Exposure is a series that turns the lens on our creative contributors.
It's fair to say climbing changed Bram Berkien's life. The Netherlands-based climber found photography and ultimately his career through the sport. What began in the gym, photographing climbing and learning his craft, has expanded to a wide range of sports and lifestyle photography.
How did you first find climbing?
Actually my climbing and photography are rather intertwined. I used to live in a dorm, and two of my housemates took me along to a bouldering gym like 500m from my house one day. I hadn’t ever heard of climbing but just figured I’d give it a go. They were both terrible at it, but I was instantly hooked on both the physical, mental and social aspects of climbing. Quickly after that, I arranged a deal with the gym owner, who arranged a free membership in exchange for me shooting some photos of their events and local comp occasionally. I really developed as a photographer through shooting this local action. It was like playground, on-the-job training.
How did you continue to develop your photography from there?
At that point in my photography, I was still searching. I would walk the streets and shoot semi-artistic photos of dumpsters and flowers. I guess we’ve all been there. I shot a host of different subjects, from still life to portraits and corporate events. Early on though, I worked out that photos really needed to have a human being in them in order to resonate with me. Part of what drew me to photography was the social aspect of it, getting to meet new people and really connect with someone when shooting their portrait. Climbing was always a major focus. I traveled to some World Cups and developed my style and subject matter preferences there. I’d shoot the action, but also loved capturing the lifestyle and portraits of top climbers.
Living in Holland though means I rarely get to see the mountains or any wild nature, and climbing isn’t that big here. In fact, I feel that on a global level, climbing is still too small to sustain the number of excellent photographers that are shooting it, professionally at least. Other sports are far bigger in Holland, and I love shooting any activity where people are just giving their all and have their heart in what they’re doing. This prompted me to expand to shooting other sports and work with non climbing brands. In terms of actual photography, I draw a huge amount of inspiration from movies and series. I try to capture somewhat cinematic moments, light and work with cinematic toning in post processing.
Why do you think climbing had such an impact on your creativity?
I think there are multiple angles to this. First of all, because of the freedom the gym owner has always given me, I really had some space to try different things while shooting there. I tried all sorts of post processing styles, shooting styles, lighting styles, etc. Furthermore, shooting in a gym means you get good at working with difficult light, in fact it has taught me to follow the light and appreciate it when I get to work with some good light.
What’s more, in climbing, one has to work hard to get the good angles. We all start shooting buttshots but most of us quickly realise that’s not going to work. It’s different in football for instance, where one can just sit by the side of the pitch and wait for the action to come to them. Shooting climbing is a very physical experience. When you can shoot bouldering and lead climbing, you’ll have an easy day shooting most field sports.
We have zero mountains in Holland, which means any climbing trip means going abroad. Thank God I live only five hours away from Fontainebleau, probably one of the best bouldering areas worldwide. It’s quite good for photos as well, with a rich forest surrounding the blocks, a huge diversity of climbs and you’ll always find some people who are more than willing to have their photo shot. Other than that, I really like Spain. That could be due to always going there in winter time though, so it feels like a wonderful escape from the cold and rainy Dutch weather and soaking in the sun and consuming too many tapas. I’d like really to go to some areas in the south of the USA some time, the bare fields with the blocks there are something you don’t really see in Europe. Peak District is also on my list, I’ve been there once on a rainy day and just stood beneath Voyager in awe.
Nikon D750 camera body. It’s super compact and still packs an incredible dynamic range. 50mm f/1.4 lens which I use for many of my photos. It’s small and shoots what you see with your own eye.