Take Great Ski Photos with These Tips

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When I was young I dreamed that, one day, I would become a ski model for a Warren Miller film. Though I never made it to the big screen, I’ve done a little skiing for photographers. It’s fun, but certainly not as glamorous as I’d thought it would be as a youngster.

Take my day skiing in the trees at Jay Peak in the deepest powder imaginable, exactly one year ago tomorrow. It was the day after the fabled Valentine’s Day Blizzard. Justin Cash was going to shoot some pictures and asked me if I was available. In fact the picture on the homepage of my blog was taken that day by Justin. You can see all the powder. It looks like a great action shot. The truth is, I was hardly moving. And for more truth, I did not spend the whole day skiing. I really just took one run and realized that I might not be tough enough to be a ski model, especially on cold days. Luckily, he had four other skiers and one rider who were tough, which resulted in some great shots.

This was not supposed to be about me, though. I really wanted to use it as a segue to introduce a real live ski photographer to you and have him give you some tips on taking ski/ride photos. So, enough about me, and here is what Justin has to say (and for more information on the life of a ski photographer visit Justin’s blog):

What is the best part of being a professional ski photographer?

That’s easy. All the money, fame, girls and travel to exotic locations. Did I mention all the money? I drive a ’98 Ford, you know?

Seriously, though, photography is something I am passionate about. So the best part of being a professional ski photographer is doing what I love and having everything click on all cylinders — great snow, great light, fearless athletes that want to create amazing images. There is nothing better.

I had one perfect day like that last year. It resulted in four published images which is very gratifying. The thought that maybe someone will take a look at one of my ski images and get stoked on skiing or snowboarding is cool too.

Where and when is the best time of day to take pictures?

The best time of day to shoot pictures is either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I prefer later in the day so I don’t have to get out of bed two hours before sunrise.

On sunny days, during the very early morning or late afternoon, the light is much warmer and at a lower angle in the sky — the magic hours.

On cloudy and snowy days, head for the trees (glades). The trees will cast small shadows and add contrast and depth to your photos.

What is the best way to frame a shot?

First, it’s always good to place your subject on a horizon line so they aren’t up against a plain white slope. Using a horizon line will add definition and contrast and make him/her pop in the image.

Next, determine what you are trying to convey with the image.

If you want to show how much fun your kids are having, then you might want to get up close and personal and capture their expressions.

If you are trying to show how steep something is try using a tele-photo lens and shoot from far away. The tele-photo lens will compress the image and make it look really steep.

If you’re trying to shoot a jump, go with a wide-angle lens and get as close as possible, it will make the jump look big.

This subject gets more complex, but incorporating the above elements is a good place to start.

What mistakes did you make early on?

The most common mistake early on for me (when I was still using film cameras) was getting the right exposure when shooting in a snowy setting. Snow can play tricks with your in-camera metering, leading to images that are either under or overexposed. I wasted a lot of film. Now, with digital cameras, I have instant feedback and can adjust on the spot to get perfectly exposed images. Also, in post-production, I can tweak images that are exposed incorrectly if I happen to be a little off. Of course, that almost never happens (wink, wink).

What are the differences between professional cameras and common digital cameras?

I use a professional DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). For common digital cameras, there actually two groups — point and shoot and prosumer digital SLR (single-lens reflex).

The two main differences between my professional DSLR and point and shoot digital cameras is the option to change lenses and lag time between “pressing the shutter button” and the camera taking the picture.

My camera has no lag time. When I press the shutter button it takes the picture. On a point and shoot there is a split second delay that might cause you to miss the peak of the action. The main difference between my professional DSLR and a prosumer DSLR is the ability to capture a high burst of frames per second (FPS). My camera captures 8.5 FPS, whereas a prosumer DSLR might capture 3-5 FPS.

I know it doesn’t sound like a big difference, but when a skier is ripping a powder line you want to make sure you get every moment of the action. Oh and the biggest difference of them all? $4,000-$5,000.


Read more New England Ski tips from Heather Atwell.


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