Climbing the highest peaks is the ultimate adventure for many people — not least professional photographer Alexandre Buisse. Not only does Buisse experience the excitement of mountaineering, but he has had the opportunity to take some exquisite photographs of the magnificent views and climbs. Environmental Graffiti interviewed him to learn about his experiences.
When one thinks of mountain climbing, it seems like the epic challenge should be hard enough on its own. Yet taking photographs from the sides of mountains adds another layer of difficulty. Buisse explains: "The photography itself is not that much more difficult. The difficult part is getting there in the first place with enough equipment to create a good image. There are additional constraints compared to more ‘regular’ photography, mostly related to being unable to move around or wait for a long time for the perfect light."
"On the other hand," Buisse continues; "one gets unique access to some of the most beautiful places on the planet. I regularly stumble upon scenes so beautiful that photographing them feels like shooting fish in a barrel."
Luckily, Buisse doesn't need special equipment for the harsh conditions; rather, as he tells us: "All of the protective equipment I take tends to be for the photographer, not the camera."
It can be hard to be a slave to two loves, and at times trade-offs are needed. Buisse elaborates: "I often have to decide what my priority is: climbing or photography, which will completely change my decision making. I often have to sacrifice a good photo opportunity because it would be too time-consuming or dangerous to stop, and conversely have ‘lost’ a lot of time shooting when I might have been climbing. But overall, I feel I am lucky to be able to combine both of these passions!"
We asked Buisse for some tips for less experienced adventure photographers and here’s what he had to say: "The number one single most important tip is to always have your camera readily available — not in base camp, not in your backpack, not even in a pocket a few layers down. Right there where you can access it in seconds when the right photo opportunity presents itself. If you want to shoot adventure sports, point of view is the key to an interesting image. I spend much more time accessing the right place to shoot from than actually taking pictures.”
"For climbing, it usually means being above or to the side," continues Buisse. "For hiking, it could mean going off the trail or running in front of the subject. For biking, getting down low in a sharp turn, etc. Just make sure you keep safety in mind at all times.”
Buisse continues: “Always wait for the right moment — and when you think it's there, don't be shy with the burst mode of your camera. I am usually looking for eye contact, action and good facial expression — roughly in that order.”
And, he concludes: “Shoot a lot, so that when a truly great opportunity presents itself, you will have the experience and the mileage to nail it when it really matters. If you need a few extra seconds to hunt down the setting you need in the menus of your camera, chances are you missed the shot."
Amazingly enough, Alexandre Buisse didn't start climbing until he was in his twenties, so for those who want to, it's never too late! He gained his love of mountains from skiing and hiking in the Chamonix part of the French Alps — where many of these images are from — when he was young. And his love of photography? "Photography came from my frustration of not being able to record adequately my experiences when hiking (and later climbing). This inspired me to pick up a DSLR and learn more about photography as a way to communicate what it can be like to walk and climb in such a beautiful environment."
Buisse doesn't plan on stopping any time soon, even though he has done more than most of us do in a lifetime. When asked if he had a dream climb, his answer was manifold. "I have many dream climbs with various degrees of achievability. This winter, for instance, I would love to climb the north face of Les Droites, a difficult and committing ice route."
But Buisse has many more dream climbs he wants to pursue. He continues: "Next summer, I want to do some of the classic north faces, including Les Drus and the Walker Spur on Grandes Jorasses. I would also like to complete the traverse of the Aiguilles de Chamonix, a route I failed on once before. More ambitiously, I would love to climb the Cassin route on Denali, Cerro Torre and Fitzroy in Patagonia, the north face of Cholatse and Nuptse in Nepal, the Trango Towers in Pakistan, solo an A4 route on El Capitan and make first ascents in Antarctica and Central Asia. That should keep me busy for a few years."
Definitely! Alexandre Buisse has written two guides to adventure photography, which aspiring photographers can pick up. One on hiking and climbing photography and one on mountain photography. You can also see more of his stunning photography on his website.