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Photo Credit: Ian Matteson

The Climber’s Guide to Instagram

Social media generates mixed feelings, everything from “Like”-happy elation to the sense that we’re enslaved in a post-modern Zuckerbergian dystopia.

Regardless of what you think, you have to admit that there are some pretty sweet climbing photos on Instagram these days. It’s hard not to get stoked by shots of rock climbing from around the world; you may even want to join the likes of Chris Sharma (@chris_sharma), Tommy Caldwell (@tommycaldwell), Alex Honnold (@alexhonnold), Steph Davis (@highsteph) and, of course, yours truly (@andrewbisharat), and start posting your own climbing adventures to Instagram.

Here’s what you need to know:

Know the Basics of Good Climbing Photography

Of course, all rules are meant to be broken, but here are a few guidelines to taking a great, magazine-worth climbing photo:

All four limbs in shot

Try to get yourself into a position that allows you to see all four limbs. This is much harder to do than it sounds.

No chalking shots

Photos of climbers chalking up are boring. Go for active movements and capture that decisive moment.

Get the face, too

Anytime you can see a person’s face, especially their eyes, will make for a much more interesting picture.

Leading lines

The geometry of the rock, the line of the rope, the crack the climber is jamming: all of these features are common, prominent lines that, when composed in an interesting way, can help lead your eye to the climber.

Separation between climber and rock

Anytime you can get some separation between the climber and the rock, you’ll create a more dynamic and interesting picture because you’ll be showing dimension and depth of field. This could be as simple as getting the climber’s body in profile against a stark-blue sky with all four limbs barely touching the rock.

Simple is beautiful

Go for simple backdrops, simple foregrounds. Especially for an Instagram, the simpler the composition, the more striking the picture.

App Up

In addition to Instagram, there are three vital apps you should own. These apps will help take your photos to the next level.

Snapseed

From the makers of the professional photo-editing Nik software, Snapseed is the best photo-editing app out there. This app does everything from basic toning and contrast work to advanced control of saturation, white balance, brightness and shadows. Sharpen your image. Crop it. Straighten it. Add vignettes or tilt-shift effects. Or choose from a range of HDR-style filters to make your picture pop.

Squareready

If you didn’t specifically compose with that 1:1 square aspect ratio that defines Instagram in mind, then you’ll want Squareready to turn your 3:2 ratio image into a square so you don’t have to crop out important information.

Retouch

This is a good app for clone-stamping out pesky details that detract from the picture. Maybe you don’t want those powerlines in your shot. You could even clone-stamp out your top-rope to make it look like you’re a free-soloing badass.

Use a Real Camera

Instagram purists pooh-pooh any photo that wasn’t captured with your phone’s built-in camera. However, more and more people are using Instagram as a way to share photos they took with actual cameras.

There are a number of WiFi-equipped cameras on the market today that allow you to send photos directly to your iPhone instantaneously. WiFi capabilities are now found on everything from point-and-shoot cameras to professional DSLRs. I’ve been using the Sony NEX-6, a 16.1 megapixel mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses and WiFi. I can shoot a high-quality image with the NEX-6, send it to my iPhone, quickly edit the picture in Snapseed and have it posted to Instagram within a minute.

Hashtags, Tagging, and Writing a Great Caption

The caption is one of the most important parts of climbing photography. The clever interplay between the route name and what the climber is doing offers a fantastic opportunity for being witty and entertaining—which will automatically translate into more likes of your photo. But where Instagram takes the classic climbing caption one step further is through the inclusion of hashtags that, like adjectives, F-bombs or exclamation points, should always be used sparingly for maximum effect.

Hashtags can be useful and straightforward like: Jimmy finally taps The Vagina (V8) at Rocktown one hot afternoon. #Climbing #Bouldering. Or they can be used as a sort of post-modern footnote to what has just been written: Terrance came to climb The Route of all Evil (5.14a) and discovered … himself. #RoutesAreReflectionsOfWhoWeAre

Either way, it’s your Instagram account and your photos. This is your opportunity to express your individualism, and maybe even develop a following that can boost your sponsorship aspirations. So get out there, capture your next climbing adventure with your camera, and post it to Instagram. Just don’t forget the caption.

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Photo Credit: Ian Matteson

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