How to film a rock climber

Have you ever wondered how to film a rock climber?

I have just finished filming a short video about a talented Canadian rock climber who is sending some serious routes in the Sultanate of Oman.

N.B: Before you read this, keep in mind I followed work at heights protocols with a 2 rope system. This is not usually the case when filming sport but it takes a lot of worry away on sharp rocks and this allows to focus completely on the filming.

The climbing and filming Location

Hadash_Oman

We filmed around the village the Hadash, about 2-hrs drive from the capital Muscat in the foothills of Jebel Akhdar. A dirt track leads all the way to the village and from there a good path takes you the foot of the crag. Not a major hike but enough when you are carrying all the rope gear, bolting equipment, camera gear and tripod.

In short it’s very much like a canoe trip, only just the portage sections.

Keep this in mind when you are going to film at a remote crag.

  • Always find out when the sun hits the route. On the first day we assumed the route was always in the shade and then next morning we discovered it was lit from 8 to 10am. This changes things.

 Setting up for filming the climb

Once all the gear was in place, I hiked to the top of the crag and looked at the best way to position anchor bolts for my ropes. The top of the crag was a big rocky table so it was easy to chose places to drill for anchor bolts.

I placed bolts to secure a rope down to the ledge. Then more bolts on the side to allow us to film from a few meters away.

That way I had two positions, one on the right hand-side of the climber (sun in the back) which gave me some distance from him. The other position was right above him.

The easiest way is to abseil down and start near the bottom with the climber then slowly jumar up as the climber makes his way up. Obviously it’s important to have good communication with the climber as to when you are filming or not.

The dreaded butt shot

The dreaded butt shot

Avoid:

The infamous butt shot of rock climbers, or the equally infamous bald spot shot. Take some distance from the climber.

  • If you are above and it’s over-hanging (like in Hadash) you will be automatically a few meters away.
  • Don’t stand just below, make sure you stick to one side or the other of the climber.

Make sure you:

  • Have extra batteries. They will never last as long as you want and you never can have too many. A 3 day shoot with no access to power will make you realize you don’t have nearly enough batteries.
  • Bring extra memory cards. Just like batteries they fill up fast and you can’t have too many.
  • Make backups and then more backups. I never erase memory cards until I get back to the office. I also back them up every night on two separate hard drives. One is my MacBookPro SSD drive and the other is the French made LaCie Rugged drive. That way I have 3 copies. The memory cards stay with me in my camera bag, the Macbook Pro stays also with me and the LaCie Rugged drive stays in a vehicle or at camp.

Managing the climber

rock_climb_film

Keep in mind that the climber has to repeat the same move several times if you want to get, a wide shot, a close up of his hands and an above the head shot.  You have to make sure the climber doesn’t exhaust him or herself in the first hour or you will be stuck.

Make sure you place all the quick-draws before the climber starts and allow him or her to rest between takes. A tired climber means you won’t finish your film and in most cases means having to come back several times.

Rope Gear List

film_rock_climb

  • Petzl Navaho Bod harness: although heavier it made ascending easier and a lot more comfortable to sit suspended for a long time.
  • Petzl Vertex vent: the ventilation holes make it easy to attach a GoPro vented helmet strap mount. I prefer to stay away from adhesive mounts on helmets.
  • Petzl Podium: it adds stability and a lot more comfortable when free-hanging for hours.
  • 2x 50 meter Cousin Trestec static rope.
  • Petzl Rig as a descender.
  • Petzl Ascension handle and foot loop.
  • Petzl ASAP and ASAP’SORBER: as backup fall-arrest device on the second line.

Video Gear List

  • Canon XF100
  • Sony ECM-674 shotgun microphone with windscreen
  • Sony UWP-V1 wireless lavalier microphone
  • Tripod
  • Hoya UV and ND filters
  • 2 x Go Pro Hero 2
  • Hydration bag for spare batteries, filters and spare CF cards.

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