Monday, 28 November 2011

Photography and reality (posted by James)

I've spent a while recently thinking about the often large gap between the reality and the appearance of mountain photos. It's a complicated discipline, serious mountaineering photography. It's a long haul to accumulate the skills and ability required but when you start "getting it right" it is immensely satisfying.

But it can also be very frustrating too. So often it is incredibly difficult to truly capture moods or a sense of scale. Especially in winter when I am often solo climbing in order to get to good positions for photos, the whole experience can be a barrage on the senses. So when you yourself view your photos, you are very aware that most of the experience can be inevitably missing. Fortunately, other people will simply see what is in the photo as they weren't actually there.

The above photo is a good example. A climber high on Italian Climb on Ben Nevis, dwarfed by the huge cliffs surrounding him. The photo gives an impression of loneliness almost, of a climber tiny amongst vast surroundings. I like it, but it puts across a very different mood to how things actually were. The Ben was the busiest I'd ever seen it that day, an arena echoing with climbing calls, the sound of clipping karibiners and swinging ice axes. Several climbers were watching the team on Italian Climb, and you could see figures silhouetted on all the ridges. So the mood of the photo is totally different to the mood on the day.

With the second photo I hope I've done my job successfully. Despite being photographically quite poor it actually gets across the whole winter thing quite well. Getting dark with the temperature dropping and still a long descent to safety. Maybe it works because you can see I haven't put in a huge amount of thought to composition or technique, it's been taken by someone with cold hands who is racing against fading light to get down safely.

We put so much effort into trying to capture the little details and unique moments. But so often it's the things we can't capture, the sounds and sensations that really make the moment. I suppose then the challenge is to know exactly when and how to take the photo, and in a way so that your audience almost can feel those crucial sensations.


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