THINGS… YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT CLIMBING PHOTOGRAPHY

Ansel Adams

Climbing and photography go together like coffee and cream. Whether it s of the highest Himalayan peaks or the lowest Hueco lowballs, we love the imagery that transports us back to the scene of the climb. It s a discipline steeped in history, too, peopled by pilots and inventors and former custom auto-shop owners with more than a few FAs to their names.

AIpenglow (from German: Alpengluhen) is usually misunderstood. Although we often use the term to describe rosy sunrise or sunset light on alpine scenery, true alpenglow occurs before sunrise or after sunset. Sunlight does not directly strike the peaks, but rather reflects off airborne snow, water, or ice particles low in the atmosphere, and then onto mountains, rock walls, and other objects close to the skyline. Accompanying this effect is a glowing red band on the opposite horizon, distinguishing true alpenglow from the normal warm light of sunrise or sunset.

The late Galen Rowell, one of the best-known mountain photographers of all time, never received formal training. Like so many climbers before and since, he dropped out of college to pursue climbing and never looked back. In 1972, he sold his high-performance auto shop, and within one year had become a full-time photographer, completing the first of innumerable cover stories for magazines such as National Geographic and becoming so successful that he was eventually referred to as  The Ansel Adams of Color Photography.   Along the way, his climbing achievements at least equaled his photography, and included the first one-day ascent of Denali, its first ski-circumnavigation, the first ascents of Great Trango Tower and Cholatse, and countless routes in the Sierra Nevada range.

You ve seen photo-file extensions such as .jpg or .tif, but what do these mean? JPEGs (Joint Photo Experts Group) rule among amateurs for their smaller file size and ease of scaling, allowing you to easily send thumbnails to friends. They capture less data, however, and therefore are shunned by experts. Tagged Image File Format, or TIFFs, are larger files that contain much more of the original data captured by the camera.

Ansel Adams

A third option, known as RAW format, is actually comprised of as many formats as there are camera manufacturers, though all are minimally processed by the camera and contain the most complete representation of the image. Though huge in size compared to other formats, they allow the photographer the greatest latitude in editing.

Among photography s many technical innovators are a few climbers. Rowell may be the most prominent, and his contributions include popularizing the use of "graduated neutral density" filters that allowed scenes with both bright and dark areas to be captured on the films of the day. In the 1960s, Greg Lowe, renowned climbing inventor and early 5.12 pioneer, invented the world s first internal frame backpack and founded the company Lowepro, which in 1972 marketed the first padded, soft-sided camera bag.

The tradition of strong, motivated climbers becoming self-taught photographers began long before the great names known today. Starting out as a climber in England s Lake District during the 1930s, Gregory made the British expedition on the strength of his climbing experience and skill, and only at the last minute did expedition leader John Hunt notice that he "seemed to take good pictures." Gregory was promoted to official expedition photographer and began one of the most remarkable crash courses in outdoor-photogra-pher history. He successfully learned to judge high-altitude exposures without the benefit of a light meter, nailed the assignment, and came back from Everest a professional photographer, going on to a long career as a freelance lecturer for Nikon.

The name Vittorio Sella is known the world over for his exceptional alpine photographs. One reason for their extraordinary quality, described by Ansel Adams as inspiring "religious awe," was simple enough: Sella captured his compositions in 300mm x 400mm format. Using an emulsion of silver salts applied to a glass plate, this method of photography, once common, is highly stable and may still be superior in quality to film.

Ansel Adams

Climbing photos have long been used to titillate the general public, to the everlasting derision of climbers. One of the most conspicuous mainstream appearances was the cover of a July 1993 issue of Newsweek, which showed an unnamed, spandex-clad climber lunging for the finishing jug on Chain Reaction (5.12c), a classic at Smith Rock, Oregon. Though unnamed in the mag, the climber was Bill Soule. Soule owned a guide business at Smith, and "ran up and down Chain Reaction, as well as the other routes," says Ted Wood, who took the photo. "He had that place wired."

practice, we learned to sprawl on impact, to keep from hitting the bottom yet still have our feet below us in case we did. (We only experienced a few .”) After two days of being scared to fall, we soon went huge.

The turquoise-green, 75-degree seawater makes for a great landing, but the more time you spend in it, the more ”you get. Your rock shoes will often be wet from the sea air or falling into the drink, and you need a dry chalk bag. Joe fashioned the tripbest quick-drying chalk bag by gluing a plastic PVC ring into the mouth of a swimming cap, to hold it open. Thanks to the moist environment plus a wealth of unfamiliar bacteria, open cuts rarely healed without a little infection, so avoiding flappers was critical.

Ansel Adams

On a previous DWS trip to Mallorca, my hands were constantly sweaty, dirty, or about to grease. I feared Vietnam would be even more raw and humid, so for Ha Long, I decided to experiment with gloves.”Back in the States, Ibought two pairs of tight-fitting golfing gloves and sewed extra Velcro hand straps around the palms. Then I had my shoe sponsor, Evolv, glue climbing rubber on the fingers. The gloves wouldnlet me climb at my limit, but they seemed well-suited to steep routes with big holds that were sharp, dirty, or wet.

To me, deep water soloing in Ha Long Bay was the ultimate blank canvas, awaiting the art of climbing. It was an incredible trip, as ”as Ihoped, and after three weeks on Ha Long Bay, I was enjoying the cultural experience so much that I decided to extend my tour of the region. Island hopping through the Philippines, climbing and surfing, I continued down to Indonesia, before finally concluding my trip with a severe ankle sprain at a bouldering competition in Singapore, which sent me home on crutches.

Of all the great moments, best of all was the mind-blowing sensation I experienced leaving Cat Baharbor for the first time, standing on the bow of a live-aboard boat next to my longtime friend and climbing mentor, Joe Brooks, rubbernecking in disbelief at the seemingly infinite limestone jewels that lay ahead of us.

Chris Lindner (chrislindner.com) is a nomadic professional rock climber originally from the granite-filled cow town of Ramona, California. Brian Solano is a photographer and filmmaker currently living in Florida with his wife and son. To see more of his work, visit briansolano.com. You can see killer footage of Lindner in Ha Long in Solano2009 flick The Players.

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