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We have all admired the spectacular magazine images of skiers and snowboarders in multi-coloured outfits, caught in mid-air against a sky of azure blue. While those shots were taken by pro photographers, with professional athletes, you can also get dramatic shots of your family in action on the slopes. And during ski or snowboard club competitions, you should be able to get some really stunning images of experts strutting their stuff. You'll need to take the lift to get up the hill yourself, of course, and if you're ready to do that, consider the following tips.
For the best photos of action on the slopes, use a telephoto lens and a fast shutter speed; find an ideal background and take lots of shots. Be sure to shoot from a safe position. Check with the Ski Patrol in advance as to the applicable rules to ensure that you will not interfere with the action. (c) 2013 Peter K. Burian
* Use a long lens: Ideally, you'll want to take photos with a digital SLR or Compact System Camera with a telephoto zoom lens or a camera with a built-in super zoom 20x or longer lens. (Carry the equipment in a hip pack or small backpack to retain mobility.) While it's possible to take frame-filling photos with a shorter lens, you'll be a lot safer if you shoot from a greater distance. And a telephoto will include less of the surroundings, such as various distracting elements.
* Find a suitable location. Be sure to shoot from a position of safety where you will not create a hazard. Ideally, you'll want lots of snow and a blue sky or a background of trees. Bright colours will really pop, while your subjects -- and the flying snow trailing them -- will be clearly delineated against either type of background. Take care not to include signs, the lifts or the snow-making equipment.
In order to ensure safety, you'll often need to shoot from the side of the course during a race. This can work well if you're careful with the background. Find a position that allows you to frame a competitor against a snow-covered hillside or trees; take care to exclude distracting elements such as snow-making or grooming equipment. (c) 2013 Peter K. Burian
* Try Sports mode: Novice photographers will find this Scene mode to be useful since it will often make suitable settings. These include a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, continuous drive for shooting a series of photos in a burst, and continuous autofocus.
* Make your own settings: If you're more experienced, you won't want to use an automatic Scene mode. Instead, set the ISO to 400 on a sunny day, or to ISO 800 if its overcast. Use Shutter Priority mode with a shutter speed to 1/1000 sec. to freeze the action. Set the autofocus mode to AF-C (continuous, servo tracking AF) and the wide-area autofocus options. In order to shoot a series of photos in a burst, set the Drive mode to Continuous. Try a few test shots; if you're getting underexposure, set a +2/3 exposure compensation.
While the Sports Scene mode will often provide good photos, make your own settings to increase the odds of getting the really stunning images. (300mm focal length; f/4; 1/1000 sec.; +2/3 exposure compensation; Continuous Drive mode; AF-C autofocus mode with wide area AF sensor) (c) 2013 Peter K. Burian
* Get the jumps. Club competitions are a great time to get action shots. If your subjects are jumping or airborne, get down low and capture some dynamic action shots, framing them in the air, against the sky, especially if it's blue.
In events where the competitors are sometimes airborne, shoot from a low angle to frame them against a blue sky. Use a Circular Polarizing filter but don't overdo its effect; the goal is to enrich a blue sky without making it excessively dark. (c) 2013 Peter K. Burian
* Use a polarizing filter. If your camera accepts filters, it's well worth adding a Circular Polarizer to enrich the sky and the color of the skiers outfits. While viewing the scene through the camera's viewfinder or on the LCD screen, rotate the polarizer until the sky appears a rich blue. Avoid excessive polarization (a problem especially at high elevations) because the sky will become too dark, almost black in some cases.
* Set focus in advance. A highly-rated camera's Continuous autofocus (AF-C) should be able to track a subject moving toward you, keeping it in focus for a series of photos. However, some situations call for pre-focusing. In a location where a skier or boarder will suddenly appear from over the crest of a hill, try this: Set focus for a likely spot and wait until a competitor appears.
In situations where competitors suddenly pop over the crest of a hill, pre-focus on that spot with manual focus or with the AF-C autofocus mode. Remain alert because it's important to start shooting a series of photos the instant that a competitor appears. (c) 2013 Peter K. Burian
Snow can provide a spectacular background for a variety of outdoor sports and activities, besides offering stunning nature and landscape opportunities. So while others stow their camera equipment until April, why not get out there with your camera and take advantage of the many opportunities?
Canadian stock photographer Peter Burian (www.peterkburian.com) is the author of several books including Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging as well as many Magic Lantern Guides to SLR cameras.
TEXT AND PHOTOS (c) 2013 PETER K. BURIAN