At the beginning of 2017, I was very lucky to be selected to go to Verbier in Switzerland to cover the British Army's Royal Armoured Corps and Army Air Corps Alpine Ski Championship. I knew the job was coming up in the previous autumn, so I set about preparations for the climate, type of imagery I wanted to deliver and also how to best achieve this while improving my own skills on the mountain. This consisted of a massive amount of research, which luckily for my wife kept. me pretty quiet for a couple of weeks. My main focus was the location and knowing stuff like the direction of the sun and how to adjust custom white balance. Also looking at sources of information about equipment to use while at altitude and how to protect it. For more insight into this visit Jonathan Griffiths website, an absolute goldmine of information and inspiration:
So with a great deal of information and apprehension, I set off for Switzerland just after New Year (without a hangover!)
My main concern was my own ability to get around once on the mountain, sure I had skied before but many years ago, therefore some training was required, luckily we had an instructor on the officials team who gave me some pointers and then let me loose on some easier slopes, though this was after the first days racing where I generally fell down the mountain to get to where I wanted to be (#tragic)! In hindsight, some pre-trip practice was what should have done and booking some lessons prior to travelling will be the first thing I do, should I go next year. My second concern was equipment. I usually shoot in the UK and as long as you wrap up warm, all is fine likewise your camera equipment can cope with the British climate as long as it remains dry. In the Alps the daily temperature ranged from -2 to -17 so there were a few things I had to consider:
Getting the images you want
After the first day's racing, I was more confident on the slope and knew the key places for the shots I wanted. During my research, I looked at other photographers images to get a feel for what works and give me an idea of what I wanted. American photographer Mike Juliana was a great inspiration here - check out his amazing work at the link below:
Camera equipment & settings were pretty mixed throughout the day but my main setup was as follows:
Canon 5D Mk III & Canon 70-200 F2.8L Mk II
Shooting at F2.8 gave me the shutter speed required to capture the skiers, and the canon was well up to it, although heavy it produced some great results, even in the early morning when I was forced to use higher ISO settings. I also made sure I captured all shots in RAW and JPEG - that way I could get shots out quickly to the various media platforms which we using to promote the racing and then process my best quality images from RAW when time permitted.
Where you shoot from makes all the difference. I found that creating a leading line with the skier passing through one gate but aiming for the next was a great approach for my first time. As I gained confidence, I tried to be more creative by changing my aspect, getting low down or higher up (not easy climbing trees in ski boots). This worked well but I was constantly aware of my time constraints, with racers passing every 45 seconds and although I didn't have to get every single skier, I wanted to maximise my chances.
Of course, should you want to try this type of photography you will probably not be against the clock, so take your time, get a good exposure and enjoy it.
A word on fitness..
Get as fit as you can! The legwork involved is pretty tiresome, the bag gets heavy, and you are also fighting the cold. Before going up the mountains, do some leg work - I'm talking squats, lunges deadlifts - lots of them. Putting in some quality training will pay dividends. The article below from Traver Boehm is a great starting point:
Ski Photography has a lot to offer, it's brilliant being out on the mountain, the views are incredible (next blog maybe..) and you get to ski every day! What is there not to like? My final comment is one of thanks to all the teams and the Race Officials team who made it possible for me to be there in the first place! Thanks guys!