Every Friday I will be posting a Photo of the Week. Here I’ll be sharing the details on how I got the shot, where I was, and the backstory that went into it. I hope you find this enjoyable, and helpful in your own photography.
Ski photography is difficult. I’ll be the first to say it. Even though, at first, I would have presumed it to be as easy as shooting any type of hiker in a landscape that I’ve shot hundreds of times before. Except, turns out, it’s exponentially more difficult to shoot a good ski photo. There are so many more moving parts and communication challenges that I never would have imagined. So for this week’s photo of the week, I will be discussing (complaining) about ski photography and its difficulties.
In a a good hiking photo, you usually have a beautiful landscape filling the background of a shot, with a hiker in the foreground heading off into the distance. It’s a timeless shot that who’s fame has grown even more-so with the popularity of Instagram and this “pseudo-outdoorsy” fascination. But that shot is easy to achieve, seeing as hikers move at a really slow pace with a background that isn’t moving anytime soon. That scene is, in nearly every way, different than shooting a ski photo.
For a good ski photo, the subject and background are nearly the same, except when you start to pick at the finer details of the shot. The subject is way more of the focal point of the frame than the background, unlike a hiking photo. And the most important piece of a ski photo is timing and position. A ski photo entirely matters about how the skier is position relative to the snow, and also how that position is within the frame of the shot. Having a skier turn at the precise moment where they are in the middle of the frame, so that the snow is thrown into the air or engulfing them is the key. But how is that achieved?
There are many ways to achieve that ideal position, but it all comes down to communication. Communicating before you (the photographer) head downslope to get into position, or via radio once you’re in position. I’ve seen professional photographers throw snowballs to the location where they want their skiing subject to hit their turn to maximize the shot’s potential. This is helpful, but at what point does it become unnatural. It’s no longer skiing if you tell the skier to straight-line it until you reach this point, then I want you to turn hard left to thrown snow up into the air. Sure, it makes for a good shot, but it’s not realistic. There is a balance to be had, somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios.
Even if you are able to coordinate with your skier about where you want to take the shot of, and even if they execute their turn in the middle of your frame, even if you are able to get them into focus, you still need to pray your shutter speed is fast enough to hit that right moment. A ski turn may last less than a second. And that moment where the snow looks the best, fluffed high into the air, may last only a tenth of a second. With my ski camera shooting at 5fps, most of the times I don’t capture it. With my G85, shooting at 30fps, yeah, I’m more likely to capture it. But I don’t trust myself to ski with a nice camera hooked to my backpack strap quite yet. So for now, I gamble at 5fps and hope for the best.
Ski photography is incredibly difficult, but like every type of photography, it takes practice. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a shot, or two, or twelve. You’ll eventually dial in the settings you need on your camera to have the confidence to shoot well every time. I’m not there yet, but hopefully soon I will be. But until then, I’ll still be out there, skiing in the backcountry, shooting photos of my friends, and enjoying every single minute of it. Because that’s what you should be doing. Shooting photos of your passions to share with your buddies at the end of the day!
This photo is of my ski partner Mike in the Wasatch Backcountry, above Desolation Lake, on 2/21/2019.
*Note* I almost did not get this post out before the end of the day. So I apologize if it seems rushed… it’s late, and I wanted to share this photo on Friday!