Climbing is a sport that has existed for centuries, however, over the past few years it has started to skyrocket in popularity, rapidly becoming a mainstream activity. So much so that even the folks at the Olympics have noticed and added it to the docket as a new medal event in 2020. With an increase in professional climbers competing at the highest level also comes a need for photographers who are able to capture this impressive sport. Christopher Beauchamp is one of the sport’s leading shooters and was kind enough to chat with Fstoppers about his career. Beauchamp’s love for climbing first began shooting in caves where he focused on subterranean landscapes. Beauchamp, however, quickly came to realize that caving in the northeast was quite the rough experience: “The caving in the Northeast is typically a pretty miserable affair, hours spent in the dark in really, really tight spaces filled with muck and water, wearing a wetsuit, freezing your ass off.”
Beauchamp’s experience shooting in caves was invaluable early training for his, unbeknownst at the time, destiny as a climbing photographer. Much of the rope work used in caving directly translated to climbing photographer along with the patience to tolerate often severe situations for prolonged periods of time in order to craft the perfect image.
Unlike most climbing photographers who begin as climbers who pick up a camera with a desire to capture themselves and fellow climbers, Beauchamp entered the world of climbing as an experienced photographer that was new to the sport of climbing. Originally pursuing it only as a hobby, Beauchamp naively believed he wished to pursue a career as a product photographer crafting perfect images in a dry studio. Beauchamp's early inspiration came from spending a day, years ago with the, then budding, Vincent Laforet who helped spark Beauchamp's initial fire to pursue photography as more than just a hobby. Over the course of the next dozen years Beauchamp experimented with different genres while he defined himself as a photographer eventually realizing that adventure photography was becoming and would ultimately be his calling.
Unlike with many other disciplines of sports photography, a climbing photographer needs to develop impressive climbing skill in his or her own right. Occasionally an interesting photo can be made from the ground with a long telephoto and the rise of drones certainly has expanded the options of a climbing photographer, ultimately most great photos are where the action is, which means climbing along with the athletes onto remote cliff faces. A climbing photographer certainly doesn’t need to become a competitive climber at the highest level but at the very least needs to become both strong enough, and proficient enough to leverage aide climbing techniques in order to ensure that he or she can be in position when the subject is attempting the next awe inspiring ascent that will reverberate through the climbing world. Safety plays a particularly important role as climbing photography often demands the photographer place themselves in a situation where careless ropework can easily lead to serious injury or worse. Being able to effectively, and safely manage ropes and anchors while still being able to focus on achieving a great photo plays a critical role in the life of any climbing photographer.
As with many photographers, Beauchamp wishes that he could haul a whole studio’s worth of gear up the side of a mountain but unfortunately this never is an option. Every ounce of gear makes climbing into position a smidgen more difficult and thus climbing photography often means learning exactly what gear will be needed in a given situation. No more, no less. Regardless, second guessing once on the mountain serves no benefit, Beauchamp advocates mastering the problem solving needed to make the best use of whatever gear you have at a given moment in order to deliver great images, regardless of whether you have the perfect set up.
Beauchamp’s experience as a studio photographer has played a tremendous role in equipping him with the variety of skills needed to match the challenge of any difficult situation when out on the rock which has heavily contributed to his signature style of creating images that feel as if they have a studio sharpness and quality to them even though they were taken in some of the most extreme outdoor situations. Beauchamp advocates for making sure to keep things simple and focus on the quality of the work. “It can be very easy to get wrapped up in a concept and over complicate things. You constantly have to be asking ‘Why am I doing this or that? Is it really adding value? Am I making something better or just different?’ Sometimes simpler really is better.”
It is no secret that the popularity of photography, as a whole, makes carving out a successful business quite difficult. Beauchamp feels that climbing photography is no different. Often faced with the daunting challenge of competing with those who offer their services for free, Beauchamp is forced chase a quality that brings the commercial value of his work beyond the vast majority of shooters by catering content to as wide variety of content channels as possible.
In addition to his work as a climbing photographer, Beauchamp has travelled tirelessly to showcase the heroes who are saving lives in the battle against global pandemics. Thanks to CNN films, Beauchamp’s project “Unseen Enemy” will be published to the world which you can check out a sample of in a gallery on his website.
Finally, Beauchamp is a teacher for Rock & Ice Magazine’s Photocamp which focuses on teaching photographers how to create climbing imagery in real world climbing situations that have commercial value. The course adds particular value by coaching students in the field followed by a review with industry editors to provide constructive feedback that is relevant to creating photographs that are in demand by clients.
This year Beauchamp, along with two other great climbing photographers will be taking students out to Wild Iris in Wyoming for three days of intense photography coaching in early September. Boasting an impressive 9,000 feet of alpine rock, Wild Iris makes for a perfect vista to learn the “ropes” of climbing photography. To learn more check out the course itinerary on Rock & Ice’s website.