open aperture clinic
A photo taken during the 2021 Open Aperture Photo Clinic by participant Rebecca Ross; (photo/Rebecca Ross)

Mountain Hardwear’s ‘Open Aperture’ Clinic: Overcoming Underrepresentation in Climbing

The Open Aperture Clinic from Mountain Hardwear offers climbing photography skills for historically marginalized communities.

For every image of a climber sending a gnarly route, there’s a talented photographer hanging off the cliff with a camera.

Climbing photography requires a unique blend of skills, and Mountain Hardwear’s Open Aperture Photo Clinic wants to help aspiring shutterbugs learn the ropes.

Applications are open for the clinic, now in its third year. From Nov. 4 to 7, 2022, this workshop in Las Vegas teaches participants how to improve their outdoor shooting skills — with a purpose.

The clinic aims to expand representation in the outdoor industry. The brand invites “underrepresented groups within the outdoor community who are interested in learning more about climbing photography.”

“Ultimately, no one can better tell the story of a marginalized group’s experience better than those directly affected,” Mountain Hardwear says.

2022 Open Aperture Clinic: Additions, Scholarships, Video

open aperture clinic
An image taken by Laura Defrain during the 2021 Open Aperture Photo Clinic; (photo/Laura Defrain)

Mountain Hardwear will offer six full-ride scholarships this year to ensure that underrepresented groups have a chance to participate. It will include transportation, accommodations, and food, along with climbing gear and photography equipment.

Participants at this year’s clinic will also get the chance to learn videography. That’s new and will be offered in addition to helping with photography, editing, and tips for finding paid work.

The program is led by Mountain Hardwear athlete Nikki Smith, a National Geographic Adventure contributing photographer. She has guided more than a dozen photographers through the clinic since 2019.

“For most of my life, I searched for and hoped to see someone like me in outdoor media, but I never saw it,” Smith said.

“I know how much that affected me. And I wanted to do something to help change the lack of inclusion in photography. I worked with Mountain Hardwear to create Open Aperture so that, regardless of experience, we can open up doors and opportunities to support storytellers of all backgrounds.”

Other clinic programming includes workshops, one-on-one mentorship with industry professionals, and, of course, lots of climbing. And the end of the clinic isn’t the end of the education, because “participants will receive ongoing mentorship for a full year after the program.”

open aperture clinic
An image from Jaylyn Sabrina Gough during the first photo clinic in 2019; (photo/Jaylyn Sabrina Gough)

An Open Application for the Underrepresented

The 2022 Open Aperture Photo Clinic is accepting applications until Oct. 9. To qualify, applicants must identify with at least one or more underrepresented groups. Alumni from the previous years will help choose this year’s class. And naturally, basic photography skills and an interest in climbing photography are recommended.

Applicants must also “have a vision as to how you can use your photography to create awareness of underrepresented communities in the outdoors.”

Clinic participants have their photos published by Mountain Hardwear. Some past graduates have moved on to photo jobs with outdoor brands and organizations. It’s a real opportunity to get a leg up on this complicated (but rewarding) career route. It’s also a means of amplifying voices that often go unheard.

Matt Burbach, global marketing director at Mountain Hardwear, says, “Open Aperture was developed and is fueled by a passion for empowering underrepresented communities to share their stories.”

Apply now.

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Andrew McLemore
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An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, which he uses as a home base for adventures throughout the Americas. When he's not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he's hanging out with his dog Campana.