Sunday, 11 September 2011

10 Reasons Why Climbing Photography is Easier Than Making Climbing Films

When I was shooting 'The Long Hope' on Hoy this year I had a running joke with climbing photographer Lukasz Warzecha that he had it easy and that shooting video was much harder than shooting stills. So, with that in mind here are my 10 reasons why:- 
(Warning: please don't take this too seriously!)

1 Sound Acquisition

Stills don't need sound! Recording good quality sound in an extreme position is incredibly difficult.  You have to compete with the environment (wind, water etc). It requires specialist equipment, radio mics, broadcast quality mics, wind shields. It also requires set up and monitoring with headphones (which are a real pain when hanging from a rope!).

2 Sound Post Production

Sound is such a biggy it deserves to get two in the list of ten. About 20% of the post production of a film is concerned with sound. 

3 Tripods

To get good GVs (General views - eg landscapes, pans and tilts etc) you have to use a tripod for video; with stills you can just snap away handheld. Yeah sure, there are a few times when you might shoot a still on a tripod, but it's rare. Good video tripods are heavy and a real pain to carry. (My top tip for any budding climbing filmmakers out there is always try to make the talent (i.e. the climber) carry the tripod!)

4 Lighting

When photographers talk about lights often they just mean flash guns; they only need to light their subject for a fraction of a second. Video needs continuous lighting. I recently shot some video of a climb in a cave. As well as 3 x 800 watts spotlights with stands I also had to carry in a large petrol generator to power them. Compare that to a couple of flash guns and a handful of AAs!

5 Media Size

After the two week shoot on Hoy I now have 1500GB of video to trawl through. I bet Lukasz came away with only about 50GB.

6 Editing

When I hear a photographer talk about 'editing' that really sets me off! They have it so easy! All they have to do is skim though their images from the shoot and pick out the keepers from the choss. Then they spend a pleasant evening tweaking setting and 'playing' with filters until they have their final images. Editing a film can be a 500-hour life altering journey, resulting in lack of sleep and social contact, malnourishment and an existential crisis.

7 Photoshop Trickery 

Whether its HDR (high dynamic range) or de-cluttering, photoshopping is easy with stills. Try fixing shots like this at 25fps. For a short 5 second clip that's 125 frames which need to be fixed and even then it might not work and look a little odd.

8 Video Formats

HD, SD, MPG, Quicktime, AVIs, PAL, NTSC, progressive, interlaced, anamorphic, frame rate, data rate, pixel aspect ratio, field dominance,  etc. Video formats is a whole world of hurt!
Compare with stills: RAW or JPG!  It's not just the number of formats that is the problem, it's trying to convert from one format to another. With stills you just select 'Save As' doesn't work like that.

9 Portrait Composition

Climbing is mostly a vertical pursuit; one goes from the bottom to the top mostly (usually!) in a upright position. Therefore it is so much easier to compose a good climbing shot in portrait orientation. Video is a landscape / wide screen format, we just don't have that option. When I shoot stills its a joy to be able to turn the camera around 90 degrees. Warning, if you ever ask a photographer to shoot some video for you on his DSLR ("my camera shoots HD video you know!") remind them to shoot landscape! 

10 One Frame for Glory!

For a photographer to win praise and even prizes they only need to produce one stunning image, or as a filmmaker would say, one frame. My new film 'The Long Hope' is 60mins long, so that's 60mins x 60 sec x 25fps = 90,000 frames! That's 90,000 frames that all have to perfectly exposed, composed and colour corrected. Not to mention in some sort of order so that the film makes sense. 

So that's why stills are easier than video.  This is an open and public invitation to Lukasz to defend his profession, or bow down before all filmmakers and admit that stills are easy ;-)

Finally, I have to come clean and say that I will be attending Lukasz's photography workshop in North Wales at the end of this month (if he is still speaking to me after this post!). Just because stills are 'easy' it doesn't mean that I can't learn something from a pro!

Still a few places left.


'Wide Boyz' - A Crazy New Climbing Film (Due 2012)

We've been working on a new film which will be out next year featuring Peter Whittaker and Thomas Randall.

The last time Pete featured in a Hot Aches film (Committed Vol II) he produced some of the craziest climbing I've ever seen.

Pete Whittaker on the first ascent of 'Dynamics of Change' E9.
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Over the last couple of years Pete and Tom have been on a mission to climb the worlds hardest offwidth cracks. This mission is culminating in a two month climbing trip to the USA starting this week. Hot Aches have teamed up with American filmmaker Chris Alstrin of Alstrin Films and Chris will be recording all the action across the pond.

Offwidth crack climbing is a bit of a specialty. In fact, I'm not sure I understood exactly what the definition of an offwidth was until working with 'The Wide Boys', or 'Wide Boyz' according to their blog. Tom described it to me as a crack which is too wide to hand or fist jam, yet not wide enough to fit your whole body into, as then it gets classed as a squeeze chimney.

Personally,  I'm not sure about the 'z', What do you think? Should I call the film 'Wild Boyz' or 'Wild Boys'? Please let me know in the comments below.

I spent two weeks filming with the 'Boys/Boyz' in the Peak District and North Wales, climbing many of the UKs hardest crack climbs.

Tom Hanging out of Cobalt Dream E5

Ray's Roof, first climbed by the inventor of Friends, Ray Jardine, was considered the UK's classic hard offwdith. I've not only filmed Pete and Tom solo this but I've also got some funny footage of them attempting it wearing a 20kg training vest… Not the easiest thing to carry in to the crag.

20KG training vest

The Wide Boys haven't just been ticking off all the hardest climbs and problems, they have been training too… training like I've never seen before!
 crack training

Underneath a suburban semi on the outskirts of Sheffield is an offwidth crack training dungeon! A training cellar in Sheffield is nothing new, in fact there was a time when you could hardly visit a climber in Sheffield without him wanting to show you his woody! However, this one doesn't contain tiny crimps and a replica of Hubble.  No, instead it is made up of horizontal offwidth cracks of various sizes.

Pete wedged between two pieces of wood underneath a house in Sheffield

Here Pete and Tom spend their evenings hanging upside down and completing monster crack climbing circuits. The width of the cracks varies in places and to aid identification they have named the sections of crack… most seem to have girls names for some reason! 
 Tom in his cellar
The Wide Boys have now clocked up over 18,000 feet of offwidth climbing in Tom's cellar. The question now is how will that translate to hard offwidth climbing in the States? You can find out by following Pete and Tom on their blog here Wide Boyz Blog

And join the Hot Aches Facebook page  for all the latest updates.


Pete and Tom's trip is supported by Wild Country, Rab and Patagonia

Thanks to Adrian Samarra for his help filming in the Peak and North Wales.