Sony a7R II with Sony lenses: 28-70mm, 55mm prime, 70-200mm.
How many years have you been shooting climbing?
How did you get started in photography? Formal education? Self taught?
I’m not sure I’d consider a couple of classes back in high school a formal education, but that's definitely how I got started. Later on I invested in a camera to document my trips and adventures because I wanted to remember the memories exactly as they were when I was living them.
What was the first climbing photo you ever sold?
Technically, my first paycheck for climbing-related photos was for a climbing gym event. Tommy Caldwell was there, maybe that legitimizes it. Everything else has come in the form of a trip sponsorship, which includes delivering photos. I never take it for granted when a company or marketing director allocates any piece of their budget to my photos, content, trips, or ideas. The outdoor space is such a competitive place for any type of creative work. I’m just stoked that I get to play in the mountains and get the occasional paycheck for it. Social media makes it seem pretty easy to quit everything, buy a van, build it out, and live happily ever after freelancing.
What’s the story behind your favorite climbing photo?
Choosing one is hard, but earlier this year I was out climbing in the desert when we found this sweet crack in Escalante Canyon. I realized you could see through to the other side and I found a way to get the camera in the crack to photograph Matt Lloyd as he was placing gear. Aesthetically this might be one of my favorite photos. I’ve got other favorites but they’ve got way more personal stories attached to them.
Describe your approach to climbing photography.
It definitely varies, but mostly its candids. I got into photography because I wanted to captures memories. I think that still influences my style. If I’m not shooting for a company, I just go with what feels natural. Especially if I’m shooting climbers, I generally try to stay out of the climber's way. It feels like a win for me if they forget I’m even there.
I made it a rule to always keep the camera out, especially during the winter when its freezing and you don’t want to have your camera out. Those chaotic and hard moments have produced my favorite shots.
If I have a friend who is working on a project and wants to get photos of it then we might discuss different angles and lighting opportunities. If it's planned, then I do stick to early mornings or sunset times to find the best lighting.
What’s your favorite place to climb?
The First Flatiron is my favorite place ever to climb. It never gets old.
What’s your favorite place to shoot climbing?
Its been fun to grow as a photographer in Clear Creek Canyon. Its also the area I’ve spent the most time in. As you get to know a place better, your photos get better. You find new angles to shoot from, you realize you can set yourself up in different locations or hang ropes from different areas, and you learn when the lighting is best. Clear Creek might not be the most epic location in Colorado, but it's home. I love every second I get to hang out there.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had shooting photos?
Unrelated to climbing, but I did drop a camera in a river while shooting some fly fishing. I had my dog with me, and I had to rescue him out of some fast with the camera hanging from my neck.
I also accidentally erased a memory card during a week-long trip. Luckily, I had a bunch of other imagery, and you can read about it at 168-Hours: A Disaster-Style Adventure.
I’ve never had anything too bad happen.
How do you balance shooting climbing photos with your own climbing?
I didn’t start climbing 'till I was in college, which means I have a lot of catching up to do in my development as a climber. While I love the sport, I have come to the realization that I should pick one or the other. Documenting athletes and being behind the camera is what truly brings me to life, so my philosophy is that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep up, which usually means trading the climbing for jugging and zoom lenses.
You’ve shot Matt Lloyd on quite a few free solos. What are your feelings towards shooting solos?
The first time I ever saw Matt solo was also my first time out ice climbing. We were at Lincoln Falls and there was a white out which made for amazing lighting, he came over to me and said “Hey, I’ll solo anything you want so you can focus on the photos.”
I thought he was crazy and that a photo wouldn’t be worth an accident, but there was a sense of freedom that came. He was able to move around however he wished and I was able to purely focus on the camera in a unique way.
I think as our friendship and trust has grown, we’ve been able to create some great content together via soloing because nothing is holding us back. I have a very high tolerance for fear, so I’ve soloed some easier stuff with Matt. We kind of got in over our heads the other day in Eldo and he asked me, “Have you always been this calm?”
I think soloing has made me a better photographer. Its taught me to stay calm and focus on every detail and what is in front of you. Like I said, some of my favorite photographs have been captured in the most chaotic moments, those times when you want to put the camera away.
I’ve never photographed anyone soloing besides Matt. I think there should be a level of trust between a photographer and climber. Content isn’t worth putting anyone at risk and Matt has never soloed anything he thought would be out of his reach in hopes of us landing an amazing shot.
I love the freedom of photographing soloing, but I’d only shoot another close friend I trusted.
You and your friends seem to be pretty good at creating adventures. What do you think is the most important element of an adventure?
The most important element should be to have fun, right? Its why my most recent adventures have involved new sports. Not that I am tired of climbing, but I wanted to have fun learning something new. I added biking to a recent Rainier trip I did. I had never biked more than 30 miles consecutively before, but biking from Seattle to Rainier and back was so fun.
Try new things and mix up your adventures. On another recent Idaho trip I spent a ton of time on paddle boards, which was also all new to me. I look at new sports as tools in my adventure tool box. Hopefully all of these skills can help me access new climbs and approach them (literally and figuratively) in a new way.
Any advice for aspiring photographers?
Stop waiting for someone to tell you you’re ready. There isn’t one perfect way to do things, especially when it comes to photographing climbing. You’ll find your own voice with time, so just start shooting. As you start putting out work and content, study other people.
Its not the camera, don’t really on the tools. I shoot on the same camera as many of my favorite photographers who are way beyond my league. It doesn’t make me as good as them. I have a long way to go and buying the newest and most expensive gear doesn’t speed up the process.