The Challenge of Climbing Photography Extreme Photography Series: Jonathan Griffin 02/22/2012 created by Red Bull Illume In a new series we profile some extreme sport photographers who are at the cutting edge of the profession — or in this case, the knife edge. Climbing photography is uniquely challenging because photographers have to be almost as accomplished as climbers as they have to be behind a lens. Jonathan Griffith, 28, is no exception. He recently shot the alpinist Ueli Steck making the first one-day winter ascent of the North Face of the Dru. To get the shots, he had to climb the entire route and shoot on the go. Here the Chamonix-based pro describes how the logistics of the game are sometimes overwhelming. Why is climbing photography different?Firstly you have to be able to climb at a very high level. Alpine climbing does not favour the slow. Interrupting the flow of climbing means you may not get back down. I’m always aware of what the sun and full-moon are doing. There are certain pitches on climbs that may only see the sun for a few days of the year and it's always a real treat when you finally nail that photo. Do you put your life on the line?You have the inherent danger of being in the mountains — avalanches, glacier travel, rock fall, technical climbing, weather. But that's the allure for me. It's being able to pull all these factors together and create that perfect shot that really gets me buzzing. It's not pleasant work — full moon shots in winter in -27º at 4am is not what most people consider fun! You're always fighting something in the mountains and never more so than on a shoot — the organization involved with timings, placements, and people is really mind-boggling. Are you a photographer who climbs or a climber who photographs?It's not enough for me just to head up an easy climb for a nice shot. It has to feel like I'm pushing myself climbing wise. Equally, a climb hasn’t been everything it could have been without a real gem of a shot. Set-up versus shoot on-the-go?I do very little set-up stuff except for clients. I’m a real stickler for getting real shots in the mountains. I like to know that the photographer has been up since 3am, climbed up by his own fair means to that point and taken the shot. The idea that he cheated using fixed ropes really ruins it for me. Is it really that purist?Alpine climbing is a very genuine thing and that's what is so great about the photography. You can’t do set-up shots on the big North Faces for example — there just simply isn’t time. A picture you’re proud of?My time in Patagonia (see images above) was one of my finest photographically. The weather is so fickle that you have to climb incredibly light, but you only get a narrow window in which to climb — let alone see the peaks — so I carried my 5D as well as a telephoto and wide angle. The weight easily tripled the total weight in my backpack but I managed to capture some really wild climbing as well as landscapes that very few have ever seen. What equipment do you use?I use a Canon 5D Mark II and 17-40L or 24-104L about 98% of the time. Very occasionally I use a GF2 when I am really pressed for weight and speed. How much post-production do you do?I hate the over-use of photoshop. A huge part of getting that perfect shot is down to planning and knowing exactly where I want to be and at what time to get a shot. When it works you don’t need to heavily post-process. I am trying to capture the feeling and emotion of climbing in a wild landscape, not an artificially enhanced sky that the eye never saw in the first place. Will you enter Red Bull Illume?I've never taken part in competitions — I’m not sure why but it might be the time to start!