The Story Behind 3 Standout Climbing Photos

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Take a look behind the scenes of three of the year’s standout climbing photographs in the categories of action, scenic, and portrait. Here, the photographers who took them share what went into each image, as well as their tips and tricks for nailing the perfect shot.

Action

Tom Randall Millenium Arch Canyonlands Rock climbing crack

Tom Randall works the difficult roof crack Millennium Arch (5.14), White Rim, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Photographer

Michael Hutton

Climber/route/location

Tom Randall, Millennium Arch (5.14), White Rim, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Camera/lens/specs

Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens @ 105 mm; 1/250 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 800

Time of day

Midafternoon. “People might think the route was getting nice end-of-day light,” says Hutton, but it was in the shade. “The rich orange colors are reflected (bounced) light from the valley floor.”

Shot logistics

“I spent about an hour rigging up an abseil from some prickly bushes,” Hutton recalls. “After abseiling 60 meters, I untied and scrambled around on a large, unstable pile of rubble to get the shots.”

Pro tip

“For taking great climbing shots, 80 percent is just showing up, and the rest is being creative and original in the way that you position yourself.”

Fun fact

Hutton, during the 60 minutes he was shooting, took 250 photos of this attempt. “There was no way I was going to miss a thing,” he says.

Scenic

James Lucas High Gravity Bouldering Dead Sea Jordan

Ben Hoiness climbs the world's lowest boulder problem on the shore of the Dead Sea.

Photographer

Andrew Burr

Climber/route/location

Ben Hoiness, High Gravity (V3), Dead Sea, Jordan

Camera/lens/specs

Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70mm lens @ 50mm; 1/80 of a second at f/14, ISO 400

Time of day

Sunset.

Shot logistics

“This was a classic shooting-from-the-hip scenario,” recalls Burr. Wanting to get a shot of climbers with the Dead Sea in the background, Burr directed the crew he was traveling with to some boulders he’d spotted earlier in the day. When the boulders turned out to be mostly choss, he scrambled around till he found the only one with climbable rock that lined up with the water. With just minutes of sunlight left, he began shooting.

Pro tip

“Practice your craft. The best way to learn is by doing. You must have an eye for it; everything after that falls into place if you put the work in.”

Fun fact

High Gravity, at 1,400 feet below sea level, is the world’s lowest (groundhogs take note: not shortest) boulder problem.

Portrait

Margo Hayes La Rambla 5.15a Rock Climbing

Margo Hayes, just after completing La Rambla and the world's first female 5.15a ascent.

Photographer

Matty Hong

Route/climber/location

Margo Hayes, La Rambla (5.15a), Siurana, Spain

Camera/lens/specs

Sony a7R II, 55mm lens; 1/200 of a second at f/2, ISO 100

Time of day

About 5 p.m.

Shot logistics

As Hong belayed Hayes on her historic first-female-5.15 send of La Rambla in February, he began to prep. “Before I lowered her, I had my camera ready,” says Hong. Once Hayes was on the ground, Hong tried to be discreet: “I took a couple pictures, congratulated her, and every few moments took one or two more shots.”

Pro tip

“There is a lot of emotion in our sport—from frustration and anger to joy and disbelief,” says Hong. “Capturing these emotions can tell the story while remaining unique to each climber. Shooting a specific moment, while also respecting the climber and giving her space, can be difficult. Nobody wants a camera shoved in her face after she’s fallen.”

Fun fact

Hong let Hayes hang a bit at the anchor in order to get his camera ready, so he could nail the shot the minute she was down.

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