Time as pro: Ten years
Where based: Sheffield
Specialities: Documentary rock climbing, mountaineering and expeditions
... A former professional mountaineer, Alex Ekins uses his affinity for the great outdoors to produce stunning climbing and adventure photography. Nick Smith catches up with him to find out more…
Alex Ekins first became interested in photography at school but abandoned it to develop a 20-year professional career in rock climbing and mountaineering. Six years ago, Alex ‘went back to school’ to study photojournalism at Sheffield College, and now specialises in shooting documentary outdoor and adventure photography. His work has been published in British and European daily newspapers, as well as in the specialist international outdoor press, including Climb, Climbing, Rock and Ice, Vertical, Trail, Summit and National Geographic Adventure.
Alex says that a lot of his work involves movement, survival and photography in challenging and dangerous environments. ‘I use a variety of techniques, including climbing and abseiling, to access the adventure practitioners in their extreme environments.’
1 When did you realise you were going to become a photographer?
At school I began shooting and developing black & white film. Climbing took over, however, and I neglected photography until I began taking climbing photos and submitting them, with success, to specialist magazines.
2 What was your first camera?
My first camera was a totally manual Praktica, and then my father gave me his Canon AE-1.
3 What formal training do you have?
I studied photojournalism under the NCTJ system at Sheffield College. We were really pushed to get out and get things done.
Probably the most important skill I learnt was how to edit my own work and be self-critical. I also had access to fantastic work experience at Reuters, the Daily Telegraph and the Times.
4 How important is it to specialise?
You have to shoot what interests you. I’ve worked in the rock climbing and mountaineering industry for 25 years, both as a professional climber and as an instructor. I photograph what I love, know and understand.
5 What is the best assignment you’ve been on?
Travelling to Patagonia to document the Wenger Patagonia Expedition Race was an incredible trip with some outlandish memories. More recently, I spent two months in America travelling with and photographing two of the world’s best rock climbers.
6 What’s the worst thing about being a professional photographer?
There is a lack of security and you are most definitely only as good as your last photo. I have had great success with last year’s rock climbing assignment to America. Now, however, I have to start working on my next project, and concentrate on selling new pictures.
7 Film or digital? Why?
I started developing my own black & white films, and then used transparencies for years. I use only digital now. Digital has brought many advantages but has decimated the profession of photography. Copyright exploitation and infringement is rife.
8 What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from another photographer?
The earliest influence on my photography was the legendary British climbing photographer, John Cleare. His images from the 1960s and 1970s are iconic within the climbing world. I am fascinated by the complexities of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s compositions and I am currently re-visiting the portrait work of Irving Penn.
9 What does photography mean to you?
For me, it’s all about trying to capture people doing something physically and mentally challenging.
10 What makes a great adventure photograph?
I look for the joy, the danger, the suffering, and the dedication.
Cameras Canon 5D, 7D and G12. I also own a Holga and a Rolleiflex.
iPhone for personal projects.
Lenses Canon 17-40mm f/4, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
Essential accessories Rab clothing, Wild Country climbing hardware, F-Stop camera bags, Manfrotto tripods, Apple MacBook Pro and ioSafe hard drives
Top right Pete Whittaker on ‘Torpedo Right Hand’ at Vedauwoo, Wyoming, USA.
Far left Tom Randall on ‘Belly Full Of Bad Berries’, Utah, USA.
Left Toru Nakajima soloing ‘Storms Over Africa’, Cornwall