creek.
We soon settled into a routine. Tom and Pete had their itinerary of climbs and my job was to select the best approach to photographing the routes, getting into position before they climbed and then trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Other than taking the photographs I had to maintain my photography equipment for two months in the dusty desert conditions. We camped for most of the two months so I cleaned everything every day and downloaded the images onto a ioSafe hard drive. I charged the batteries via the hire car cigarette lighter.
I believe that in photography composition is everything. On arrival at the route I’d spend some time scoping about visualising the route and looking to find the position that would show the climb and climber at their best. I have some of my own rules and ideas for climbing photography and I would look to see how I could achieve these ideals.
Some routes required a simple approach and could be shot hand held from the ground, enabling a flexible and mobile approach to composition. Others needed a telephoto lens on a tripod from a distance. Some routes involved rigging a fixed rope to abseil down or ascend. This was certainly the trickiest approach; it could be difficult to rig, quite often scary and once in position difficult to move. If I hadn’t pre-visualised the best position I was stuffed. These were on sight ascents, they were not posed for the camera and Tom and Pete wouldn’t have wanted to repeat their ascents or pose for photos.
For abseiling and ascending I used a simple set up with a Petzl GriGri and a Petzl Ascension. I would usually just crank myself on the GriGri and Ascension, however if the ascent was longer I would add a foot sling.
Tom and Pete’s ascents of Belly Full of Bad Berries in Indian Creek is a good example of my approach to taking climbing photographs. On arrival Pete won the toss to climb first. While he was gearing up I scoped around and found a position across from the route that gave me a good composition with the line of the crack splitting the frame.
The light was ideal with the climb in the shade but with some highlights giving texture to the rock. I set up the 70-200 lens on a tripod and made sure I was all set. Pete always got on the routes with minimal fuss and climbed quickly, if I wasn’t totally ready it would have easy to miss the ascent.
Pete climbed swiftly with no falls and when at the belay chain hauled up my static rope so I could be in position at the top of the climb for Toms ascent. The GriGri and Ascension system enabled me to move up and down the rope fairly easily.
My equipment included two Canon SLRs, a Canon G11, Canon 17-40 f4L, Canon 70-200 f2:8L, Sandisk memory cards, an Apple MacBook, Manfrotto Tripod, Lowe Pro pack, Rab clothing and sleeping bag, Wild Country harness, Sterling Static Rope, Petzl GriGri and Petzl Ascension.
Watch Tom and Pete discuss the Adam Ondre ascent of Belly Full of Bad Berries https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3caCrBqoLY and here’s some great footage of the 1st Ascent of Century Crack from the same trip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_pg7RtQo3w
Learn more about outdoor photography from Alex on one of our Outdoor Photography courses in the Peak District.
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