Extreme Photography

Gustav Janse van Rensburg

What does it take to be a successful Extreme Photographer?

Assuming I am successful first, it’s about trying your best not to kill yourself! Seriously, your safety and the safety of your gear is all important. There are so many more skills involved beyond just making sure you have the right lens. You can’t ever allow for your position (however extreme or dangerous) to become more important than your subject. Part of it also requires you to remain pretty low key in order not to distract your subjects at dangerous heights. The key is really getting into the right position for the best shot.

What about the sport of rock climbing most attracts you?

When you are a passionate, creative and a wild child at heart, the solution is simple - which is why Gustav Janse van Rensburg, combined his obsession for climbing with his love for photography.

Oh the list is endless. I love the feeling of being outdoors and the sport comes with a great challenge. Rock climbing is like a game of physical chess, your moves are slow, thought out and calculated. Apart from the thrill, it’s really the physical and mental engagement that keeps me going back for more.

Tell us more about Roc ‘n Rope Adventures?

Roc 'n Rope Adventures is a one stop shop for climbers – both existing and aspiring. I started and own the business and am not being biased when I say that it’s set in the most beautiful part of our country in Waterval Boven, close to Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. People come to engage in world class rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking, and hiking. We offer half day courses for first timers with guided climbs to full day and weekend courses. There’s also advanced courses for more serious climbers. You can come for the weekend and have a good time, with a full rock climbing gear store we provide all the equipment and accommodation too.

The best parts of the country to do extreme rock climbing?

Although Waterval Boven lacks the heights compared to the Cape or Drakensburg ranges that boast hundreds of metres of sheer climbs, we have quality and variety with so many different routes and high levels of challenge. So although Waterval Boven may be less extreme, it certainly is more adventurous. There’s no better place to climb in the whole of Africa if you ask me!

What has been your most thrilling rock climbing experience?

My latest climbing trip to Mali has been the highlight of my climbing career so far. In the dessert in Timbuktu, we climbed The Hand of Fatimah which has the tallest freestanding sandstone towers in the world – what a thrill!

How do you prepare before heading out to ‘shoot’?

The climbing situations are so vastly different that the gear involved in getting into position is often more complicated than the most advanced camera gear. It takes about three hours to get into position, so I prepare by doing a location recce. If that means waking up at 04h00 to get the best light, that’s what I do. I plan the shot 100% so I know exactly what I want and what camera equipment I need to get that, so there’s no need to change lenses or any of that when I’m out there.

Which photograph have you captured that makes you the most proud?

There are some shots where everything just works, when everything comes together and gels. I have a particular series of climbing shots that I am particularly proud of –  its very rare to get a sequence that are all just awesome. You also draw a lot from your subject, so when a good position, good light, and a good climber all meet it can be really cool.

What were you doing at the London Olympics?

I was asked to help with the structural installation of the cables at the Olympic stadium. My qualification on the ropes saw me hanging from the stadium roof for inspection to ensure it was safe for the opening ceremony and going forward. It was cool to be there, even though it wasn’t the most exciting job. The Roc ‘n Rope crew offer services to the film industry on a stunt photography side – now that’s exciting! If ever they need someone to hang off a building or bridge, they know who to call.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?

The climbers keep me motivated and inspired. I have the incredible opportunity to see people do amazing things and am fortunate enough to be in the rare position to capture them in crazy positions. Having to make critical decisions by drawing from years of experience and solving problems with very few resources keeps things exciting too.                                                                                                                                         

What is the hardest part of your job?

Not dropping the lens when you’re out there. It’s really not nice when you see that piece of glass falling.

Your advice to aspiring Extreme Photographers?

Your skills base needs to be a lot bigger than shooting a wedding, for example. Make sure that your technical ability is good first, before you start getting yourself into crazy positions. Safety is first so ensure you can use the equipment! There are thousands of little tricks of the trade; you learn things as you go. There’s no school to learn adventure photography, but you can do a rope course that will enable you to get a good head start.

Roc ‘n Rope Adventures can be found along the N4. For more information: www.rocrope.com