Most of the time when you are rock or ice climbing, you are either climbing or you are on belay with the other end of the rope to manage. This makes photographing these activities difficult if not impossible. On this day, there would be two other climbers allowing me to roam freely while photographing the ice climbing.
I am myself a mountaineer and have climbed steep ice a few times. I am intimately familiar with all the moves, techniques and equipment involved with the sport. Even though this is the case, it doesn’t actually matter to me whether I am totally familiar or completely unfamiliar with a sport because I do the same thing before photographing. I read and learn about it taking in everything I can. I review past photographs from photographers who regularly shoot the sport to become familiar with the key moments to photograph. Then I actively pre-visualize the key moments and me releasing the shutter at exactly the right moment to get the shot! I do this every day until I am actually there to photograph the event.
One of the things about ice climbing that makes it difficult is the bone chilling cold. Of course, in order for waterfalls to exist, they must be out of the direct sunlight and very cold. For this reason, management of both equipment and personal comfort become the keys to freeing your creative energies for the shoot. I use zippered camera bags for this to manage the extreme change in temperature. As I walked from the warm car to the ice climbing routs in Vail, my equipment had over 30 minutes to slowly become the same temperature as the outside shooting environment. This helps to prevent fogging of your lenses and condensation inside your camera body.
As with snow, the key to ice climbing photography is exposure, over-exposure to be exact. While a modern camera is excellent at auto exposure most all of the time, snow or light sand will cause the cameras meter to under expose images. This is because images composed primarily of snow, ice and light sand are, as a whole, brighter than the gray value a cameras meter is set to base its exposure on. This is why we still need manual settings so we can compensate for this exposure difference. I can shoot it in manual mode, a challenge with gloves. Alternatively, I can use program or aperture priority mode along with exposure compensation to get the right exposure. I prefer aperture priority or aperture value on some cameras.
To properly expose for the ice, I start at 2/3 (also shown as +0.7) of a stop over exposure and create a test shot of the ice with a climber included. Just as with snow, it is important to over expose enough to make ice lighter, but also to retain detail in the ice. My goal with this is to get the ice closer to its actual brightness without over exposing. Then, if needed, I go the rest of the distance in post production.
I want cut time at the computer to a minimum, so I believe it’s best to do all you can to create the best image possible in camera during the shoot. I refine all photographic processes to achieve this. Unlike the old days of film, I over shoot these kinds of activities because it doesn’t cost me a thing. I believe that once you own the equipment, shooting is free whether taking one shot or a million. For this reason, I fill my cards with images knowing the worst thing that will happen is that I will have to erase images. The images were created using a Tamron SP 70-300 f/4-5.6 Di VC and a Nikon D800.