Part 1 of this PhotographyTalk.com article explained how to set up interesting skiing and snowboarding digital photos and how to make sure your subject is in focus when he or she speeds down the slope. Part 2 provides some additional tips, first, how to add motion to your images and, second, how to expose correctly.
Creating the Illusion of Motion
What makes downhill skiing, snowboarding and even cross-country skiing pictures so interesting and exciting is giving them the illusion of motion. There are a few basic techniques that will help you do that.
Panning with the Action: When you pan your camera and/or body with an object moving past you at a perpendicular angle, the object will appear in focus against a blurred background. There are two tricks to this technique. First, shoot at a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30th of a second. Second, Follow the subject through your camera from the moment you see him or her and until he or she has moved past you and is no longer in sight. It should be one smooth, continuous motion. You then want to shoot the photo at the point where the subject is perpendicular to you.
There may be more than one point in that narrow window on either side of an exact perpendicular (90-degree) view that will result in an excellent photo: the subject just ahead of you or just a bit behind. If you’ve never tried this technique, then it’s better to practice it before you use it on the ski slopes. Remember, once your subject has skied past you, you must find another skier to set up another shot or wait for your original subject to travel to the top of the run again.
Freezing the Action: Freezing the motion of a skier or snowboarder is not that difficult. What takes skill, and some practice, is freezing that motion and giving it the look of action. A skier, with his or her, skis flat on the ground, even on a descending slope, just doesn’t imply much action. Instead, you want to arrange for your subject skier to jump from the top of a mogul while causing a spray of snow. Even though the skier is sharply focused and frozen in mid-air, the action is obvious and exciting to see.
Although cross-country skiers don’t usually move very fast, there are various techniques that you can use to create the illusion of motion. For example, you can frame a number of skiers entering a clearing from the woods and shoot at a very slow shutter speed. Their pumping arms and legs will blur, but their torsos and heads will be more in focus. You can also try the panning motion when they are moving at their fastest.
How To Expose Correctly
If you’re shooting digital photography on a winter’s day with a bright sun that also reflects off the white snow, then your camera’s auto-exposure will likely set itself for a very quick exposure time. The results, however, are usually not what you want: your pictures are underexposed and your subject is dark, with no details. There are a number of techniques that will help you “fool” your camera and expose for your subject, not the overly bright environment.
When you ask a skier or snowboarder to be your subject, take a close-up meter reading of his or her face. Use that exposure when they come down the slope, not what the camera has decided is the correct exposure.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t meter your subject’s face, then meter a patch of your skin (if your skin tone is similar to your subject’s). Make sure you take the reading of yourself under the same light and at the same angle that you will photograph your subject.
Use a separate light meter to take an incident reading. It should give you an exposure setting that balances the bright environment and the subject.
Point your camera’s meter and/or a separate meter at a gray card, which should provide you with an exposure similar to tip #3.
Utilize fill flash. This is particularly useful when you are standing in the skier’s path, so you can shoot a head-on shot. The flash will bounce additional light off the subject, thus achieving a balance with the bright sky behind and the reflecting snow around the skier. A flash unit has a limited reach, however; so don’t expect to stand more than 10 feet or so from your subject.
The final tip is to remember that your digital camera may also have an automatic white balance feature, which should expose the white snow correctly. It’s a good idea to check whether your camera has this feature before venturing onto the slopes. You may have to learn how to white balance manually; and you don’t want to be learning that technique standing in the snow.