Get ready to hit the slopes and capture that backcountry vibe with these tips and tricks for breathtaking ski photography.
Hitting the slopes with the right gear and technique is not only a requirement for skiers. Capturing the action on the ski slopes behind the lens means having the skills down and the technical equipment to get the shot.
We’ll go over what gear you need and some creative advice to ensure you’re prepared for ski photography success!
License these images via Tomas Marek and Ross Woodhall / Image Source.
When choosing a camera for the slopes, you should pick one that excels in continuous shooting and autofocus. Skiers are fast, so capturing them in focus is perhaps one of the biggest challenges you’ll face behind the lens.
A camera that can shoot 10 frames per second (fps) should suffice—any less than that and you’ll likely miss all the best action.
Aside from the camera gear, you’ll also need to make sure you’re dressed for success, too. Wear lots of layers, photography gloves that will keep you warm and toasty as you operate your camera, goggles, and don’t forget sunscreen (because no one wants a goggle tan).
And it’s not just you who has to dress the part—you can take that extra step to protect your gear by dressing your camera and lens in a waterproof cover. If the forecast says snow on the mountain, ensure your camera is protected.
Lighting is key in all forms of photography, and ski photography is no different. One perk when shooting on the slopes is that the snow acts as a massive, natural reflector, meaning you don’t have to contend with harsh shadows on your subject’s face. However, you’ll likely encounter the opposite problem—not having enough contrast.
A sea of white snow can present a challenge for many new ski photographers, as their first photos are often flat and lack dimension. To mitigate this problem, you’ll need to time your shoot when the sun is low on the horizon—at the start or end of the day.
This is when you can lean on the shadows cast over the mountain to create that depth or dimension you’re looking for. Avoid white-on-white images: Look for the shadowy peaks of a mountain on a bluebird day or a skier framed by the trees on the slopes.
Catching the first chair up the mountain means you get to capture the first tracks of the day. The freshly groomed mountain is your canvas, and a skier—ripping through the freshest corduroy—is your subject.
There’s perhaps no better way to evoke the sense of elation skiers feel to be laying down the first tracks, so consider getting an early start to evocative shots.
It’s always a good idea to scout your location first beforehand. Take note of beautiful backdrops, unique foregrounds, and great lookout points. Typically you want to position yourself downhill, so you can capture the skier’s face and body as they make their way down the mountain.
Peak Settings for a Day on the Slopes
As mentioned, you’ll need to keep up with fast-moving skiers behind the lens, which means you’ll need your camera at the ready with the right settings to capture the action.
Raw images capture everything that passes through your camera’s sensor without compression. This means you capture the greatest amount of image data, which will come in handy in post-production.
In other words, RAW files contain the most color data for you to work with when editing your photos.
Shoot in Manual Mode
You’ll want full control of your camera settings, so you can set your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the shot you want.
To freeze the action, you’ll be required to use a fast shutter speed. A good place to start is 1/1000 a second. You can work your way up to 1/200 a second to capture even the smallest of details, such as snowflakes in midair.
Frames Per Second
Anticipating your shot is critical for burst photography. A high frame rate ensures you capture all the magic behind the lens. Shooting in burst mode of around 10 frames per second should suffice, but as a general rule, the more frames per second, the better.
The higher your ISO, the brighter the photo will be. However, raising your camera’s ISO means there’s a greater risk of increased noise levels, which can ruin the quality of your shots.
Snow is incredibly bright and will fool your camera’s built-in light meter into thinking you’re working with more light than you actually are. In auto mode, for example, your camera may overcompensate by underexposing your shot, resulting in gray photography.
To mitigate this issue, you’re better off overexposing your photos by 1 to 3 stops so the snow appears just as it does in real life.
Ready to hit the slopes? As with all photography, the more you practice, the more these settings and techniques will come together intuitively without you going through a mental checklist each time.
In the meantime, refer to this guide before capturing all the ski action behind the lens.
License this cover image via Cavan Images.