Climbing Photography: Interview With Photographer Jacob Kupferman
September 11, 2014
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Jacob Kupferman lowers himself down enormous cliffs using ropes, mechanical devices and climbing harnesses before spending hours hanging hundreds of feet off the ground, waiting to take the perfect shot. Kupferman recently sat down for an interview and answered some questions about climbing photography.
Question: How do you position yourself to get great climbing photos?
Being directly over the climber is often not the best vantage point. You get in their way, and a shot directly down often loses the perspective that you're trying to show. Scout out which side of the climb has the better background and shoot in that direction.
You want the climber's face to be visible in your shots. What direction will the climber be facing when making a hard move? Look at the rock features, talk to the climber and put it all together in order to get the best angle.
Note that in this shot, I've positioned myself so the climber is facing me on a tough move. I've also decided to lower down to the same level as the climber in order to capture the wide expanse of the autumn foliage behind him.
Q: What settings do you use for climbing photography?
Since climbing is a fast sport, you're definitely going to want to be shooting at a reasonably high ISO and fast shutter speed. Even if you think you can get away with a slower shutter speed because the climber isn't moving too fast, you want to be ready in case the climber makes a fast jump for a hold, or if they fall. You want to catch whatever the moment of truth is, and oftentimes, the climbing can be really slow until the one, big burst of action.
I often use as wide of an aperture as possible to isolate the climber from the rock, especially if focusing on the climber's face or hand.
I don't use flash. Some photographers will use strobes, and you can get great results if you can rig up a flash and illuminate the rock from a different angle. But I'd recommend staying away from any kind of flash that's mounted to the camera.
Use a polarizing filter. It makes the sky look 100 times better and often can really help if the sun is reflecting off the rock. Plus, it's an added form of protection for the front of your lens.
Q: Can you share a story of one of your favorite climbing photography trips?
I was in Morocco last winter photographing two amazing climbers. They had set out to climb a 600-foot route called Samazar Ridge.
I went up to the top, set up my rope and descended about 300 feet. Pretty soon, I realized that I was not even on the right part of the cliff! I ascended back up the rope and walked over to the other side, but there was no time to set up another rope.
I had a great vantage of the summit with the late-afternoon sun, and as they walked across the summit ridge, I managed to get a wide shot with the whole valley in the background.
I realized that sometimes, I didn't need the rope or any kind of special setup to get a great shot. You can't plan your climbing photos in the same way you might plan a studio shoot. You have to keep your eyes open and always be searching for that one great angle.
Author's note: Climbing and rope work is dangerous, so hire a professional mountain guide before you try it.
Photo credit: Kupferman Photography