Climbing Photography

Climbing Photography

So, how did I get into climbing photography? I’ve always been interested in sports. At school it was the usual cricket, rugby and football with a brief stint trying martial arts. But, as with all sports, injuries set in. I remember ultra-sound treatment sessions on my knee’s as a result of over training for cricket, and in my later teens I kept repeatedly dislocating my right shoulder as a result of tackling in Rugby. The end result of this was surgery. I was then sport homeless for several years as I didn’t want to go back into any type of team sport that might involve contact. Then a friend of mine introduced me to climbing. This was before I had started photography so when I did start practicing photography climbing was a natural subject matter.


My first camera was a cheap point and shoot. At that time I didn’t know anything about composition or camera settings. I simply used it as a point and shoot device to capture random moments from my New Zealand trip. The pictures below are from boulder fields in Wharepapa South near Bryce’s Rockclimbing Shop & LodgeThe lakeside boulder at Lake Wanaka and the Jardines boulder field below The Remarkables Mountain range. 


The main training area way back then was the old bouldering rooms at Fort Purbrook. The training area was small, but it kind of forced conversation and as a result a small community built up. Along with a bolt on holds room the centre also had a bendcrete wall, which was a climbing surface sculpted to replicate real rock and was a remarkably useful training tool for outside projects.

The nearest outdoor boulder field was on Portland which was a 2 hour plus drive at the time before the roads were developed for the 2012 Olympics. So the local seawalls known as the hot-walls were an infrequent spot we would go to for crimp training.


The closest bouldering field to me on the south coast is the Cuttings on Portland. There are a few other area’s scattered around, but none with the same density of routes. The rock is limestone so the hold type can range from super smooth to amazingly sharp. Friction is better in the winter, than the summer but summer days on the field cant be beaten. The quality of climbs has been described, and accurately so, as short and pumpy. There are a handful of large boulders but most are small with incredibly hard climbs on them.

It is though, remarkably beautiful. I have climbed here many times over the years and you kind of go through this transition of hating it with a passion to loving it for being what it is. You wouldn’t travel from far to climb here, as there are many other area’s in the UK with more appeal. But for a local crag it covers all the bases as it is a place that allows you to climb on rock and it also provides many potential projects to give your training focus.

The guide for the area has been developed by Ben Stokes and is called Dorset Bouldering. I have used this guide to shoot some virtual tours of a few of the boulders and you can find those by clicking/tapping here.


Font is a bouldering dream. Thousands of sandstone boulders litter the forest all around Fontainebleau and there are many more thousands of routes ranging from 1c to 8a+. There are many campsites around font to choose from, our regular spot was Camping Les Pres which is just outside of Grez-sur-Loing. For a list of all the area’s, fields and route then visit the website.

I think I made 4 trips to Font with various degrees of enjoyment and success. My own personal best was a 6a route called La Moreau at the Éléphant boulder field (I narrowly missed a 6c to the right of this boulder). The same field contained another 6a project that just kept ruining my wrists, Le Surplomb du Lépreux. And this is a character of Font climbing, everything ends up on your wrists.

No trip is ever long enough, and the longer your trips are the more worn out you will become. Plan for climbing days and rest days. Rest days should be spent exploring new areas otherwise you can end up sticking to one field. This climb/rest day approach allows you to pace yourself and make the trip more worthwhile. If you are planning on travelling abroad for a climbing trip make sure you put the training in to develop your strength, technique and skin toughness. This leads me on to a couple of well earned lessons.


Frustration can develop easily when the purpose of a climbing trip isn’t established. So to save wasting time and money, workout early on with the people you are planning on going with if the trips purpose is casual climbing/social or focused climbing.


I slowly worked out that whilst you can climb and photograph it was easier to work on shots when I was only photographing. Taking this approach removes you from the spotting system (a person who stands at the bottom of the route and helps guide a climber back on to a mat or away from danger to reduce injury from a fall), reduces the amount of gear you need to take with you and allows you to document correctly the activity at hand.


Going climbing with a large group of friends is a lot of fun. But with large groups come more bags (specifically supermarket bags) and more gear left strewn about the boulder. And you need to work around this so the boulder doesn’t look like a rubbish dump or you will end up wasting hours of your life cloning out unwanted elements on your photos. This relates back to Tip 1, is it a group social where you are grabbing casual shots or are you punching for images with more impact. 


This applies to both outdoor sends and indoor routes. For the vast majority of climbs the best photo is one where the climber is half way up the route. This is normally where both the crux exist and where body position looks the best. Top outs usually involve a lot of butt in the shot, and the starts generally imply that the person climbing didn’t make it off the first few moves. But, if you are documenting a project, then cover everything so you have sufficient material to draw on.

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Dinorwic Quarry and Crib Goch

dinorwic quarry mount snowdon

Dinorwic Quarry

A key lesson learnt during this mini trip to Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa): Taking all of your camera gear up the side of a mountain is a dumb idea.

Apart from this key lesson learnt, this was a nice little jaunt up to the hilly north of Wales. It was also the first trip I took with the D800, which arrived the morning we left.

Day 1 involved exploring Dinorwic Quarry. Dinorwic is a former slate quarry that closed in July 1969 due to a decline of the industry. Slate is difficult to quarry with only about 1% of quarried material taken to market. From my understanding the reason for this is that dynamite is used and slate is a brittle rock. The waste material also caused issues with falls in the quarry. An enormous fall occurred in the Garret area of the quarry which was the final nail in the coffin for commercial operations. Dinorwic is the second largest slate quarry in Wales and in the world. The area is a fascinating explore, from the abandoned workhouses to the tunnelled cutaways. The views west across to Llanberis and Mount Snowdon are also stunning. And from this side of the valley the view of Crib Goch was clear, and made it very small. Which, well, it wasn’t.

Yr Wyddfa & Cribb Goch

Day 2 involved a climb up and across Crib Goch before proceeding to Crib y Ddysgl, before progressing around to Yr Wyddfa peak. Crib Goch is a knife-edged arête with the highest point on the arête at 923 metres (3,028 ft) above sea level. During winter the route is considered a mountaineering route and during summer it is classed as a scramble. Fortunately the weather was good when we attempted it. The route starts off at the Caffi Gorphwysfa Cafe and then heads up the pyg track before taking a savage right turn up what I called at the time Mount Doom. Now, it isnt a hard ascent, but when you bring all of your equipment instead of what you actually need then it turns into a savage workout. I almost turned back until the others offered to take some weight off my shoulder, for which I was extremely grateful. Lessons were learned.

Stopping at the top of the first ascent and having lunch is one of the most epic places to eat food. From this vantage you can see the entirety of the surrounding area. We were also very fortunate to be there on a quiet day. I’ve seen photos of the route packed out and it looks like a horrific experience. After you pass over Crib Goch its then onto the Crib Y Dydsgl. The climb up this peak is significantly less difficult. We stopped for some photos at the top before heading onto the Yr Wyddfa peak. Now, before I started I was conflicted about the café at the top of the mountain. When I got there I was grateful for a cup of coffee, even if I had to scramble for cash because of the card fees. The walk down was a little difficult. Im not used to having my toes jammed into the front of my shoes and halfway down I was ready for bed. Before making our way back into Llanberis we stopped off at Pen Ceunant Isaf Tea House.

As with all activities of this nature please exercise caution and common sense. If the weather deteriorates on the ascent, do not continue. Even the easiest of routes up a mountain or through an abandoned quarry can be dangerous. If you do want to attempt Crib Goch go with a small group and take your time. UK Scrambles have a guide covering Crib Goch should you require extra information.
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