Spent a great day at Zillertal, Austria this week, both bouldering and shooting. I thought I'd use this as an example how I like to make the "standard" climbing images without any big setup or equipment. If I was focussing exclusively on shooting I'd probably bring more gear, especially a ladder which is extremely useful for shooting bouldering. Instead, this was a simple shoot with just my pal Duy and me, trying to make some cool images without missing out on the climbing itself.
Working the Plan
My main objective was a beautiful boulder called Moonwalk, which I wanted to take pictures of as well as working on it myself. Following up on my recent post on planning, I thought it might be fun showing you a sketch of the "planned" image as well as the final outcome:
That was the image I was hunting, and as the weather was great on our arrival, we headed for that boulder immediately. I quickly shot a row of images like that, tweaking and varying small things until I was confident that I had caught it the way I wanted it.
Having a plan is important. But having a plan does not mean you have to feel limited by it. I like to get the "safe" (planned) shots out of the way first, but once I feel that I have a decent "padding" of good enough shots, I like to start experimenting. Go wild. Climb on trees, boulders or neighboring routes, use flash and try out different lenses.
Think about your plan. Look at your camera's LCD. Does the image look the way you planned it? Look around. Is there something you might have missed before? Have you made the shots you wanted to make? Great! But that doesn't mean that there aren't any great shots left out there. Maybe there's an angle or a setup you didn't consider before. Don't worry, you're not going home empty handed, so now is the time to try out something new.
Back home, sorting and editing the images, I started asking myself what I would like to do better / different next time. Playing around, I suddenly noticed the rock's great structure and did a couple of close crops, clipping all the edges of the boulder. I like the look of these images but I wish I had noticed it while shooting as I lost a lot of resolution to the heavy cropping. I'm a little upset about that but I guess this is the price of learning. Another idea that I can add to my repertoire....
In fact, this is something I'd like to stress: in growing as a photographer, you build a mental library of photographic possibilities that you can use as a base for future shots. For example, I know that "cutting" the sun against a sharp object (rock, house, tree or person) can create sunstars which can add quite a lot of magic to your shots. Knowing this, my brain goes click when it recognizes a situation where such a shot is possible. The more images you take, and the more you think about it before, during and afterwards, the bigger this library in your head will become. As you build this repertoire, your odds of getting good shots regularly will increase over time and you will become more and more flexible.
Keep this in mind. Keep trying out new ideas while you're shooting. At home, write down any ideas you might have and take those notes with you the next time. There is an infinite number of great images yet to be made but most of the underlying principles stay the same and can be learned, studied and practiced. Expand your repertoire, I try to expand mine.