Kiliii Fish Takes Rock Climbing Photography To The Next Level

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.

Kiliii Fish

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."

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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."

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To read more about his project and of course see more of the photos click here.

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26 Comments

I like a lot of the work but as a rock climber myself I feel some of the move are over exaggerated. but other wise good work.

Great feedback, always good to hear from fellow climbers. We tried our best to get tough sequences with dynamic movement for the shots I wanted to be powerful, and it was surprising how much energy they had. Cheers!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

It's refreshing to see an interesting approach to capturing visuals of rock climbing. Well done!

awesome job, nice light, sometimes the subjects look like 3d models, very inspiring.

The last two images have a very appealing aesthetic to me. Maybe it's because they resemble what you sometimes see in computer games. Slightly supernatural. I would die for beholding them on a huge 9 foot canvas in an exhibition ... sigh.

Havoc, I am opening a print exhibition at the opening party for Hiawatha Gallery in Seattle next month. If you're anywhere nearby you can see them (not quite 9 ft) at a substantial size in person!

How can I have such fitness if I keep sitting on my computer reading fstoppers posts :(

Epic indeed!

Von Wong's picture

This is some amazing stuff!! Thanks for the work. Man i just came from seattle would have loved to hang out :)

Wondering how are the original photo looks like.

Some great shots there. As a climbing photographer I shoot in a far more editorial style, it's great to see climbing photos being presented from a more artistic perspective.

This is brilliant. I've seen image stacking for cave photography, but never for outdoor rock climbers. Just phenomenal.

As a climber and a climbing photographer i'm sorry but i find these a little unnatural (i'm probably in the minority here). They just look a little computer-gamey to me. I like the concept, just not the execution

As a climber and climbing photographer i find these shots unnatural (i'm probably in the minority here). I like the concept but not the exercution

Most representation of a sport or another will be exagerated in photography, film etc...

You take what is cool (hanging from cliffs like you're Tom Cruise) and make it look easy. THAT'S what will draw uninitiated viewers to the pictures and serie.

this wasn't photojournalism, the author clearly says it: "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."

In that aspect, it is a fabulous success!

YOUR sick moves slapping jugs on 5.8 slab don't look like these.

These photos are amazing, and it took impressive talent on the photographer and climber to make it happen, but I feel a little cheated after reading that they are composited. It's sad that in these current times with the tools at our disposal and the beautiful scenes Mother Nature provides that we have to create the image in Photoshop anyway. Reading the reasoning in the article, I get it, but in my opinion, composites give the feeling: it's a cool image, but it didn't really exist as I'm seeing it.

Not my cup of tea, not natural in any way shape or form. Here is what the users of UKClimbing think:

http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?n=564469

I'm sorry but as a keen climber and lover of the great outdoors I find most of these images to be grotesque. For me it's important to be able to say: "yes I was there, it was really like that". Instead we see a garish pastiche of different scenes manipulated then lumped together. Some of the climbing poses are realistic but others unnatural and obviously staged to the point of being about to fall off rather than succeed on the climb. it's a great planet out there; let's show it as it really is!

Im in full support of your post.... couldn't agree more

Couldn't agree more too!

As an avid climber myself for almost 20 years, it is obvious that some of the poses were far from natural. However, we have to remember what his intent was. As was so clearly stated in the article, the photographer was not "documenting", but rather creating his own art. He accomplished his goal, which was to provide a certain feeling and sense of awe that has not been frequently seen in climbing photography. You have plenty of other photographers who show it "as it really is" (which itself is a phrase that does not make sense in the context of photography, but I understand what you were trying to say). Let's enjoy this rarity rather than wishing it was the same as everything else out there. Remember, photography is art.

Climbing photography and composites just doesn't feel "right". It's almost like chipping holds :(