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Behind the Lens

Behind the Lens

Jöttnar
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An interview with Hamish Frost

Hamish Frost is a Glasgow-based photographer. Featuring cold, challenging conditions in harsh mountain environments, his best-known work documents winter climbing, skiing, BASE jumping and downhill mountain biking.


We speak with Hamish and take a behind-the-scenes look at the craft of a mountain sports photographer. 

Committing to Number Five Gully, Ben Nevis

Have you always pursued mountain sports or did it come with the photography?


I moved up to Scotland to study Engineering. Five years of not working quite as hard as I should have was followed by one year of knuckling down for a Masters degree. This eventually led me to a graduate job working for Scottish and Southern Electricity. Whilst I was there I got caught up in the Scottish backcountry skiing scene, so much of my free time was spent out exploring the Highlands on skis. I was lucky to have a very understanding boss who would let me take days off at the last minute when good conditions prevailed. Sometimes even this wasn’t enough though, and when the days got longer in spring I’d often find myself getting up at a stupid time of the morning to fit in a ski before work. At the same time I was getting inspired by a lot of the photos I’d see online from established adventure photographers based in places like Chamonix or North America. I’d take my camera out on my ski missions to try and emulate what they were doing. At some point there was a changeover, where rather than just being something I did whilst out skiing, the photography became the main drive behind my mountain days.

How did you make the step from your postgraduate job to becoming a freelance photographer?


I can remember quite clearly the first time I considered making a career out of it. I was on the chairlift at Nevis range with a friend, heading up for a run down the Back Corries and somehow the conversation got onto other outdoor photographers. I can remember Kev suggesting that my photos were good enough to become professional if I wanted to. Looking back I know full well that at that stage my photos weren’t nearly good enough, but that planted the seed in my head. As I began to work harder on my photography, I started to entertain the idea more seriously. Eventually it reached the point where I knew I needed to have a go, otherwise I’d likely spend the rest of my life wondering what if. It took me a further six months to pluck up the courage to take the plunge. That was nearly three years ago now and I’ve not looked back!

"I wanted to get on a rope slightly below where Tim was going to jump,

as catching him in freefall would give a really immersive photo."

What locations have you found the most demanding to shoot in?

Anything in Scottish winter really! It’s a pretty savage environment to work in; wet, cold and windy. You’re fighting an uphill battle to keep your camera equipment working, not to mention looking after yourself trying to stay warm and dry so you’re actually capable of taking photos.I usually tend to work alone on shoots, instead of using assistants to help carry equipment or rig ropes etc. Arguably I’m making my life harder by taking this approach, but a big part of what does it for me is the additional challenge of doing it all myself. It also better suits the run and gun style that I like to employ when taking photos. 

What is your favourite location to shoot?


I hope to go on more expeditions to the Greater Ranges in the future, but I think the Scottish Highlands will always have a big appeal for me. For one, the scenery we have in Scotland is quite unique compared to other mountain ranges in the world. It’s incredibly photogenic. Secondly, you can go out in Scotland in winter and feel like you’ve had a really full-on day, despite the mountains perhaps not being as big or committing as in other parts of the world. There’s an attitude in Scotland in winter that you go out even if the forecast isn’t great (otherwise you probably wouldn’t get much done over the course of a winter!). You simply layer up and go out and get on with it! 

How do you deal with the risk associated with photographing in a potentially dangerous environment? 

I’ve been lucky enough to come into it from a background of spending lots of time in the mountains, so I already had a lot of the skills I use to keep myself safe before I started taking photos. Most of the ropework I use to get into some of the more challenging positions to photograph climbing I’ve learned from actually climbing myself.

When it comes to talking about risk, I consider myself fairly risk averse and definitely wouldn’t go taking extra risks just to get a good photo. Having said that, mountains are obviously inherently dangerous places, so just by going out in them you could argue that you’re taking a risk. I think it’s about being sensible and making sound decisions to minimise the risks as much as possible. So for example making sure you’re clued up on the avalanche reports and picking routes through the mountains that avoid high risk areas, avoiding areas that might be exposed to rockfall, and having a clear idea of what the weather is going to do during the course of a day.

Willis Morris and Tim Howell on the Arête du Diable, Mont Blanc du Tacul

Tim Howell on the Trident du Tacul

Finally could you tell us about one of your stand out moments in your photography career.

A stand out moment was the first photo I took of a friend of mine, Tim Howell, BASE jumping off the Trident du Tacul, which is a 250m granite spire in the Mont Blanc massif. It’s a great example of how solid planning and execution alongside working with skilled athletes, can all combine to produce good results.I wanted to get on a rope slightly below where Tim was going to jump, as catching him in freefall would give a really immersive photo. To add to that we spent a lot of time checking forecasts to make sure it would be clear weather and calm wind jumping. We got to the top and everything was perfectly set up, and so all that had to happen was for Tim to successfully jump and for me to get the shot I had envisaged. 

 All I had to do at that point was hang on a rope; close my aperture to get a big enough depth of field to make sure Tim was in focus, with nothing to pre-focus on before Tim jumped. I then blindly pointed my camera in the right direction and held down the shutter button at the right time. It was a pressure shot as I could hardly ask Tim to jump it again! I still feel like most of the work for this photo was done in the planning stage. 

See more of Hamish’s photography:

Hard Way Up, Fast Way Down

first base

Hamish Frost is a mountain and adventure sports photographer and filmmaker from Glasgow, Scotland.


Find him at Hamishfrostphoto.com and on Facebook.

Written By
Jöttnar

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