The weather outside may be frightful, but that doesn't mean you can't grab some really awesome shots of people of all ages having fun this winter. What's more, you can sharpen up several of your photography skills and even create some potential sales while you're at it. Your local snow sledding hills are a great source of fun and photo opportunities after the snow flies.
Like the beach in the summer, sledding spots are family gathering places that can reward a photographer with a whole day's worth of action, especially when the sun shows its face after a good snowfall. I like to head out early with my thermos of hot coffee, snacks, snow suit and all my winter photo gear so I can be ready when the crowd starts arriving.
Getting the White Balance Right
Remember that snow and varying lighting conditions can fool your camera and create color casts in your images. On any given winter day, the light may change suddenly, so it may be tempting to use the AWB setting. Although you may get good results that way, my preference is to shoot in RAW mode, so I can adjust the WB in post processing without degrading the image.
One of the most entertaining things about sledding is its unpredictability. Sledders are hurtling down the hill with little to no control over their “vehicles” and anything can happen. Be ready to capture those somersaults, sudden flights and snow-spraying wipeouts by placing yourself close to the action and panning with your subjects.
I like to shoot in aperture priority mode and switch my shutter to continuous when I'm on the hill. I also like to set my AF mode to “Servo” and use only the center focusing point, which helps me keep my subjects frames while panning.
Like white balance, maintaining proper exposure in winter scenes can be tricky for your camera's metering system. If you're shooting in manual, you may want to push the exposure up 1 to 1.5 stops if the day is cloudy or when the sun is behind the action. If, like me, you prefer Av (or A) mode in these fast-action situations, knowing how to adjust your exposure compensation quickly can be an invaluable skill.
Vary Your PoV
One of my favorite positions for photographing sledders is lying on my stomach just off the main path. This gives me a nice, low angle that works great for kids and helps minimize distractions. It also makes me a bit less conspicuous, so the shots are more candid. That said, it's worth shooting from several different angles while the activity goes on. There's no way to know what the “right” spot is at any given time, so keep adjusting.
Interact with People
Don't be shy about talking with people or helping out as needed. Stopping that runaway sled when it comes by will be appreciated. Run out and grab that lost mitten and get it back to its owner while they're headed back up the hill. Make yourself a part of the fun and people will be much less shy of your lens.
Parents will enjoy seeing some of your shots of their kids on the hill and if you have a KeepSnap card, that's where your first sales opportunity comes into play. That young snowboarder would probably be thrilled to be able to download some great shots of the stunts he or she is doing, too. Most people will appreciate a great group shot as a memento of the day. If you don't have a KeepSnap account yet, go find out why you should have by clicking on the banner below.
What to Do with all Those Images
While I've already given you one great idea for the awesome shots you're going to capture, there's no reason to limit your options. I keep lots of sledding shots in my stock files (Yes, I still sell stock photos, too.) and with a little practice, you'll find plenty of images that will be worthy of adding to your portfolio. Also, don't forget the publishing and greeting card markets.
Fun, sun, snow and people are a great combination and any sledding hill around your neighborhood is a great place to find them. Bundle up and get out there!