Photographing sports is one of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had. So when I got the call to photograph the London Ski Racing Club, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. With this being my first time photographing portraits and action on a ski hill, I learned a few tricks on how to stay warm, how to protect my gear, and how to get some nice photos in the end.
As a photographer, when you’re shooting on location, you’re often part of the environment. When looking at an image of a skier shredding down the hill, people rarely remember that the photographer was standing outside in the snow, wind, and whatever other weather happened that day, probably for hours to get the shot. When dealing with harsh or unpredictable climates, preparation is key. I often shoot in cold environments and have developed some tricks to stay warm. As mentioned in my previous post, 3 Fashions to Keep Cold Hockey Moms Warm, one of the best ways to keep yourself warm is to layer. But what about your camera equipment? Just like the photographer, the equipment needs to be protected so it can perform optimally for the entire shoot.
Preparing & Scouting the Ski Club
As mentioned above, preparation is the most important part of any photo shoot, regardless of where it takes place. Outdoor shoots need a little more thought and planning though because unlike a studio shoot there are factors that are sometimes out of your control. You need to know the location and time of the photos, what the weather will be like on the day of the shoot, where the sun is going to be, and what the background will look like among other things.
I photographed the London Ski Club over the course of two sessions. The first session was a Thursday evening starting at 6 p.m., so it was going to be dark. The second session started at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, so I was going to have to factor in the sun. I went two different times to scout the area where I would be taking the photographs: once during the day and once at night. Both times I was there I experimented with different exposures and different depths of field to see what looked the best. As you can see below, the scene looked much different from day to night and so did the focus points.
Some of the other things I consider when I scout an area are:
- Where will the photographs take place? (i.e. Where will my subject be and where will I be?)
- Where is the sun?
- How will I light my subject?
- How tall are the athletes I’m photographing?
- What is in the background?
- Will I need props?
- Will I be obstructing anything? (e.g. Will the photo shoot be blocking people skiing down the hill?)
- Is there anything I need from the organization I’m working with? (e.g. props, the orange fence to be moved, etc.)
- Is there somewhere else I can shoot if the weather doesn’t cooperate?
When considering all this information and the look of the scout shots, I decided to shoot the portraits at f/2.8 to blur the background, light only my subject while using props to bring the viewers eye away from the background, and to move the orange fence.
You’ll also need to plan how you’re going to protect yourself and your gear from the elements. Once you’ve read my post about what to wear when spending a lot of time in the cold, you can plan you’re outfit for the day. Now you have to figure out how you’re going to protect your gear.
Winterizing Your Photo Gear for the Ski Hill
As part of the preparation, it’s important to decide on what equipment you’re going to need. Do you have to rent or buy any gear or are you equipped for the job? When I take on a new client, it is vital to me that I produce the images I’m being paid for and have promised. Therefore, I spend a lot of time planning and figuring out ways to prevent problems and I always have a backup. I have a backup camera, lens, flash, batteries, and memory cards and recommend that you do too. Here’s a look at what I took to the shoot:
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 7D Mark II
- Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports Lens
- Canon 70-200mm F2.8 Lens
- Canon 24-105 F4 Lens
- 3 – Canon EX-RT 600 Speedlight Flashes
- Manfrotto Tripod 055CL with Ball and Socket Head
- 2 – Light Stands
- 1 Pair – Thinsulate Freehands Gloves
- Extra Eneloop Pro Batteries
I’m a pretty frugal photographer and try not to spend too much money on rain covers and cases. A tried and true method I use to protect my gear from moisture is plastic bags. Luckily I had just bought a printer (Canon PIXMA PRO-100) and kept the static-free foam wrap that came in the box. So I wrapped it around my flashes (Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite) as a padding in case they got knocked over and put a plastic bag on top to keep out the snow. For my camera (Canon 5D Mark III), I used two plastic bags: one on the flash on camera and one on the lens. I made a hole in the bottom of the bag for my lens to poke through then pulled it back over the camera, then placed the other bag over the flash and camera. I was very happy with the protection the static-free foam wrap and plastic bags offered considering it only cost me twenty cents!
To protect your equipment from condensation when coming inside from the cold, make sure you leave all your gear in your insulated bag for a few hours. Just to be safe, I take the memory card out of the camera first, pack up my gear after the shoot while still outside, and leave it in my bag overnight once I’m inside.
The Photo Sessions
On my way to the ski hill for the first session on Thursday evening, I was happy that I packed my plastic bags because it started to snow large, wet flakes and didn’t stop until after I got home after the shoot. Not having to worry about my equipment getting wet allowed me to focus more on my lighting and photography.
As you can see in the photo above of my set up, the visibility was reduced because of the weather. I was a little worried about the large snow flakes showing up in the images, but to compensate, I shot an extra image of each athlete and team to make sure the flakes didn’t appear on their faces. Notice in the photo below how some of the snow flakes catch the light from the flashes, while others seem to blur what’s behind them.
One thing that will work in your favour when photographing ski racers is the bright colours of their ski wear. I find the athletes really pop in these photos even though I chose not to light the background.
The second photo session on Saturday morning was a totally different experience. It was a bright, sunny day with a few clouds in the sky. That meant that the lighting would change from minute to minute and I would have to adjust my flashes accordingly.
The colours also worked really well in the daylight. I blurred the background with a shallow depth of field and the flags helped hide the ski lift.
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