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Photography Feature: Simon Carter

Submitted by onsight on 2008-01-02 | Last Modified on 2008-01-06

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 19 | Comments: 23 | Views: 21206

Climbing has given me some of the best times of my life. I became pretty addicted to it soon after discovering it twenty something years ago. At the time I was also really into photography and combining the two seemed a natural progression. Climbing becomes more of a way of life than a sport.  

People, places, action and landscape, are the inspiration behind my work. One of the really great things about climbing is the opportunity and incentive it gives to travel and experience some of the most spectacular places on the planet. Few sports can give this. The places that climbing can take us, if we’re willing, are truly unique. This is an important thing that I want my photography to show, to capture and celebrate.

The following shots are some of my favourites from my book World Climbing: Images from the Edge, I hope that you enjoy them.

Simon Carter

The Blue Mountains near Sydney is one of Australia’s biggest climbing areas, that's one of the main reasons I live here. There are hundreds of kilometres of cliff line and over three thousand routes. The Grose Valley provides a wild wilderness setting for some of the more “out-there” routes, including long adventurous climbs and some exciting abseil-in climb-out affairs, such as this one, Debris (5.11c), being climbed by Nigel Campbell.

Mount Arapiles in western Victoria, Australia, is a trad paradise. The easier routes are perfect for refining trad art. The hard solid metamorphosed sandstone features fissures for bomber placements with chicken-heads and jugs galore.

Arapiles is still one of the best places in Oz to hang out and do the dirt-bag climber thing. I did a full-time stint there for six months back in 1992-3. As well as climbing, this time gave me the opportunity and reason to pick up the camera and to get back into photography after a break of many years. I realised that maybe I could do photography seriously, shooting what inspired me most. The following year I started my business doing just that.

Tony Barron on the classy Agamemnon (Oz grade 10, perhaps 5.4 or 5.5?).

The hard-baked orange sandstone of the Grampians is a delight to photograph and to climb. One of my favourite places. Steve Monks styling up pitch two of his Bristol Fashion (5.12c), a route that winds its way up the Red Sail formation. Prolific new-router Malcolm (HB) Matheson cranks one of his latter day additions: Redline (5.13a) at The Lost World, Also in the southern Grampians (Victoria, Australia).
The Totem Pole may seem to defy probability. Despite what a bored internet troll recently tried to have people believe, the "Tote" does still exist. It is approximately 65m high and only 4m wide at the base. The Free Route (12a/b), established by Simon Mentz and Steve Monks' in 1996, is something of a surprise. It actually climbs surprisingly well. Unfortunately conditions there are rarely "nice". I've made numerous trips there and out of 20+ days there only a few have sunshine, low swell, low wind and a low slime factor... Lynn Hill and Nancy Feagin scored reasonable conditions but I still think they got a little sand-bagged (as is the Oz tradition) on the first route that they tried on their trip to Australia.

A blow from Eric Dumerac's axe dislodged two chunks of ice from above - captured here with the help of some “fill-flash”. This shot was an unexpected bonus for me as I was photographing another climber on pitch two of Lake Louise Falls (Rocky Mountains, Canada) when Eric appeared and blasted up nearby clearing lots of loose ice as he went.

Will Gadd cutting loose on the lip of Thriller (M8/9) on the Stanley Headwall. It was at Will's suggestion that I made this trip to Canada (thanks Will). Photographing ice was a far cry from the sunbaked orange sandstone I'm so used to, but I think that's one reason I enjoyed it so much — different colors, crazy formations, speccy settings and of course the different games that climbers play.

In the background Will Gadd is attempting Phyllis Diller (M10), also at Stanley Headwall, but I couldn't go past these icicles. The tallest was over four feet high and less than an inch thick!

I think that's one of the joys of traveling: finding something that's new or unique. As a photographer I'll often look for what is special about a place or a climb and try to work that into my compositions — otherwise I've missed the point of traveling, might as well have stayed at home...

Abby Watkins merrily jamming Squamish’s classic “Split Pillar” pitch (5.10b), the sixth of ten pitches on the Grand Wall route (5.11a) on the Stawamus Chief.

Teplice Adršpach in northeast Czech Republic consists of about 800 towers with 1800 routes. The history, strict pure ethics and some unusual climbing styles are fascinating. Metal protection is not allowed in cracks, hence the fine art of using knotted ropes and slings for pro. New routes are established ‘ground up’, bolts are 'spaced, and chalk is not usually used. These ethics have helped the preservation of the soft sandstone and created a legacy of some extremely serious routes — and a breed of very bold local climbers; such as Miras Mach (left) placing knotted rope pro on Přeuisla (11d).

The area is also famous for tower jumping and a rather unusual style of climbing: "Support Climbing" (right). Climbing here wasn't exactly my personal cup of tea but it did get me thinking about perhaps how integral ethics and style are to our experiences at other areas.


Some shots from a 12 day DWS trip to Croatia's Kornati Archipelago, organised by UK climber and entrepreneur Mike Weeks, to make a film called Depth Charge.

Left: Charlie Woodburn and Tim Emmett abseiling — DWS style. Centre: Steve McClure pulling the crux during the first ascent of an 14a DWS (at the time likely the world’s hardest). He called it Ring of Fire after the seawater enema he received not quite repeating it an hour later for video. Right: Leo Houlding coming oh-so-close to snagging a massive dyno before succumbing to another quick dip into the Adriatic.

A couple of French rock stars on the walls of some picturesque limestone gorges... Left: Liv Sansoz on Octopus (13a) at Gorges du Tarn and, right, Arnaud Petit on Eve Line (12b), at the somewhat more exposed Verdon Gorge, France.

Monique Forestier at Gorges du Tarn, France. Given Monique climbs well and happens to be my partner, it would have been relatively easy to do a whole book of photos with Monique or just a few climbers. But I decided to take a different approach and tried to work with as many different climbers as possible. There's nothing like being shown around by a climber who has a passion for their local crag. It makes my job more interesting and hopefully that shows in the shots. In the end I was pleased to get photos of over 90 different climbers into World Climbing.

Mariona Marti squeezing in a last minute burn on Titulo Ferretero (12c), near her hometown Granada, in Spain.

Didier Berthod, best known for his hard trad and crack climbing, attempting his Le Voile de Maya (14c), a sport project at Rawyl, near his hometown of Sion, Switzerland. The area is central to the great Swiss, Italian and French alpine climbing areas.

The abandoned Llanberis Slate Quarries, in Northern Wales, UK, provide a novel, challenging and potentially frightening playground for modern day climbers. With his last runner near the bottom of the photo I reckon this climb is verging on the wrong side of sane. Ben Heason is the bold Brit holding it together on this Rainbow Slab test-piece: Slipstream (E6, 6b - approx 5.12b).


Trevor Massiah savouring Pembroke's brilliant limestone sea cliff trad climbing, near his home in Wales, UK.

The route up this nice big slabby wall is Kitten Claws (E3 5c - approx 11b), at Pembroke North.

UK top gun Steve McClure giving his fingers and back a workout on his aptly named Mutation (5.14d), one of several routes he's established at that grade. It's at Raven Tor in the Peak District, UK.

In 2001 I traveled to the Dorset Coast in the UK to check out the new deep-water soloing I'd been hearing about. This is one of the places where the DWS style was being refined and pushed at the time.

As the waves pounded in Dave Pickford approaches the end of the long and serious traverse route Davy Jones's Locker (E4 6a), at Conner Cove. There'd be no easy escape if he had of fallen...

My first trip to the Valley in 2000 was largely a write-off with early storms. It was a few years before I returned and had a really productive trip — this is one of my favourites. I'd had a couple of good shoots on El Cap but wanted something that better showed the Capitan itself. An afternoon of abseiling at Taft Point revealed this angle on Notes From The Underground which I was surprised I'd not seen photographed before. Cedar Wright obliged with a blast at the 12d sport route the next day.
I loved Tuolumne and its golden domes. Up on Medlicott Dome I was photographing Heidi Wirtz and David Bloom on Shipoopi! (11d) and got a totally unexpected bonus when German climber Stefan Schiller showed up and calmly onsighted the infamous Bachar-Yerian (11c) just to the right. Both photos are taken from almost the same position (on the second pitches of the routes).
John Varco was thrashing and groaning away on the strenuous overhanging off-width, and aptly named, Belly Full of Bad Berries (13ba/b). I cracked up laughing. In the time I'd shot the two rolls he'd only moved up one metre! It's at Indian Creek.


Greg Child was telling me about his Excommunication — the five pitch (12b, 12a, 13a, 11b and 10d) route he'd established ground up on
the Priest. I thought it'd be a great route to photograph.

In the photo Greg and his partner are on the second pitch. I did a variety of shots but this is one of my favourites. It's hard to ignore that face.

Trying to photograph at different areas can be hectic. I only had one afternoon at Mount Charleston, near Las Vegas, but it was all that was needed. It came together for me in this one frame just as Jason Campbell was about to go out of view on his Gutbuster (14c).

Thanks for taking the time to check out some of my photos. Many climbers have given considerable time and effort to help me create the photos. A big thank you to the many climbers who have been incredibly helpfull and supportive of my work. Thanks to Nikon and Sterling Rope for their continued support..

Happy climbing.

Simon Carter

See for more info on Simon's photography, photo gallery, news blog, prints and online shop.

World Climbing: Images from the Edge won the Best Book – Mountain Image award at the 2006 Banff Mountain Book Festival.

It's available in the US from Wilderness Press or preview and purchase it from Simon's web site.

The World Climbing Calendar 2008, featuring Simon's photography, is available from REI stores in the US, and MEC stores in Canada, or online from Onsight Photography.





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23 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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Thank you.
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Those are some amazing pictures!!!
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5 out of 5 stars Great article Simon, the images put my efforts to shame mate.
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5 out of 5 stars great commentary to share with the pics.a great insight to a photographers mind!
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Those photos are ridiculous! Truly 10 minutes of photo viewing bliss. The composition makes them special as well.... I'd love to have more info on them; camera used, lens' used and focal, exposure values, f stops, etc. Do tell....
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5 out of 5 stars Well done. Fantastic Shots!

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that will gadd icicle shot is truly original and still not gimmicky. one of the neatest climbing photos i've ever seen. amazing.
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I could have used a bit more transition.
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5 out of 5 stars Inspirational. Thanks for posting this
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5 out of 5 stars andychasteen, Simon does a photography clinic on very rare occasions, you could ask him then. Other than that I do know he is still taking pics on film. I don't want to say more as they are his pics and he it is his right to offer any further insight into the methods he uses to obtain such fantastic images.
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That was a great article and some absolutely stunning pictures. Keep up the good work and you'll inspire us all to climb a little more :-)
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good stuff, i bought his calendar from rei :)
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Wow! Breathtaking shots!
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5 out of 5 stars Thanks for sharing!
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5 out of 5 stars Hi Everyone

Many thanks indeed to everyone for their most positive comments. It's great to get the feedback and hear people have enjoyed the shots and this feature. Thanks to Daniel for suggesting it.

I'll check out the comments on the photos and respond to any specific questions where I can soon. My apologies for my delay in posting here; I've been away in Tasmania, etc.

Andychasteen - you asked for more info on the photos. They were all taken on film and I haven't kept the specific data about each shot (exposure details and lenses etc). There is however some info about my approach and the equipment used for these shots on my website here:
I need to update this sometime, especially the bit about digital (as I'm impressed with the D3 I've played with recently), but it at least applies to all the photos in this feature. There's a bit of info in my World Climbing book too.

Cheers and thanks again.

Happy climbing.

Simon Carter
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Awesome shots man, you have really got a passion for your photography
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Wow fantastic pics! Thank you for sharing them with us. I also appreciate your comment, "climbing becomes more of a way of life than a sport." I do believe so!
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wow you truly are the best climbing photographer I've yet seen! (don't tell my friends (photographers)...... but seriously you've got the knack)
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Is there anywhere I can purchase a poster size (or smaller) pix of Totem Pole Two? It is very inspiring!
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Brilliant work, Simon. Composition, position, location...really striking work. Bravo!
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These photos are amazing! Good work.
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loved every shot. researched a few of the climbs, and it got me even more pumped. thanks for the tremendous photography.
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really cool shots!!

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