Exposure: Drew Mercer

Exposure: Drew Mercer
Drew Mercer: Photo Bryce Murphy

Drew Mercer: Photo Bryce Murphy

Exposure is a series that turns the lens on our creative contributors.

For Drew Mercer, climbing and creativity are intertwined. The North Carolina-based climbing guide first started climbing shortly after picking up a camera. After struggling to develop his skills at first, he took his camera climbing and what started as a hobby quickly turned into an obsession. 

When did you first discover climbing?

I discovered climbing in college when I was 20. 

How did you get into photography?

I got into photography because I always had an appreciation for it growing up. I was also inspired by people I knew who were photographers so I decided to buy my first camera and give it a shot. I was pretty bad and had no idea what I was doing for a long time. I started climbing a year later and that became my main passion. I put photography on the back burner for a while until I graduated college. I started bringing my camera with me when I would climb. Capturing climbing became an obsession and is now the subject of most of the photos I take. 

Climbing has obviously had a big impact on your creativity. Has that had an impact on other areas of your life? 

Climbing has definitely had a huge impact on me creatively and has now become more than just an activity for me. I feel a little weird saying it this way, but climbing has become sort of a lifestyle. A lot of decisions I make these days are influenced by my relationship with rock climbing.

What kind of approach do you take to your photography? What do you look for when framing, shooting and editing your work? 

In photography I like to capture a human element inside of a natural environment. I think this is why I like taking pictures of climbing so much. It allows me to capture the beauty of a natural place, but with a human subject. I think having a human element allows for you as the viewer to better relate to the photo.

When framing shots I like angles that capture the scale of the rock and the environment they are in. I'm a sucker for big wide angle shots that capture the whole boulder in frame and the natural environment around it. I find our natural world to be really beautiful and inspiring so I like to capture it as is in my photography, and this translates to how I edit as well. My goal is to simply enhance the photo enough to give it good contrast and vibrancy but still make it look real and feel natural.

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Have you always had that connection to the outdoors or was that something you discovered through climbing? 

I've always been drawn to the outdoors. I owe it to my parents for encouraging me to play in the woods and going on camping trips with my dad when I was growing up. In high school me and my friends would spend almost every weekend one year sleeping in the woods behind my house. In college I started backpacking and exploring the mountains. I eventually started rock climbing and never looked back as it became my go-to outdoor activity. 


Favorite locations

My favorite place to climb and photograph would be Boone, my home. I learned to climb and take photos here so I think it will always be my favorite. Though I recently went to Hueco Tanks for a climbing trip and was blown away by it. The climbing there was incredible and the whole place is stunning. Taking pictures felt like cheating because everything looks so cool out there. Other places that make the list of my favorites would be the Red River Gorge and Rocktown, Georgia. 


For shooting bouldering I always carry a wide angle lens and a 50mm. With those two focal lengths I can usually capture anything. For shooting on a rope I recently picked up a 18-105mm because it was too hard trying to shoot with prime lenses. Being able to zoom has made a huge difference. Another essential that I carry is a small bag that can hold my camera and two lenses. This is nice for days when I'm trying to climb and take pictures. The large bag that holds all my camera gear is too cumbersome when trying to hike in all your climbing equipment too. 

Photo Essays

Locals Only: Boone

The Rumble

You can follow Drew on Instagram here.