(Actually, this should probably be an OAC – Occasionally Asked Questions)
Q: Are you a professional photographer?
A: Not at all. My day job is as a software design engineer for embedded systems. I am a climber myself and enjoy photography as a serious hobby.
Q: So who do you take these pictures for?
A: For fun, for practice, USA Climbing and mostly, for you. USA Climbing sometimes uses my shots for their literature, or their web site. Sometimes, one of the climbing magazines will run shots taken at the national competitions. Urban Climbing in particular has been mailing out a supplement with their magazine each year that has contained some of my photographs.
Q: Why do you give away these photos for free?
A: For a few reasons. The main one is that the photos do no one any good by sitting on a hard drive somewhere. If I charged for them, then it wouldn’t be a hobby anymore – and what would be the fun of that? Besides, the climbers I photograph are excellent. They have put a lot of work into what they do and it shows. I think that’s worth at least a few photographs!
Q: I have one of the prints that you gave me – how can I get another copy?
A: One way is by finding the photograph on my web site and either ordering the print through Shutterfly, or downloading the digital file and having it printed yourself. There are an awful lot of photos on my web site, so I know that it can take a while to find just the print you are looking for. If you don’t know which competition the shot is from, I always write the date of the competition on its back, so that should help narrow it down. If you don’t have the time to search through hundreds of photos from a competition (and who does?) you can email me (see the Contact button above) with the exposure number (it looks like: 113.172.130) that I wrote on the back of your print and I will email you the original digital file so that you can print the photo however you like. Even a very old film photo will still have a date and exposure number written on its back. If there is no exposure number written on its back, don’t despair – if you can describe the shot to me, I can still likely find it for you pretty quickly. I never throw negatives or files away.
Q: You used to mail out photos to all participants at Nationals – do you still do that?
A: Alas, no. I used to take no more than 1800 film photos at Nationals. I had to print all of them to see which ones were best for possible publication. Since they were printed anyway, I could either trash all of them when I was done, or send the prints to the climbers. It seemed far more fun to send them to the climbers. Now that I use digital cameras, I take many more shots and I don’t have to print them to see which are best. I throw away at least 4 of every 5 digital shots I take whereas I used to throw away only 1 in 9, but the result appears more professional, I think.
Preparing a good digital photo for printing takes a lot more of my time than film did. For instance, the photo lab would balance the color and exposure for film shots – but for digital shots, I must balance the color and exposure myself. Also, to look its best, each digital shot must be rotated and cropped. This all takes time and I am not a photographer by trade. I stopped mailing out Nationals photos when I found that I couldn’t prepare all of the 2005 Nationals photos before the 2006 Nationals. It’s a bummer, but there it is.
Q: Can I get the original digital files from you?
A: Yes. If you want less than about ten files, I’ll email them to you. Otherwise, I'll send a SkyDrive link where you can copy the photos from. If you'd like, I can prepare and mail a CD or DVD of ALL the photos I've ever taken of a particular climber for $10. This CD or DVD contains both the original files from the camera and the retouched versions of what I considered the best shots. To request a CD or DVD, just contact me using the information from the “Contact” link above.
Q: Can I use your photos for publication?
A: The short answer: yes. I charge no royalties for photos, so if the photo is of you, or you can get an OK from the pictured climber, you are free to use it for publication. I do appreciate hearing about any of my photos that are being published, and if possible, I would appreciate being given credit for the photo in the publication.
Q: Some folks get lots of pictures while others don’t get many – do you play favorites?
A: The short answer: yes. My
goal is to get good shots of as many of the climbers as I can. Still, some climbers have climbing styles
that are conducive to great shots, while others, even the best of climbers,
have styles that make getting good shots much more difficult. For instance:
at redpoint competitions, climbers who try a lot of climbs and choose
well-lit climbs get more shots. I
believe that a good shot shows a climber’s face, so climbers who look at their
feet most of the time will get very few photographs while climbers who default
to looking up at the route ahead will get more.
Some climbers have a very unrushed style while others are in constant
motion, but motion ruins photos in a dark gym.
When several climbers are climbing at once, I focus on the one who is
working the most photogenic portion of the climb. If more than one climber are
working photogenic cruxes, I admit, I focus on the
Q: So do you use a digital camera?
A: Yes. I’ve been all-digital since 2005. I currently use a Nikon D700 and a Nikon D800. The D700 does really well in the low light conditions of climbing gyms. The D800 is not quite as good with low light, but has such high resolution that it matters less. I use an 80-200mm f2.8 zoom on one camera and a 24-70mm f2.8 zoom on the other. I used to take pictures with film cameras, but now they are serving as doorstops and paperweights. :) Ah, technology!
Q: I usually see you with two cameras – why is that?
I almost always use two cameras these days because it is very hard to build an f2.8 zoom lens with a very large range. If I could buy an f2.8 (or better!) lens with a zoom range of 24-200mm, I’d get it. Until such a thing is available, the only way to get that kind of range is to use two lenses. Since I can’t swap lenses fast enough (and they might fall to their doom if I tried!) that means two cameras. I currently own an 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens and use that and just one camera (a Nikon D7000) outside where light is plentiful. For indoor photography, though, it’s hard to beat an f2.8. The boost in picture quality is enough that it’s worth juggling two cameras.
Q: You always seem to use a lens hood on your lenses – why bother?
The lens hood just blocks light from the side that shouldn’t be in the picture and prevents it from hitting the lens. When a strong light source (like the sun or, say, a gym light) strikes the lens but isn’t directly in the picture, it still affects the picture. This is because no lens is perfect – especially in a climbing gym where dust is constantly accumulating on the lens. Light hits these imperfections and is scattered back toward the digital sensor adding light to the picture that shouldn’t be there. This scattered light decreases the contrast and sharpness of the picture. It can be very noticeable – especially if you have a shot with and without a lens hood to compare. Sometimes you may see me with my hand out in front of the lens to shade it. This is because the lens hood on a zoom lens must be cut for its widest angle or the hood will end up being in the picture. This means that the hood cannot be sufficient to completely protect the lens at the larger magnifications (narrower angles). I sometimes need to compensate for this by shading it with my hand.
Q: How come you never use a flash? Photography would be a lot easier, wouldn't it?
Yes. I don’t use a flash mostly because I like to put my lens as much in the faces of the climbers as I can – and I’d prefer not to risk having a climber not do their best because they were distracted by a flash. There are other reasons too, though. I like the look of pictures taken with available light – that is, light that comes from several different sources and not just from the camera all the time – that would be boring! Also, there is a lot of chalk dust floating in the gym. This dust ruins flash shots by adding big fluffy white blobs to the picture. The farther away the subject is, the more dust, and the worse a flash shot looks.
Q: My photos always turn out dark or blurry. How do you get these shots?
A: I used to use fast film (ASA 1600), but a good digital camera is able to simulate fast film with a menu setting. On the D700, there is even an “ISO” button for setting the simulated film speed and while I’m shooting in a gym, I generally set this to ASA 1600, just like the film I used to use. This is because although the camera allows a faster setting, ASA 1600 is as fast as the D700 will go and still look acceptable, in my opinion. Some gyms have enough light (usually only on sunny days through skylights) that I can use ASA 800 – which I will use when I can because the quality is a bit better.
Every digital camera is different. Some don’t allow the ISO or ASA speed to be set and some require difficult menu gyrations to change the speed. Also, a smaller camera generally has a smaller sensor which is more susceptible to noise in dark conditions than a larger sensor. Although ASA 1600 works fine on my camera, you may find that a higher (faster) number works fine on yours, or perhaps that you will have to use a lower number to keep the picture from looking too grainy.
If you want to try using a flash, go ahead! Just because I don’t use a flash doesn’t mean that you must not use one. I’ve never heard a climber complain that a flash used from the ground was distracting. When I ask them, they usually say something like, “you took a picture? Cool.”