5 Quick Tips to up your Photo Game at the Crag

Philip Quade shooting Claire Bukowski in Rifle, Colorado. Photo by Todd Bukowski.

If you’re heading out on a climbing trip this winter and want to take some amazing pictures, Phillip Quade is here to help. He’s an adventure photographer from Canada and has shot everything from IFSC comps to remote boulders in Alaska and Australia. His Instagram is completely drool-worthy, and not just because his photos are fantastic but because his life seems to be one big adventure with some of the world’s greatest climbers. Thankfully for us, he has kindly volunteered his best tips to help you get the perfect photo on your winter adventures. Whether you’re using your iPhone or a fancy DSLR, Phillip’s advice will give you some new perspective on how to get the best shot.

1. The Rule of 1/3’s. Odds are you may have heard of it by now, but in climbing photography there can be more to it than just placing your climber at one of these cross sections, or off to one side of the image. Which point you pick will make a difference. When we can’t see the ground in a photo, we perceive the bottom of the shot as the ground. Placing your climber in the upper 1/3 of your photo will add a more dramatic effect, and can give a better sense of space and exposure to your climb – the climber looks like they’re higher off the ground, which, they probably actually are!

2. Shoot Wide(r). Try to avoid shooting too tight and too close on your climber. Get in the habit of shooting wider on all your shots. As a climber moves, you run the risk of cutting off limbs in the shot – Never cut off limbs in a climbing photo! When you introduce a wider shot, showing a bit of your surrounding environment (the rock texture, trees, sky), adds life and helps build a story around the photo. This also allows your climber to do their thing – You never know when they will surprise you (or themselves). Be ready, so when their feet cut, or they stem out to test a new foot hold, you can capture the full moment without losing a limb. Remember: You can always crop your photos later.

3. The Butt Shot. You CAN make the butt shot look good and unique! We can’t always shoot from an adjacent rope, or find a good high point to get some leverage on our climber. If you can, get a side angle from the ground where you get some side profile as well as butt. Take advantage of moments when your climber is looking down – grabbing the rope to clip, looking for feet, or resting. These are all moments worth capturing – from the right angle – and when you get adventurous, can result in some very cool shots! Ideally, look for moments when the climber’s face becomes visible between their legs, between an arm and body, rock and body, etc.

4. Color! There are two types of climbers. Those who wear poppy, funky, wild colors, and those who wear black (or grey). Shooting a grey climber on grey or blue rock, in the shade, is tough. The addition of opposing colors (to the rock) on your climber can make a dramatic difference in your shots! Bright green, blue, pink or orange are all excellent color options. Yellows and reds work wonders as well. But pay attention to the color of the rock and your surroundings. The idea is to make your climber stand out from the surroundings, and, when possible, still make them seem natural. You don’t want a climber wearing orange while climbing on rich red Moab sandstone.

5. Depth of Field. This can be a game changer in your shooting style. It was for me. Composition with regard to Depth of Field can add a very cool element to your shooting and offer something more artistic and eye catching to a wider audience. When shooting from the ground, try framing your climber into a shot with some leaves from a tree between you and your climber, set a narrow depth of field (f2.8-f4, for example) and focus on your climber. The resulting shot will blur out the leaves and create an interesting texture around your climber. When well balanced this can create a very different mood for your shots. Focus on your climber with a shallow depth of field, and voila – a smooth transition from soft, into action! This will also help pull the viewer’s attention to the climber.

Thanks to Phillip Quade for some photo pro tips! Be sure to check out his Instagram @philip_quade and his website for more photos.

Climb on!
Sarah

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