Let it snow! Winter is a great time to hit the slopes for some action sports photography. Skiers and snowboarders in their colorful gear, high in the air, and kicking up flakes make for great images. Still, the snow and sun combination can be troublesome to deal with, but if you're prepared, can result in some awesome photographs. Before you hit the slopes, consider these tips.
1. Dress for Warmth
If you're out there on the slopes freezing because you didn't dress appropriately for the conditions, then the quality of your photographs can be impacted. Shivering causes your body to shake, which will cause your camera to shake, which will then blur your photos! And you'll be thinking more about being cold than getting a unique shot. So, be certain to dress in layers of thermal or neoprene or whatever cold-repelling materials you have access to. The under layers of warmth are just as important as the outer layer. Your outer jacket should have vents and pockets. Vents for air circulation and pockets for easy access to camera equipment such as hoods, lenses, filters, and caps.
2. Camera Considerations
Unless it's a specifically designed to be waterproof, cameras aren't meant to get wet. Snow melts into puddles; and you certainly don't want puddles of any size near your gear. Sleeves that keep your camera protected from the elements are available, and they're worth looking into if you're going to be shooting in these elements, especially on an ongoing basis.
In order to effectively capture outdoor action, it's wise to use a variety of lenses (if you can). A combination of a good wide angle and a telephoto lens should suffice. There will be times you'll want the wide angle to capture the full mountain scene, and other times when the telephoto works best for a tight in-the-air shot. I'd recommend having two camera bodies, if possible, so you're not changing lenses out in the elements.
You may also want to bring a polarizer filter. This will help to cut glare and brighten the sky, creating especially cool images if you have white fluffy clouds in the mix.
3. Stopping the Action
While the skiers and snowboarders are barrelling by, your ultimate goal is to freeze their action in a split second. A fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second is ideal. Set your camera to shutter priority so you can determine the shutter speed and let your camera figure out the correlating aperture. Depending on conditions, you may need to stop up a few stops on the EV compensation. Take a few test shots, and if the snow looks too dark, step up one or two stops until it's brightened and white.
4. A Little Help from a Friend
Ideally, your friends are avid skiers or snowboarders and will be willing to ham it up for you on the slopes. This is ideal, especially if you're not comfortable photographing strangers.
Also, they'll know you're in a certain spot, ready for them, and can aim their route to best help you capture amazing photos. Whether they're bursting through the snow, giving you a spattering of snow around them, or doing a helicopter over your head, if you've got the right friends lined up, they won't disappoint. You should have some show-off worthy images.
Before you head out, especially if you don't know the mountain well, talk to the lodge and ask them where a safe, but good spot is to set up. You certainly don't want to be in the way of skiers and boarders, but you do want to be close enough to the action to make it worth your while. The lodge should have a handful of recommended spots.
If friends aren't around, aren't good skiers, or are camera shy, you may have to count on the goodness of strangers. Randomly photographing skiers and snowboarders will be a waste of time. Your efforts are better made in making connections on the slopes with those who can do the action you're looking for. If you're comfortable approaching them, offer to send them high res images that they can have printed, and a low res version for them to share with their friends on Facebook. If you have your photography logo on your images, this is actually a great way to promote yourself. It's a win-win situation. Most skiers and boarders are happy to ham it up for you and do the jumps repeatedly. Be sure to keep your business cards in your pocket, ready to hand out.
6. Lighting and Composition
When you do find that perfect spot to set up, consider where the sun is in relation to your subject and in which direction it will be moving while you're there. In many cases, such as the image at the opening of this post, shooting into the sun can be very effective. The starburst of sun in the image at the top gives balance to it. When you shoot toward the sun, and snow is spraying, the light that catches it enhances your photographs.
Besides wanting your subject facing you, and given they'll be coming down hill, it's likely you'll be aiming your camera up the mountain, toward the sky, for your images. With this in mind, there will be more sky in your images than trees and other ground distractions, which is a good thing. Again, the polarizer filter will help reduce glare and enhance the sky. Just remember that it's most effective when the sun is at a 45 to 90 degree angle to your camera.
7. Take a Break
After a long day on the slopes, remember it doesn't have to be all about action. This is the perfect time to capture some lifestyle portraits. Everyone will be relaxed, smiling (hopefully!), and faces will be bright. The rainbow colors of their outfits will bode well against the white snow and blue sky. When you do these portraits, keep in mind your portrait photography skills. You may want to switch to aperture mode and let the camera figure out the rest. However, you still might have to stop up one or two on the EV composition in order to keep the snow white. Just be sure you're not underexposing your subjects' faces.
Keeping all of this in mind, your slope experience should be epic.
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