Have you ever heard of “bouldering” before? Well, it is the practice of climbing rocks using only your hands and feet. It’s a great way to exercise your arms, legs, core and get in a little adventure every once in a while. But did you know that if you are a photographer, you can use this type of activity to help you capture some stunning images?
In this article, I will share with you several simple tricks you can use to dramatically enhance your rock bouldering photography.
Istanbul, TürkiyeTonsai – Sony ILCE-7RM2 – Focal Length 35mm – Aperture ƒ/2.8 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 2000
Bouldering is one of the most exciting and dangerous sports in the world. It involves climbing up and over rock formations using only your body and your equipment. There is very little margin for error and every mistake can result in serious injury or even death.
The first step to photographing bouldering safely is to make sure you are properly prepared. Bring a full set of protective gear including a helmet, chest and knee pads, a good pair of shoes, a solid set of carabiners, and a rope long enough to allow you to rappel down if necessary.
Bring at least two extra pairs of shoes just in case you lose a pair while bouldering. Bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. Bring plenty of water and food. Bring a GPS device to mark the location of all the problems you attempt to climb.
Bring a notebook and pen to write down any notes you may want to remember from the day. Bring a friend or group of friends just to have someone watch your back while you are climbing.
Learn Climbing Skills
Joshua Tree – Canon EOS REBEL T3i – Focal Length 24mm – Aperture ƒ/11 – Shutter Speed 1/160s – ISO 100
Climbing is an important part of the learning process when it comes to photographing rock and mountain formations. It is one of the best ways to learn how to use your camera, especially for those who are new to it.
As a general rule, the more skilled you are with your hands, the better you will be at using your camera. If you can’t climb, then spend a few hours observing and taking notes from experienced climbers. You can do this by simply watching videos on YouTube or reading articles online about good climbing technique.
Climbing also has another, less obvious benefit: You will learn what types of subjects are the most appealing to the eye. Look at the rock face and imagine you are a caveman trying to eat it. What would he find most appealing? The parts that are easiest to reach with his club, of course! So, if you are a photographer, start by learning the basics of rock climbing. It will do wonders for your subject-taking ability.
Camera Equipment For Bouldering Photography
Bouldering photography is very different from general landscape photography in that the emphasis is on action rather than serenity. You will need a camera with a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the climber and a large aperture (wide-angle lens) to ensure that you get a good composition. A camera DSLR using a full frame sensor, with good low-light capability and the ability to capture fast action would be ideal.
For lenses, I tend to favour a wide-angle, as it enables you to get in close to the action while still capturing the climber and their surroundings. A lens 35mm , 50mm f/1.4 or 17-40 f/2.8 lens would be ideal for this type of photography.
The wide aperture really isolates the target and helps keep shutter speeds faster in shadowy conditions. And it’s built like a tank, which comes in handy when I bash or scrape it against rock as I jump around trying to find the best angle – which happens every single time I go bouldering.
Choose The Best Moment, The Right Pose And Follow The Light
Hepburn, Northumberland, Newcastle, UK – Sony ILCE-6400 – Focal Length 24mm – Aperture ƒ/3.5 – Shutter Speed 1/1000s – ISO 100
Bouldering is one of the most difficult sports to photograph because it is a “flow” sport. You don’t win a contest by standing there holding a pose. You don’t get a trophy for being best at posing either, it’s for taking the best shot at the right time.
The biggest mistake I see many photographers make when they are photographing a climber is that they wait for them to pose. They forget that posing is just the starting point for the flow of the picture – the real challenge is getting the best shot at the right time.
Besides, the key to good bouldering photos is the light. The light has to be just right and it has to be coming from the right direction. If not, your subject will look flat and lifeless. If the light is too strong, you will have a difficult time getting a good exposure. If the light is too soft, you won’t be able to tell what your subject is made of and therefore, you won’t be able to tell if your photo is going to turn out or not.
Use A Telephoto Lens To Shoot From A Distance
Canon EOS 5DS – Focal Length 312mm – Aperture ƒ/5.6 – Shutter Speed 1/640s – ISO 50
A long lens will compress the space between you and your subject, making it seem like you are much closer to them than you actually are. This is a very useful trick for photographing rock climbers and other people who tend to loom large in your photos. It will also help you capture the scale of the subjects, as well as the immensity of their surroundings.
So, if you are photographing a person on a rock face, you might use a 200mm or a 300mm lens. This will make them seem like they are much closer to you, and thus, you do not have to get as close to them to get a good photograph.
When You’re Climbing, You’re Part Of The Landscape
Tonsai, Ao Nang, Thailand – NIKON D750 – Focal Length 40mm – Aperture ƒ/7.1 – Shutter Speed 1/1600s – ISO 200
When you’re bouldering, you are literally a part of the landscape. You are on the land, the rock is on the land, and you are one with the land and the rock. When you climb a boulder problem, you are not just climbing it, you are becoming it.
You are an important element in the puzzle of the rock face. Your movement and your hold on the rock are in harmony with the rock and in perfect balance with everything else about the rock face. If you learn to see the world this way, your photos will be full of a special kind of beauty that you won’t find anywhere else.
Don’t Miss The Beautiful Moments Of Bouldering and Climbing
One of the things that makes climbing so great is that every time you climb you’re discovering new routes, new ways to do moves, and new possibilities. There’s always another move you could make, another option you could consider.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the “beautiful moments” of your climbing sessions. These are the times when you feel elation as you overcome a difficult move or when you savor the feeling of sending a hard move with perfect execution. If you don’t notice and record these moments, you may forget how great it feels to be on top of a rock face!
If he is approaching a difficult move, wait until he is almost there and then take the photo. This will give the viewer a sense of the drama of the situation. The same applies to boulderers. Wait for them to get into the perfect position, and then take the photo. This is the kind of photography that will make your work memorable and appreciated.
Incorporate Natural Elements
Hasis – Croatia – NIKON D7000 – Focal Length 18mm – Aperture ƒ/7.1 – Shutter Speed 1/250s – ISO 250
Bouldering is one of the few sports where the athletes actually seem to be having fun. It is all about the challenge of the climb, the thrill of the achievement of the top and the camaraderie of the group. Incorporating elements of nature into your photos will help to “set the scene” and give your pictures a sense of place and time.
Bouldering is about making the most of what Mother Nature gives you, and one of those elements is natural light. As the light begins to fade, incorporate it into your shots in a subtle way. Use it to illuminate your subjects or to warm up their faces for a more flattering portrait.
Look at your scene as if you were a painter and you had only a limited amount of paint with which to work. What would you use first? What would give your image the most impact?
Simplicity Rules Everything
NIKON D7000 – Focal Length 38mm – Aperture ƒ/4.8 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 400
The most important thing to remember about bouldering photography is that it should be simple. Simple in concept, composition and execution.
It doesn’t matter how “pretty” your photo is, if it is too complicated to understand. Simple photos are easy to understand and easy to share. They allow people to see the subject clearly and immediately relate to it.
Don’t try and do too much. Usually, a good starting point for a boulderer is to get the shot of the rock, the shape of the rock, and maybe the climber’s arm. That’s all you need. If you try to add lots of little details, you will end up with a cluttered image and your subject will be lost in the photo.
I use Lightroom, as I really like the way it treats colours and the level of control it provides in the editing process, but this is pretty much like camera bodies – whatever you use is going to be fine. In general terms, my editing workflow for bouldering tends to be along the lines of:
+ White balance: Bring out the colour in the rock and trees, but don’t get too warm
+ Brightness: If the climber is in shade, you might need to play with this. Depending on the shot, this could be for the whole image or using a layer to isolate the climber
+ HDR: It’s a personal preference, but I’m not keen on HDR-heavy images. That said, some tweaking of the shadows and highlights can really bring out the climber when you’re shooting from low in the shadows looking up at the sky. But keep it simple, as you can lose texture on the rock if you go overboard
+ Curve: I tend to play with the curve a little to bring out a bit of contrast without sacrificing colours
+ Colour HSL: Depending on the image, I might tweak some of the colours to help them stand out, but for the most part, I tend to leave things as they are initially
There is, of course, plenty more you can do to your images, but the above is a good starting point and will help get more from each shot.
Bouldering Photography is one of the most challenging yet exciting aspects of rock climbing. The goal is to take pictures that will enable you to remember the experience for a long time. It requires a lot of skill, patience and practice. Most often than not, beginners have a hard time with this type of photography. It is easy to get frustrated but remember the more you practice the better you will get.
Don’t forget to always have a good attitude when trying to achieve a goal. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you aren’t successful the first time, just keep trying until you are. The results will come!
I hope that this short post has been an eye opener for you!