Kiliii Fish Takes Rock Climbing Photography To The Next Level
Kiliii Fish, Seattle-based commercial photographer, was always fascinated by how people interact with nature and how they use it to live their lives. Aside from being a full time photographer Fish is also an avid rock climber. Recently he decided to combine these 3 things he loves to a unique photography project showing the grace, power, beauty and vulnerability that goes into rock climbing. Kiliii spent days in each location and worked for months to complete the series. The results are absolutely amazing. Check out these incredible images as well as his thoughts about the projects below.
FS: What made you decide to make this project and shoot rock climbers like this?
KF: “Being a climber myself, I think it was only a matter of time until I dedicated a personal project to making climbing images. A lot of my visual style in photography draws from natural environments and so of course when I’m out on the crag with friends I’m always looking at these amazing images in my head. I climb or train some five days a week, so it’s a big part of my life.
Rock climbing isn’t just about a sport happening in a beautiful place, it’s about the seeming impossibility of ascending sheer walls while doing it with grace and focus. Most climbing photographs don’t speak to me other than in a sort-of-documentary way– this person climbing such and such route, etc… I love those photos for what they are, but my purpose was to re-create both the magic and epic feeling of climbing.”
FS: In order to get these shots, did you have to climb yourself? How did you manage to shoot with all the equipment while hanging from a rope?
KF: “Absolutely. Sometimes I had to go up and make the moves myself to figure out or demonstrate how I wanted the moves to be done for the best body positions, etc… While some of the images I could have technically stayed on the ground, it’s going up and seeing all the different perspectives and feeling the different moves that make those shots what they are. I tend to stay away from shooting whilst hanging from a rope. It can give you the right perspective, but often I find that if I choose the right routes I can climb up nearby routes with ledges to give me much better mobility and command over the scene as well as direction for the lighting and usage of a tripod.”
FS: The photos have a magical feel to them. What are some of the things you did in post process?
KF: “Every single one of the images in this series is a composite, but not necessarily what you might think. Some of the shots were shot on location with the focus on getting the body position, and then the climber on that route alone was composited into the exact same scene, but over a clean plate shot on a tripod or at a slightly different time of day etc… By shooting the climber and backgrounds together and separately I was able to focus on getting the light and expression and body positions exactly right without worrying about composition and the other subtleties of landscape photos. For example, shooting in the low light of twilight or to capturing atmospheric effects required a tripod, but getting my climbers in motion to be sharp required a slightly different time of day and fast shutter speeds.
Of course I do a lot of color work as well; bringing in separate skies from different moments or days and constantly adjusting color until it feels the way I want it to.
I want to be clear that these photographs are not editorial. As an assistant I worked on shoots with National Geographic and their strict editorial standard became well imbued in me. It was making the decision to move beyond documentary photographs that allowed me to create work that got my muses spinning.
I think of my work as paintings of light whose canvas happens to be time and production. It’s more like being a conductor than a fly on a wall.
Sometimes the phenomenon happens when people see my work and ask me about the use of Photoshop. When I say, “Yes, of course retouching was involved,” people immediately jump to the conclusion that the whole thing was impossible. The real truth is that every single one of these athletes not only is fully capable of pulling off the moves, but also did it twenty times for the camera. Some of the athletes repeatedly fell off their bouldering problems (safely) because of the sheer exhaustion.
I love it when a viewer sees a photograph for the first time, devoid of context, and gets pulled into that world the way a kid would with anything a possibility.
One of my favorite photographs of all time is a shot by Chris Crisman of a little girl chasing fireflies in the dark on a black night through a gorgeous meadow. It’s a prime example of something that could never be caught in a single documentary photograph; but the spirit and the joy captured by that shot blows me away and makes me ten years old again, chasing glowing bugs with wild abandon. That’s art, and that speaks to me.
FS: Are you planning to continue this series?
KF: “For now this series is complete, but I will almost certainly start another with climbing as the central theme once the next season starts. I am currently working on a sea kayaking project. Winter out here is great for storms.”
FS: What was the most challenging thing about creating this set?
KF: “I think the hardest part was matching locations to the visions in my head. I traveled about 5,000 miles over three months, and with the help of the internet was able to scout very specific shots that I wanted where the moves would be dynamite and the landscapes gorgeous. The other bit that was tough was locking down my athletes to a time and place. Climbers can be so flaky and want to do what their bodies feel like doing, which makes sense, but can be frustrating for shoot production.
I suppose the last unmentioned hurdle is self-production on a minimal budget. It would have been far easier to have shot this series with a decent budget, but thanks to all the great people (my crew, the athletes, Seattle Bouldering Project) that supported the series it was possible to pull off a high-production shoot.”
To read more about his project and of course see more of the photos click here.