Note: this text was originally published by Adam S. on an earlier version of ClimbingHouse.com.
Back in November, Tim Kemple posted an excellent five-part series (first one here), “Behind the Scenes,” of a commercial photoshoot in Yosemite. Although it was really interesting, the scope was beyond what most everyday climbers can plan for. And yet, you still want to take nice photos of your friends while climbing. Fear not, in this post, and I will detail “The Ghetto Rig” and other ways to take nice climbing shots without massive amounts of set-up, rigging, equipment, etc.
It is generally accepted that butt shots (shots from below the subject) are no good, so that means the photographer needs to position to the side or above the subject. There are some ways to do this, most simply stepping back or getting on top of an adjacent rock structure. This doesn’t require any special skills and can yield good results.
Shooting from an adjacent structure can’t accomplish many of the perspectives you may desire. This is where rope work comes in. Some common scenarios are detailed below.
Climber on Adjacent Route, Photographer Climbing
Sometimes a climber happens to be on a route next to you, and you want to snap some shots. If you see this could happen before you start the route, carry your camera equipment, and as you climb into position, clip indirectly to a bolt or gear. This allows you to free your hands to take pictures and not burden your belayer with your weight while you wait for the climber.
Climber on Adjacent Route, Photographer Rappelling
If you are rappelling a route, you finished, and notice a climber you’d like to photograph, you can lock the rappel by wrapping the rope around your leg 3 times (or use a prusik). This will free up your hands to take pictures. If your camera is on the ground, maybe some kind soul will tie it on the end of your rope, and you can pull it up.
The Ghetto Rig (closed loop ascension)
I use this way more than I should. Suppose a climber just finished a route and is raving about it. The top rope is up, and they’re willing to lead it again for you to take photos. You can tie into the toprope like normal, then attach a gri gri on the other side as if belaying yourself. This makes a closed loop of rope. Attach an ascender to the belay side of the loop and begin to pull in rope (through the ascender and the gri gri in turn). This will remove the rope from the loop and allow you to ascend into position. The climber will then use a different rope to climb the route, as you photograph. Using this system, you can descend quickly (just take off the ascender and lower yourself using the gri gri), assuming you have a grigri; this only requires one extra piece of gear. It is noted that ascending a dynamic rope is a little bit of a pain, and it puts a lot of wear on the rope.
Fixed Rope Ascension (quick descender method)
There are a lot of ways to rig and ascend a fixed rope. The method I’d recommend is pairing a gri gri with an ascender. It’s just like the Ghetto Rig described above, but instead of the end of the rope tied back to the photographer, the end is fixed to the anchors (probably via a figure eight on a bite). This is a slow way to ascend a rope, but it doesn’t require much specialized gear. Using the gri gri as an ascender allows the photographer to descend easily and quickly.
- Take care to keep the rigging rope out of the shot. This may involve cropping the photo, adjusting the angle you shoot at, or pulling up all the rope prior to shooting.
- A number of problems plague this photo
- That’s a little better, but the light is still really hard
- Keep your shadow out of the shot
- Bring gear (cams or extra quick draws) to set a directional to get into position (as needed).
- Bring extra slings to attach your camera to your harness, wouldn’t want to drop that!
- Stay out of the climber’s way
- If you’re going to rig a lot, use an old rope or IDEALLY a static rope. Static ropes are easier to ascend, more durable (typically), and then you’re not wearing out a climbing rope.