Capturing the moment when your buddy nails a new trick can be a really fun experience all by itself. Truthfully, taking photos of anything can be fun if you have an attraction to that sort of thing. Maybe the motivation comes from helping a friend or maybe it comes from wanting to build your own career. Whatever your reasons, this guide should help a beginner understand the basics of a camera and how to use it effectively when shooting snowboarding.
There are three kinds of photo cameras that your average snowboarder has access to: DSLRs, Action Cameras/Point and Shoot Cameras and Phone Cameras. There are a wide variety of products out there. But chances are what you have will fit into one of these categories.
A DSLR is what the pros use, these are the kind your weird uncle uses to document different bird species. They offer interchangeable lenses and the option to adjust all settings. These are also the most expensive.
An Action Camera is a GoPro or something like it. And a Point and Shoot is your base model digital camera. These offer some adjustability with photo settings and are typically very durable. If you drop your action cam, you just pick it up. If you drop your DSLR you have to sell your car to fix it.
Finally we are all familiar with our phones but most people don’t realize the camera in there is a powerful tool. Especially in the latest generation of products, these cameras really pack a punch. It’s important to remember it’s not the paintbrush, it’s the artist. And don’t forget to turn on ‘HDR’.
Generally speaking, every camera has 3 ways to adjust the amount of light it receives. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Aperture in lay-terms translates to how much light gets in through the lens at once. Shutter Speed is how long the light is allowed in. And ISO is a sort of digital enhancement of the light that has already been captured. Please refer to the image below for a crash course in how adjusting these settings changes your photo.
In the phone camera, all three of these settings are done automatically. The phone doesn’t really have much room for aperture adjustment so it typically will compensate with more ISO. This means it’s sort of cheating its way to a better exposure. This becomes obvious in low light situations.
Ever take a picture with your phone at night? Notice how it looks grainy and you can see little pixels of red and blue scattered about in shadows and dark spots? That’s ISO trying to make the photo brighter. In all cases (and cameras) you want your ISO to be as low as you can get it to avoid the grain.
Shutter Speed is one setting that you can change on your GoPro as well as your DSLR and some point and shoot cameras. In snowboarding it’s important to have the shutter speed as high as you can get it. Yes there are some situations and styles where blurriness of a moving object is attractive. But if you’re in focus and the subject is still blurry, then you’ll want to raise the shutter speed so you can see the rider.
Lighting and Orientation
The most important thing in a photo is light. This is because what you are recording when you point a camera at anything is the light bouncing off of it. For this segment we are gonna focus on daytime shooting so the sun will provide all the light you need.
Your position with respect to the subject and to the light is probably the first thing to consider. If you are shooting with your iPhone in the terrain park for example, then shooting mid day is probably the best. This is because most ski resorts face north allowing them to get less light which means they can hold snow longer. Unfortunately for photographers this means you won’t have tons of light near sunset. The little light you do have at sunset can create some long shadows, pretty colors and other unique effects. However, as far as capturing a really crisp images goes, things tend to get harder with less light.
If you are having trouble getting good exposure of the rider and the feature, then try to put the camera between the sun and the rider. When shooting the same direction as the sun you will fully light your subject and scene. Conversely, If you put the rider in between the sun and the camera you could get lens flares, loss of definition in the rider and a bad balance of exposure between subject and scene. Finally, if you put the sun between the rider and the camera, well then you are now in outer space… maybe come back to planet earth bud.
Balance is Everything
The balance between good content and quality of image is doubly important when shooting action sports. If you’re shooting any moving object you will use your shutter speed to balance brightness and motion blur. When concerned with focus, you want to balance your depth of field with the amount of light you get using aperture.
When pushing both of these to the extreme simultaneously you may find yourself in a pickle. For example: If you’re shooting a fast rider at sunset, your final image may be darker than you want and you may miss your focus (high shutter speed, low aperture). So balancing this with minimal ISO to compensate for the lost light is where you will find your best photos. Adding in the ISO will allow you to open up your aperture a little more and give you a larger depth of field. This way you won’t miss your focus and the subject will still be crisp and visibly bright.
Composition is where the artistic side of photography is free to roam. There are some common rules and practices like rule of thirds, but for the most part it’s up to you. Just make sure to account for 3 elements in every good snowboarding photo.
- Make sure the rider is in there… DUH
- Always frame it so you can see all or at least some of the feature they are snowboarding on. People like to imagine how the snowboarder got to where they are so give them something to go by. NO GUY-IN-THE-SKY SHOTS!
- Tell a story with your photo. If it’s a fun relaxed pow turn, try and capture the leaned back body position or the snow flying in the air on a slash. If it’s a big scary jump try to show how big the gap is or any obstacles that could highlight the real danger for the rider.
Wide vs Long Lenses
In regards to shooting wide angle lenses like those found on GoPro’s it’s a good idea to get very close to your rider. Like uncomfortably close. A good rule of thumb is if you’re not almost getting hit by the rider, then you’re not close enough to get a good wide angle action photo. Standing on/near the feature or follow caming are good ways to get these style shots. Just pay attention to everyone so you don’t get hit.
On the other hand if you have a DSLR and a 70-200 zoom lens for example, then you can be off in the woods and capturing lots of different shots in every direction. The beauty of a long lens is also in the compression. It’s easier to get some contrast between foreground, subject and background. And you can fit a lot of layers into one shot. This is also a good time to play with the aperture and discover effects like ‘boca’.
Get out there and just make a mess of things. Don’t be afraid to take bad photos, because you are going to do that a lot. The best way to learn is to fail a bunch and analyze your actions afterward. If you find yourself frustrated with one thing, leave it, try something else and come back to it later. This is the beginning of developing your own style. Take pictures of whatever inspires you in snowboarding and you won’t be sorry you picked up the camera.