This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
HOW TO TAKE GREAT SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING PICTURESSports photography is fun and interesting. We're talking here about downhill skiing and snowboarding, though the tips for great downhill photos are true for cross country skiing as well.
Before you take a picture of someone on the slopes, you should consider the answers to three questions:
In general, when it comes to skiing, the basic goal is to keep the camera and batteries warm when you're outside. How? We suggest you keep them inside your parka, close to the warmth of your body. Take them out only when you are ready to shoot.
Of course, keeping the camera inside your parka may be difficult if you're using a medium-format camera or even a large SLR. Our photography tip: If you just want to capture a picture of your friend/spouse/child on skis, use a smaller camera. A point-and-shoot or even a single-use "cardboard" camera. If you want to take a truly professional picture, then use the best camera you can, and keep it as warm as you can until you shoot.
The second question is: How can you capture a sharply focused image that gives the illusion of speed?
Timing...timing...timing. The starting point is to know where to position yourself so that you'll be in the right location when the skier-subject flashes by. What's needed here is communication. We don't mean that you need walkie-talkies. Rather, before you set up for the shot, talk to the skier and agree on exactly where you will set up, decide where the skier will pass you, and - most important - agree on a signal from you to indicate when the skier should start.
This last sports photography point is important: If you don't agree on some sort of signal, dollars to doughnuts the skier will fly past you before you're ready. Make sure the skier is aware of how long it will take for you to set up: You have to ski down to the agreed-upon location, set your poles, take off your gloves, get out the camera, get it ready, and set yourself and the camera for the shot. Only then are you ready!
Our suggestion: Tell the skier not to budge until you give the signal - for example, until you wave your arms over your head. Don't rely on a verbal signal, like shouting "Ready!" The skier probably won't hear you. And don't rely on any sort of subtle visual signal, like pointing a finger. The skier probably won't see it. Agree on a large, unambiguous arm movement!
Another sports photography point here: Notice that we said you would take off your gloves. We're assuming that you're skiing too and that you are wearing klutzy ski gloves. You can't easily handle a camera with these gloves on. So, cold as it may be, you're going to have to take off your gloves to take the picture. You may want to consider carrying an extra set of gloves with fingertips that can be folded back so that you can manipulate the camera controls. Backpacking stores generally sell gloves like these.
Now, where should you set up? In part, this depends upon the type of picture you're going to take to produce the illusion of speed.
How to Use Your Camera - Stopping Motion
To get a head-on shot like the one shown here, you've practically got to set up in the skier's path. In this case, NYI student/photographer Klint S. Ashby set up right below a big mogul that the skier and he had agreed would be the point at which the shot would be taken. Y ou can use a slower shutter speed to "freeze" a subject moving toward you, even though the same slower speed wouldn't freeze a subject moving perpendicular to you. In this case, Klint obtained a sharp image of the skier by pre-focusing on the spot at which he expected to take the picture. In other words, Klint focused on the top of the mogul and waited till the skier reached that point.
Now, here's another type of picture. Here NYI student/photographer Peter Sharp panned with the skier to keep him sharp (no pun intended) in the picture. In this case, Peter set himself up so that the skier would move past him on the perpendicular. He might have tried to freeze the action by using a very fast shutter speed - say, 1/1000th of a second. But Peter had a better idea. If he had merely frozen the subject, he would have ended up with a picture in which nothing appeared to move. The skier would be frozen motionless. The trees would be frozen motionless too. And the entire picture would look static.
Now, here's an example of a picture by NYI student Brent Winebrenner in which the motion is frozen.
Here's another example, this time by NYI student/photographer Julie Landon, where "freezing the action" works.Exposure
All right. Question Three: How can you capture a well-exposed image of the skier? This is the real key to good skiing pictures. All too often you're shooting in extremely bright conditions. The snow is very bright. So is the sky. And your built-in meter interprets all this brightness to mean that you don't need much exposure. Result? Most pictures taken on the slopes are underexposed. Sure, the snow looks great. And so does the sky. But the skier who's your subject is all-too-often a dark silhouette!
Here's a perfect example of the problems you can face. How can the photographer - in this case, NYI student/photographer Cliff Fulton - get proper exposure of the skier when his built-in meter is reading that bright sky?
In a way, this returns us to the first of the three NYI Guidelines. What's your subject? Your subject is the skier. Well, if your subject is the skier, then you want to expose for the skier, not for the snow. How can you get the right exposure? We offer a number of photography tips:
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