Thursday, November 6, 2008

Photography tips: skiing

Once the calendar turns to November, my heart starts beating faster. The skiing season is about to arrive. Most Europeans postpone their skiing trip to February or even March, when the sun is stronger and the days are longer. Nevertheless, the skiing season opens (if it ever closes) mid-November in high stations, such as Tux, Tignes and Val Thorens. That’s why November makes my heart beat faster, though this year I will have to wait ‘till mid-December to actually go there.

If you ever went on a skiing trip and took your camera, you might know how frustrating it can be. These majestic mountains, the steep slope you just managed to ski down from. They scream to be photographed, but once you get home, the magic’s gone. In fact, the magic is left behind in the mountains, not on the pictures. The mountains do not look so majestic, that slope does not look half as steep as it actually was and your superb skiing technique never shows on the pictures. Why? Because photographing snowy mountains is not as easy as it seems. These tips might help though.

White balance
First of all, get your white balance right. That’s the easiest tip, and you can actually do it in post processing if you shoot in RAW. If you don’t, the snow will look blueish, not white. Other things will look off too and you'll loose contrast.

Time of day
Like with any type of photography, choose the right time of day, which is either early morning or late afternoon. Don't try shooting at midday, the high sun will flatten all detail, especially since things are all white anyway.
This is a general tip for landscape photography. Try to have some points of reference in the picture, prefereably in the front and the back. This makes it easier for the viewer to relate. This picture (click it for a larger version on Flickr)shows some loose snow in the front and rocks in the back, as well as the boundary of the slope. The latter gives the viewer a clear indication of how steep the slope really is.
Skiing is a sport and in sport photography, timing is everything. And to time right at sports, you have to know the sport. Shooting exactly in the middle of turn is not going to give a great skiing picture, nor is shooting at a straight end. Breaking and finishing a turn are nice moments in term of spectacular snow clouds, whereas the body position is great at the start of a turn. Obviously, jumps are also great moments to shoot, not matter if they go right or wrong.
Get down!
Choose a low angle, both for skiers and for mountains. Low angles will make slopes look steeper, will make mountains look higher and will make jumps and other actions much more impressive. It will also allow you more often to get some sky in your picture, providing the much wanted contrast of the bright blue against the clear white, especially if you use a polarizer.

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