Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Ontario's Climbing Photographers - Peter Hoang
In this, the second in a series of interviews with some of Ontario's top climbing photographers, we caught up with Peter Hoang.
You’ve been flying a bit below the radar and folks may not know much about you. Care to tell us how you got into climbing?
Peter: A good friend of mine sent me two lockers and Arno Ilgner’s book, The Rock Warrior’s Way, for my birthday. On the mailing package, he wrote, “Learn how to use these properly so you can have more birthdays.” I didn’t understand half of what Ilgner had to say in his book, so I thought I should actually try climbing first. I also started because the locking biners my friend gave me were too big to just hold my keys.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

And how did you get involved in photography?
Peter: I used to play a lot of Airsoft and took photos whenever I acquired some new gear or went out to a game. I eventually realized that I enjoyed taking photos more than playing Airsoft, so I sold all of my Airsoft gear to fund my first DSLR. Photography merges pretty seamless with almost any other passion, so it stuck with me.
Indoor climbing, bouldering, sport climbing or trad? What do you prefer to shoot and why?
Peter: You didn’t mention it, but definitely ice. The changing medium and pointy objects makes it a lot of fun to shoot. In some ways, it's similar to crack climbing. I enjoy how the aesthetics of these natural lines put climbers on a obvious path. I also have a bit of a bias for shooting ice climbing, as it's the type of climbing I most enjoy. I would love to have more opportunities to shoot ice and mixed climbing in the future. For the most part though, I generally just like to get out and shoot my friends when they’re pushing their limits.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

What do you think are the biggest challenges with being a climbing photographer in Ontario?
Peter: Compared to our friends out West, Ontario is relatively flat - we just don’t have the same height or vast expanses for backdrops. You have to be a little more mindful of your surroundings to produce a photo that is captivating. If you are shooting almost anywhere outside of Ontario, the environment might do most of the work for you. It can also be difficult finding people that want to go to less obvious locations to explore new and unique shooting opportunities.
How about some benefits?
Peter: From my experience, there’s a large amount of climbing development in certain Ontario areas. There's a lot of new mixed climbing development in Southern Ontario as well as new rock routes up in Thunder Bay. If you can get into this scene at the ground level, I think you stand a better chance at getting some exposure than if you took the same shots in more established climbing locations.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

What else do you tend to shoot and why?
Peter: Portraits and candids for sure. If I've gotten to know someone and I really like them, I want others to know about them as well. I feel that photographers (like other artists) have the ability to create images that can connect on a personal level with an audience. And while I’ve found these photos are not always the most popular with the climbing public, they’ve been extremely satisfying to shoot.
Favourite place to photograph climbing outside of Ontario?
Peter: I feel like I haven't travelled enough to really have a favourite location, but I really enjoyed shooting in Utah. The environment and the features - the towers, arches, hills, and fields - were all very simple. There were less complex elements to clutter your thoughts and the frame. You could enjoy shooting and worry less about the technical end. The dusk and dawn hours in the desert also create an extremely vivid and gorgeous place.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

Do you have any tips for folks that want to take climbing pics?
Peter: Climb! Once you understand the discipline, you’ll have a better chance of predicting movements that produce the best shots. This is especially true if you’ve previously been on the route. Most important, I find that if you can identify with your subject, you’ll come up with a better photo. If you’re going for bigger objectives, you’ll likely have to do some climbing, so it’s nice to have the fitness and know-how to avoid being a liability. I'm sure there's a lot of photos I've taken where I'm in a place that many non-climbing photographers would consider inaccessible.
How about some advice for aspiring photographers looking to go pro?
Peter: Take the time to get to know your subject. When you connect with your subject, the photo will be more genuine and it'll encourage your creativity. Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Like climbing, you won’t be producing your best images all the time. There will be the pressure from paid gigs to perform at 100 percent, so consider working as an apprentice with a more experienced photographer. This will improve your skills as well as teach you how to deal with more stressful shooting situations. Finally, spend some time learning how to market yourself - there's plenty of info about this online.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

Tech question – what camera gear do you tend to use while shooting?
Peter: I only really have one setup: 5DMKII and the 24-105mm 4L. That’s my setup 90 percent of the time, but occasionally I’ll use the 50mm 1.2L. I like to keep it as simple as possible so I have time to concentrate on other things. I also tend to treat my equipment poorly, so it helps to bring less in that respect. It's a bare-bones setup, but new gear is always weighed against funds for potential trips, and the latter always seems to win.
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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

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Images courtesy of Peter Hoang

Weirdest experience during a photo shoot?
Peter: Not so much weird, as much as a memorable: I reached the top of a tower with my partner and got ready to take photos of two other friends coming up. The tower was small and chossy, so I was rushing to set up an anchor and trolley line to get a good shot. Just before leaning on my rig, I took a quick glance at my anchor and realized that I wasn’t actually secured to anything. So, always double-check your set-up! No photo is worth your life - though the resulting photo turned out great.
What’s your next climbing road trip?
Peter: I have plans to visit the Rockies over the holidays and there are tentative plans for Peru and Baffin Island next year.
So, how do folks get a hold of you if they need some photo work?
Peter: You can reach me from my website: www.peter-hoang.com
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.