On Piste Action Photography

My blog has reached a minor milestone today – this is my 250th Post. How many hours of work is that? I dare not think, nor tell my wife!

I am a keen skier as those who follow this blog will know, and I’ve posted quite a few images this winter and last principally showing the ski environment, the mountain-scapes and the infrastructure of skiing in Zermatt, Wengen and The Portes du Soleil ski areas. But not many images of Skiers themselves. It’s time to correct that omission, so today’s post is a set of images of on-piste skiing taken over the last three winters – all of them from the ski slopes above Zermatt. Some of these were blogged early in the life of this blog, but the readership has changed a lot since then, so I thought they were worth repeating.

Do remember that you can click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.

Let’s start with a couple of overviews. I’ve spoken more than once of the opportunities for photography offered by uphill rides on chairlifts, that very often pursue routes parallel to a piste. This first image is one of my favourites, taken from the very long ride up to Furggsattel, on a windy day when the wind was whipping up the snow and creating variable visibility.

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The next image was taken on our most recent visit, same chair, but different conditions. I chose to process this to accentuate the spontaneous ‘choreography’ of a bunch of skiers – one of these skiers (only the one!) was moved during processing to improve the composition.

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Images on the ground require a bit of planning. Firstly, choosing a place to base myself just off to the side of the piste, where I can stamp out a level stance and safely operate an SLR. I try to look for positions where I can pick up skiers about 100-150M or so away and then track them as they ski towards me. The camera is set to Continuous Autofocus (AF-C) and Continuous Shooting Mode. My latest camera (D7000 Nikon) offers a number of autofocus modes that I am still getting used to. I aim to set the camera up to capture at 1/1000 or faster and an ideal f8, adjusting the ISO to achieve these settings. Viewing the histogram after a set of shots is often impossible due to the strong light so it’s important to do some trial shots first and find somewhere with shade to read the screen and make any necessary adjustments. With each skier that I pick out, I may fire several short bursts as I track the skier downhill. In previous years I’ve used a fairly old 28-300 Sigma zoom, this year I’ve switched to an 18-250 Sigma zoom – optically superior. And my success rate? So far about 20 reasonable shots out of about 300 taken. I am continuously learning.

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Skiers or Boarders are often at their most attractive as subjects when executing a turn, (that’s when the skis kick up a snow plume) and finding a position where the plume catches the light helps to add atmosphere, although shooting towards the light creates its own problems due to the natural high contrast of such shots.

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Sometimes colour is essentially redundant and a conversion to B&W actually helps accentuate the action as in the image that follows.

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Ski photography under slightly unusual conditions will occasionally throw up surprising images. And it’s always fun to try and seek these out by making use of the weather, or the lighting, or the time of day.

The combination of wind and the skier’s own snow plume create atmosphere as in this next shot. Note the second skier almost completely obscured.

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Light can do extraordinary things. The next two images were both taken late in the day as the sun was very low in the sky and I picked out a location below a ridge so that the sun was out of view tucked below the top of that ridge. I shot a set of images as skiers crested the ridge, at which point most skiers come to an abrupt halt as they review the next section of the piste. Abrupt halts send a lot of snow flying – great for images. What I hadn’t expected was the offset ‘shadow’ of the skiers outline. I’m not sure how that happens but it adds that little extra interest to the shot – ‘Me and my Shadow’ perhaps, or the unseen friends.

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I think the next image was taken at the same place on a different day. Snow looks muddy and uninteresting when mid-toned, and this shot under extremely bright sky (the sun only marginally below the ridge) meant there was excessive contrast. So.. I opted in processing to let the snow go pure black and allow the silhouette to have pride of place. People are divided as to whether they like the pole – an artificial snow cannon. For me it’s part of the picture – but others will find it distracting.

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Finally the weather can be foul at times. Bad visibility does not normally yield good images. Wind, especially squally wind can create widely different conditions in seconds as the snow is whipped up. I don’t recall what possessed me to get the Compact out under these conditions and fire off an immediate shot. It’s hopelessly out of focus and I thought about binning it but then it struck me that this is what piste skiing is sometimes all about. Finding your way down under difficult visibility – and somehow for me, this image says a lot about those tricky times.

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I hope you will enjoy some of these shots. About a year ago I posted ‘Skiing with a Camera‘. That provides a little more detail about working with a camera while on a ski holiday. Do take a look at that.

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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22 Responses to On Piste Action Photography

  1. Tom Barden says:

    Love the first picture, great atmosphere.. Almost looks like they are being engulfed by an avalanche!!

  2. Super stuff Andy – some of your action shots are as good as you would find anywhere, but for me you excel at conveying the ‘feel’ of the day.

    The ‘shadow’ image is extraordinary, like a mini Brocken spectre but with the skier creating the cloud!

  3. Marcie says:

    As someone who grew up on skis..and on the slopes – I can’t help but LOVE this series of images!!!
    More..more..more!!!

  4. That is not my kind of skiing (I prefer crosscountry), but the pictures are wonderful. Congratulations with your blog!!

  5. oneowner says:

    Congratulations on #250. The photos of the skiers are outstanding and fun as well.

  6. seekraz says:

    I’m glad you’re still clicking-away, Andy…and I do enjoy the mini-vacations you provide with all of your images…as well as the readable/understandable technical information. Congrats on 250!

  7. munchow says:

    First of all congratulations on your achievement – it’s quite a milestone. And as always I enjoy your pictures. Being an avid skier myself – although never been to the Alps (skiing that is) I can really appreciate your photos. My favourite is the second to last, the one with the silhouetted skier. Just love the framing and the backlit action scene.

  8. Great, great post, Andy!! Fabulous shots, and I really appreciate the insights you’ve shared here. There’s a little something here for everyone, my friend, and quite honestly I love them all for their unique expressions and qualities.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks you so much for that, Toad. Skiing offers a huge variety of images for those of us crazy enough to want to slide downhill on two planks of wood! Action, Landscapes, Winter, and much more.

  9. ehpem says:

    The way you prepare posts with so much thought and explanation means 250 is a huge amount of time. Not counting the hours preparing images for them.
    I really like that first photo, and the one with pole from the snow machine.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks you very much for that – but I suspect you may be ahead of me as a prolific Poster and for the number of images that I enjoy seeing. I don’t regret the time spent – I regard it as time well spent for all sorts of reasons.

  10. Nice series and interesting post – well worth the time reading it.
    I agree with your sentiments on the ‘out of focus’ image sums up the whole experience.

    David.

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