Being amongst the mountains on your ski vacation can present you with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and most people will take a camera with them to try and capture their memories. Shooting great photos on the mountain can be one of the most challenging scenarios though for both you and your camera so I have put together some beginner tips to set you off on the right path.
Most beginners will have their camera set to some sort of automatic exposure mode and this is a great way to learn. Cameras are programmed to expose the scene in front of them in a neutral manner though and they aren’t clever enough to know that you are out on a bright white mountain. Bright, snowy scenes can be problematic for the camera’s ‘brain’ and they often underexpose the image, leaving you with dreary, grey looking photos. To combat this you might first check to see if your camera has a setting in the menu for skiing images, often signified by a graphic of a small skier. This tells the camera to expect a larger amount of reflected light that normal and to not underxpose the image because of that. If you’re camera doesn’t have a skiing mode then you should also read the section in the manual which will be labeled Exposure Compensation. Most cameras have this function these days so refer to your manual to find out how to activate it on your particular model. Once activated, I find that either +2/3 or +1 on the exposure compensation will deliver much more accurate snowy images.
Make sure you practice your techniques before you get up the mountain though. You can do this simply on the balcony of your hotel or outside, as long as there is snow there. You’ll need to point your camera at something with some color to provide contrast in the snow though. If you’re a fan of playing at Partypokerfor instance, you probably have a poker kit lying about somewhere, so why not use a poker chip or a pack of cards as your subject matter? With the poker chip on the snow, play around with the settings until the poker chip is correctly exposed. You’ll find then that the snow around it is nice and white, not grey as the camera would have it if you let it have its own way!
If you want to shoot in manual mode on the mountain then you’ll have full control and guarantee the correct exposure with a little planning. What you have to remember is that the light values where you are standing are going to be the same as where your subject is so long as they are not miles away. This means you can figure out your exposure by taking some test shots of an outstretched hand or ski glove.
Getting sharp focus on your subjects can also be challenging in bright snowy conditions. The same camera faces the same challenge as it does with exposure, a huge amount of reflected light compared to a normal scene. This can slow some cameras AF systems down so you’ll want to practice a few times, as you did with the exposure, before you go up the mountain. Learn how your camera copes with with bright white snow and then learn to anticipate the timing. With most beginner cameras there will be a delay between pressing the button and the camera locking in focus and taking the shot. A bit of practice will help you to anticipate this delay when taking the shot of your skiing buddies, particularly if they are doing a jump as you’ll want to catch them right in the air! You can practice at your hotel by flipping those poker chips in the air!
Macro shots can be a fun way to get a broader range of fun photos from your skiing trip. You’ll either need a macro lens, or a camera that has a macro function on it. A macro photo is effectively an extreme close-up of an object which renders great details in a large image. Ski resorts are full of wonderfully detailed things that look great in macro shots, like snowflakes and icicles. Getting a couple of macro shots in amongst your vacation images will really catch peoples eye! The thing to remember with macro is that you need to have a very steady hand and a a longer shutter speed that you might when taking photos of something larger. At these small distances, camera shake and therefore blur, is magnified in the final image. If you have image stabilization make sure it’s turned on and keep a shutter speed of at least 1/400 second. Those poker chips we’ve been playing with, they are great practice subjects again. See if you can fill the entire photo with just the lettering on the chip and then inspect if closely to make sure it’s nice and sharp!