Social media in general evokes mixed feelings, everything from “Like”-happy elation to the sense that we’re enslaved to the Silicon Valley overlords of our 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.
Instagram—while largely filled with a bunch of shit (photos of dogs, babies, food, latte art, etc.)—is also now a live source of news for the climbing world. Gone are the days when you’ll read about the latest hard ascents in “Hot Flashes” in a magazine. Even the most up-to-date online climbing sites lag far behind the instantaneous, global and viral outreach of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, with updates coming straight from the horse’s mouth—or, rather, straight from the bone crusher’s iPhone.
For example, the news about Jonathan Siegrist’s latest redpoint of Realization (aka Biographie aka Realization aka whatever) and Paige Claassen’s impressive send of Just Do It all broke on Instagram.
The key is to keep your feed high-quality, and to make your own just as good. Here’s how.
First … Who Should I Follow?
After downloading Instagram and creating an account, you’ll need to start finding people to follow. Here are some recommendations to get you going.
Obviously, professional climbing photographers are a good place to begin as they will have the most interesting and diverse archive of climbing shots. Pretty much all of my favorite climbing photographers are on Instagram. You can’t go wrong following these guys:
Though not professional photographers, many great climbers are taking some great photos, too. And by following your favorite vertical athletes on the ‘Gram, you’ll stay up to date on what kind of Gnar they end up slaying. My votes go to:
Alana Blanchard (OK, she’s a professional surfer, not a climber … but check out this booty!)
Colette McInerny, de facto queen of reflection selfies aka #coletteing
How Do I Take a Good Climbing Picture?
Of course, all rules are meant to be broken, but here are a few guidelines to taking a great, ‘Gram-worthy climbing photo:
All Four Limbs In Shot
Try to get yourself into a position that allows you to capture all four limbs of the climber. 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.
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.
In addition to Instagram, there are a few vital apps you should own. These apps will help take your photos to the next level.
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.
If you didn’t specifically compose with that 1:1 square aspect ratio that defines Instagram, then you’ll want Square Aspect to turn your 3:2 ratio image into a square so you don’t have to crop out important information.
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.
Followers For Instagram
This app, which gives you a ton of additional information about your own following, is strictly for small-minded, petty people—in other words, this app is for everyone. See who your new followers are, and see which followers jumped ship. Again, this app is dangerous. The most prominent feature is something called “They don’t follow me back,” which provides a comprehensive list of people who you follow but don’t follow you back. Talk about getting petty!
This is how I know Jonathan Thesenga—who, once again, is supposedly my “friend”—doesn’t follow me back, which fills me with ignoble sentiments each time one of his overly filtered shots pings up on my feed. But there is retribution here, because FollowMe also tells me who my “secret admirers” are—the people who comment and/or like my photos the most, but who aren’t actually following me. Low and behold, JT is right at the top of list. I knew you liked me, JT!
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: “Beelzebub 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.