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Book Review: Remote Exposure – A Guide to Hiking and Climbing Photography

Climbing and photography have always gone hand in hand. Summit shots are proof of success, mountain landscapes are beautiful and moments with friends can be kept forever. There are several books on outdoor or hiking photography, but prior to reading Remote Exposure, I only knew of one book that focused specifically on climbing and that book was from before digital photography.

Remote Exposure – A Guide to Hiking and Climbing Photography by Alexandre Buisse is aimed at those who are familiar with photography basics and wish to bring their skills into the mountains. Both the language and focus of the book are not overly technical. Non-climbing specific basics such as aperture, shutter speed, file formats and such receive little coverage. This, in my mind, is good since the technical basics can be found in countless other books, magazines or on websites. If this were a climbing handbook, then it would not teach you how to tie knots and build anchors. Instead, it would aim to improve your climbing and experience by helping you set goals and choose the correct approach.

Contrary to alpinists who strive to lighten and minimize their equipment, photographers tend to bog themselves down with heavy equipment. Buisse takes a realistic approach and does not recommend costly carbon-fiber tripods nor does he repeat the classic advice that you should spend more on lenses than your camera. Instead, he takes the alpinist’s approach and focuses on what you actually need. Leave the tripod at home and buy cheaper (and usually lighter) lenses. A cheaper, lighter weight lens is much better than the heavy pro lens you leave at base camp. Although there is plenty of good advice on lenses and SLR photography, Buisse also accepts that compact cameras are often the only viable option on serious climbs. This means that the book is also useful for those without SLR cameras.

Remote Exposure is an enjoyable read and exceptionally well laid out. The writing is interesting and instructive, while the illustrations make the book coffee table-worthy. However, as great as the images are, it would be nice if they all related more with the text. Some pictures fit perfectly with good explanations on how the shot was obtained, while others serve more as decoration. Since this is first and foremost a photography guide and not a coffee table book, it would have been nice to have more explanations on how the images were obtained and the circumstances that affected the shot.

The book’s title mentions hiking and climbing photography. Climbing is a diverse sport practiced in diverse environments, from crags to the alpine, each requiring special consideration. The book has chapters on each of these disciplines, but to me it seems that Buisse focuses mostly on mountaineering throughout the book. This may be my perception as primarily a mountaineer, but it does make sense that the skills needed to master photography in the mountains are easily transferred to other climbing disciplines. If you can take good pictures while simultaneously keeping your camera dry, batteries warm and staying safe, you can take pictures anywhere.

I feel Buisse’s tips on photo composition, story telling and opportunity seeking helped me take this photo of fellow guide candidates in the Swiss Alps during a brief belay break. [Photo] Steinar Sigurdsson

Since a photography guide is primarily a practical tool, I decided to test it out in the field. I read the book back to front before an eight-day guiding assessment in the Swiss Alps. During the trip I tried to keep in mind some of the key points from the book. Buisse emphasizes that climbing should come first and photography second. This is very true during a guiding certification exam, when finding photography moments was very challenging. The only opportunities for photography were brief pauses while I played the role of client for other guide candidates. Buisse’s point that perhaps came to mind most often was that each picture needs to tell a story. I’ve always taken a lot of landscape pictures while often leaving out my companions and therefore the personal aspect. This time I tried to include human subjects as much as possible. The result was a handful of images that I could be proud of, and that successfully convey the story of the trip.

All in all, the book was a good read and inspired me to improve my photography. I recommend Remote Exposure to climbers like myself, who have been taking photos for some time, but would like to up their game. If, however, you are just starting out, begin with a basic photography guide, practice in civilization, get used to your camera and then read this book.