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Action shots at altitude raise the stakes

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Last summer I set out to climb Mount Jackson in Glacier National Park with my climbing partner, Abe. After a restless night’s sleep roadside near Jackson Glacier Overlook, we hiked about eight miles on trail before darting off to find our own route up the 10,052-foot beast. While most of the climb to Jackson’s summit is no more than a manageable Class 3, I found that I had to be extra attentive to my footing, balance and positioning as I kept pace with Abe and still snapped pictures that captured the full extent of our majestic surroundings.

Shooting while climbing presents obvious challenges. A combination of excitement and exhaustion—not to mention the precarious terrain itself—can lead to soft or blurred images. The key is maintaining focus on both the climb and your camera’s setup.

There are a few basic techniques shooters can use to ensure that their high-altitude action photographs are sharp. Start by avoiding the camera’s “Automatic” mode and taking control of the shutter speed. Change the mode to “S,” or Shutter Priority, then adjust the dial to a number higher than the focal length of the lens. For example, with a 200mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/200 or faster; for a 400mm lens use 1/400 or faster. In the case of 16mm or 24mm wide-angle lenses, I’d recommend no hand-held shooting slower than 1/60. Bump up to 1/125 if you can.

Montana Headwall
  • Cathrine L. Walters

For a point-and-shoot camera where manual shutter control isn’t an option, make sure to switch to Sports Mode, which will automatically choose a faster shutter speed.

Perhaps the hardest part of successfully capturing one of these climbing shots involves conquering the elements. Windy conditions, unsteady footing and the shooter’s own breathing can all create motion blur. Just stop. Take the time to secure a safe and steady spot or brace against a rock or tree. To help steady the camera, I hold my arms tight to my chest and slow my breathing before gently pressing the shutter release.

Following these simple tricks helps me keep images in focus and my focus on an epic ascent.

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