This technique page is entitled “Cameras”, and not “Photography”. This is because I know very little about taking good photos, and have no useful advice to share.
This page, rather, is about what sort of camera you should take climbing with you, how you should protect it, and how to make your camera be your guide.
This advice is written for folks primarily interested in climbing long routes, and secondarily interested in documenting those climbs. Professional photogs intent on producing the best possible images will want to bring big cameras (DSLRs), many lenses, filters, etc. This is too heavy for me.
For climbers/amateur-photogs looking to show off their climbs to family, friends, there are fortunately some very high quality compact cameras on the market. I use the Canon Powershot S95:
Canon has also just released the S100, featuring the same dimensions, but across-the-board improvements to the images sensor, lens, video capability, and processor.
I won’t bore you with all of the specs, I’m sure if you’re going to invest in a nice camera, you’ll do your own research, or at least listen to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about. I’ll just say that nearly every photo on this blog was taken with my s95, and my friend Cheyne and I both had S95’s this past season in Patagonia, and we used them to record all of the footage in this awesome movie that he put together (well, all of the climbing footage is from the S95, the interviews, bouldering, and in town stuff is from his DSLR).
Regardless of brand, though, I would strongly recommend finding a camera with full manual controls. This will allow you fundamentally understand the mechanics of photography, as well as giving creative options like tight depth-of-field shots and long exposures shots.
Protecting your camera
Whichever camera you choose, it probably won’t be naturally suited to a life on the rocks. You’ll need to protect it with a good case, and rig a system to prevent dropping it. I like a lightweight soft nylon case, as opposed to a bulky hard plastic case. Soft cases offer a bit less protection, but for me the lighter weight and comfort of a soft case make me more likely to bring my camera along.
To prevent dropping your camera, rig your case on a shoulder length sling, so that you can wear while you climb. I prefer this to clipping it on my harness for two reasons: It’s more accessible, and I can easily flip the camera around if I’m in a tight chimney or corner. Clipped to the back of your harness, you’d have to unclip the case in order to move it around and prevent it from getting crushed while you’re desperately squirming in a tight spot.
Once you’re attached your case to you via the sling, attach the camera to the case with a short length of 3mm cord. Easy.
On longer climbs, where I’ll be away from chargers and my computer, I love to have a spare camera battery and memory card. With plenty of power and space, you won’t worry about shooting tons of pics and video. SD cards are pretty cheap everywhere, and you can find cheap, generic-brand backup batteries on ebay.
And, of course, make sure to offload all your photos and fully recharge your batteries before going on a long climb.
A mini-tripod is a lightweight accessory that adds a lot to your photos. You can make long-exposure nighttime shots, fully-zoomed crisp beta shots, or self portraits with a tripod.
I just got a Joby Micro tripod, and it’s awesome! At just 26 grams, you shouldn’t hesitate to bring it everywhere, and it folds up underneath your camera so it’s always ready.
Not only is a camera useful for recording memories of a trip, but it can also be very helpful while you’re climbing.
-Snap photos of topos, guidebooks, or maps before the climb, and then access them while on route.
-Take a series of beta photos of your objective during the approach. Shots from different angles and in different lights will allow you to see different vague crack systems on a massive face, which will all come in handy later when you’re on route and wondering which crack to follow. As mentioned above, a tripod is very useful for stable, and therefore crisp, zoomed-in shots.
-Take photo bread crumbs during a complicated approach. At crucial spots, like when you’re leaving a trail, crossing a stream, or gaining a glacier, take a photo of the area, looking for distinctive features. Later, perhaps while descending in the dark, you might be able to use the breadcrumbs to pick out a certain tree or rock that will confirm you’re on the right course.