Do you want to improve your on-snow photography? Well, our Tignes / Val d'Isere ambassador Sam Box is here to give you some on-snow photography basics for the next time you and your camera are out on the hill.
5th Jun 2020
Photographing a shredder in action on the mountain is fun, but there can be a lot to it. Although I am no expert, here are some starter points on how to improve your on-snow shots. A lot of these tips apply to whether you are using a phone or a DSLR to get your snaps. However, generally, I am assuming and advise that you shoot with a DSLR on manual to get the most control over your photos.
The most basic element to taking any photograph is looking at the light around you. The main questions you should be asking are; how much light is there, what direction is it coming from and how is it falling on my subject / the rest of the frame. You can go much deeper into how light behaves and the best time of day to shoot, for example, but these are arguably the most important factors.
Now you are looking at the light, you may notice that there is none. Shooting in a whiteout is hard as there is no visibility, no contrast, and no shadows so your subject may appear to be skiing in a cloud (which they are). There isn't loads you can do in this situation, but shooting in trees can give your shots some definition.
Putting some consideration into your background can make all the difference in these types of shots. Try to avoid having your subject against dark colours, so trees, rocks etc. They will stand out much more against a lighter, uncluttered background i.e the sky or snow. Conversely, if your subject is in the shade and the background is bright, your eye is going to be drawn to the background and it likely isn’t going to be a great shot.
There is lots of interesting terrain that you can use to create an interesting composition. Use rocks, trees, or whatever you can find to spice up your image. If you are shooting jumps, drops or rails, a good rule to follow is to try and get the take-off and landing in the frame to give the shot some perspective. You have probably seen ‘guy in the sky' photographs, as they are known, where a skier is pictured solely against the sky. Although novel, these photographs show no scale, the subject could be 2 or 200 feet off the ground and there is usually too much negative space to make the composition interesting.
How you focus your shot depends on what you are photographing. If you are shooting someone hitting a jump, I recommend pre-focusing on the point where you predict the peak of their aerial manoeuvre will be, then flicking the lens to manual AF. This way the plane of focus you have chosen won’t change when you push the button to take the shot. If you are trying to focus on a shredder the whole way down a run, you will need to use continuous auto-focus and try to keep your focus point on them. For either of these, I recommend starting at an aperture of at least f8. Since skiers are moving so fast, getting shots where they are in focus is much harder at lower apertures.
Leading on from my last point, to avoid motion blur, you will need a fairly high shutter speed. Although it does depend on what you are shooting, try to aim for 1/1000s or higher to not be disappointed. When shooting in the sun there is a serious abundance of light as it is also bouncing back off the snow. You should be able to keep a high shutter speed, have a comfortably large aperture and keep your ISO fairly low.
If you are taking a DSLR out, have a sturdy camera bag that will protect it if you were to take a tumble. It sounds obvious but, when you are shooting, zip up your camera bag and maybe even pop it on your back. People coming down the slope aren’t thinking about your camera gear when they are spraying snow everywhere. Maybe the most useful thing in my bag, bar the camera itself, is a tiny travel towel to dry off my gear when it gets wet. That little thing has saved my camera more than once!