First of all, we have to say that we were amazed and delighted at the number and quality of the photos that you all submitted. Yes, you always get that sort of comment in these things, but it's true: before this, UKClimbing was largely a text-based site. Now, with more than 200 photos submitted in just eight weeks, we feel that we've somehow grown up. And the photos, from all over (and outside) the UK, are terrific.
That of course created the first problem for David Slater and myself, who were judging. The theme of the competition to win a bouldering mat from Lost Arrow, in association with Rock+Run, was "Now that's what I call climbing".
What sort of phrase is that? The sort that you use when you're on a route, or finish a route, or when you're looking at a picture; an undefinable something in the pit of your stomach that makes you want to be there, or (if you're on the route) glad to be there. Could anyone capture that feeling with a photo?
As it turned out, plenty could. Which presented the first problem: how the hell do you choose between them?
For this, it was over to David, who managed (despite going on a photo trip to Costa Rica) to keep tabs on what was happening.
David brought his photographer's eye to the proceedings. For him, what mattered was composition, light, shape, the moment - all those things that people are generally unaware of; except that when they see a picture that has them, they say: "That's a great picture!"
He produced a shortlist of 15 photos, which we quickly whittled down to six. But then came the hard choice: should we go for something like you would see in a magazine, or something that would just express the joie d'escalade (as the French would call it, if they ever enjoy it...)?
In the end, we found that we could agree on one shot that we both felt was a winner; plus two others as runners-up. The two runners-up both win a guidebook of their choice from Rockfax. Two more were highly commended (though we regret they get neither a guidebook or a mat... oh woe..) And there was one that we thought definitely came bottom. But we'll come to that..
The winner was this one, taken on Troutdale Pinnacle in the Lake District.
David noted that he was impressed by David Rae's marvellous capture of "the light, the great background, the blue jacket and the interesting tilt of the camera and the angle of the climber.
"I like the way the climber is off centre, and how it all seems to work well in a horizontal format. It is also sharp with good saturation of colour. This picture definitely reminds me of climbing in the Lake District on an uncrowded sunny day in winter, and the time I sat at the top of this route watching others climb by me with a smile like this chap is doing."
Charles Arthur comments: "this captures the feeling of being a bit cold, out there, but having rock under your hands and being somewhere that the crowds aren't. It captures the phrase of the competition perfectly."
Our two runners-up required even more debate, but we finally agreed on these two:
For the picture of Michele reaching the belay, David explained:
"It is pin-sharp, has impact, is well composed, and contains lots of other minor points of interest (gear, smearing, rock type, hat, humour etc). I would also add that there were not many shots of women climbing routes..." Which made it all the more gratifying that one such should come so high up. Charles Arthur comments: "She's happy! Which is what it's about, isn't it? And another example of being somewhere different."
The picture of Lake Louise, David said, "shows some spectacular icicles, taken from an interesting low angle and well composed." Charles Arthur: "Standing beneath the ice, it's time to decide which is in charge - you or the climb. That's an important element in climbing. If they were looking down or fiddling with gear, the photo would lose its impact." And you can almost see the thought bubbles over the climbers' heads..
Congrats to both the photographers, who get their pick of Rockfax guidebooks.
Is that it? No! We still have two more which were "highly commended", meaning that they weren't quite runners-up, but we also didn't want you to think we'd just overlooked them.
"Telli is very accessible for photography, yet most people seem unable to capture the route's delicacy, steepness and setting. This shot I think captures something of what climbing the harder routes on gritstone is all about, as well as being nicely composed with a good background. It also depicts action, something that climbing is all about! It should appeal to a lot of budding E3 leaders (and if anyone asks, I think it's a very soft touch for the tall.) This is the sort of shot that should be in the Stanage guide." Rockfax, are you listening?
Charles Arthur comments: "A shot that should become classic. As David says, it's far better than the one in the present Stanage guidebook - conveying the smooth difficulty of the route."
Then there was "Best Climb in Wales? Pulpit Route/Ivy Chimney on Milestone Buttress". It's quite similar in theme to the winner and to the one of Michele at Wadi Rum. It also has that happy, removed feeling. David commented:
" It certainly has some nice qualities - particularly the freedom and fun it evokes of doing relatively easy mountain routes, and a view of a second that most leaders will be familiar with. I also liked the colour and shape of Llyn Ogwen behind. The main thing against the shot is its distracting unsharpness. Another quibble would also be about the climber's face and mouth. His face and expression is the dominant feature of the shot, yet these elements are half hidden. The road and cars behind his head is also distracting. Your eyes tend, therefore, to look back and forth at his hands, the road and then the red rope!"
Charles Arthur: "We've all been there - wayy up in the mountains and delighted to be there. (Or if you haven't, then this is the sort of photo to make you want to be there..)"
Ah well; it's said that great photographs are taken at the "decisive moment". It's not bad to capture an instant either side of that on the spur of the moment, as this one clearly was.
And finally, no competition would be complete without a mention of the worst photo. OK, there were some weird ones here (a hand on a crimp? surreal) but for pure "let's take a picture and see what happens" gall, it proved impossible to beat this one.
What question do you want answered first? Is Brunel in a blue-light disco? (No, it's an effect of the lighting and the camera film.) Is his bum really that big? (Only in this pic.) What happens if he falls off onto the toothbrush? (No, please don't ask.)
There you have it - Adam Lincoln featuring in both one of the best *and* the most dire pictures. It's fame, Jim, but not as we know it.
So, do you agree with our choices? Hate them? Disagree violently? Agree completely? Time to discuss it in the Caff! We're sure this one will run and run....