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Photography in the snow – Little boy goes sledding on a sunny day

Shooting Brilliant Winter Sports Photos

Master Photography in the Snow with Camera and Smartphone

You’re skiing down the snowy slopes in fantastic weather, but all photos you’ve taken during your trip come out grey and blurred? Here we’ll give you some advice on what to pay attention to in winter sports photography and give you tips for cool shots.

Picking a Motif and Utilizing Zoom

The central figure in winter sport photography is, of course, the person you’re photographing. Orient your image composition according to the skier, snowboarder, or sledder. It’s easiest to accomplish this by zooming in on them. This is easily done with a system or SLR camera combined with a telephoto lens.

If using a smartphone or compact camera that doesn’t have a sufficient optical zoom, you should get closer to your motif if possible instead of using the digital zoom. Alternatively, you could also use the wide-angle of your smartphone so you’ll be able to photograph both the person and the wonderful winter landscape surrounding them.

Exposure Time for Dynamic or Extremely Sharp Photos

The length of the exposure time doesn’t only affect the brightness of your photos but can also be used to lend a touch of creativity to your photos. Shorter exposure times are usually required due to high speeds associated with most winter sports in order to capture your motif without motion blur. This, however, results in your photos appearing less dynamic.

You can make your sport photos appear much more thrilling by keeping the main motif sharp with its surroundings blurred. The viewer will then be able to envisage the speed the person was traveling when the photo was taken.

The so-called “panning” technique can be employed to produce this effect. Here, the photographer follows the movement of their motif with their zoom lens while pressing the shutter release. The focussed person will then be sharply depicted while their surroundings appear stylishly blurry. Using this technique, however, requires the use of a digital camera equipped with a zoom lens and some practice; use of this technique is quite limited when photographing with a smartphone.

A snowboarder spraying around powder behind him

Camera Modes for More Fun with Winter Sport Photography

Using the camera’s autofocus might be convenient, but can often lead to blurry images when photographing moving motifs.

Instead, use your camera’s sports mode. By default, this camera mode will select all the necessary settings for a shorter exposure time, which will allow you to fully concentrate on your motif.

Most cameras also come equipped with a camera program called “snow” that will adjust your camera’s settings for the special lighting conditions and white balance of snowy surroundings. You can experiment with this mode to see if you can still use the panning technique to make your photos more dynamic.

Your smartphone might have additional features for sports photography. Since the release of the iPhone 6 you can take Live Photos, where your phone records a brief video sequence 1.5 seconds before and after you take a picture. That way, you’ll be able to capture the motion perfectly and also get a variety of snapshots to choose from.

Applying Camera Filters for Photography in the Snow

You can also use one of the many various camera filters available to make your winter sport photos that much more interesting. Colour filters produce especially brilliant effects when used in snowy landscapes. A black and white filter, for instance, will make the snow appear even more radiant and better depict it in the photo. You’ll find out which filter works best for you by trying out different options.

Kids lying down in the snow after skiing

Pay Attention to the Reflectivity of the Snow

The particular whiteness and reflective effect of snow will be falsely interpreted by many cameras. Automatic cameras often perceive the target area to be too light and minimize the exposure. In the resulting shot, the snow loses its shimmering white effect and the winter landscape seems more grey than white.

Experiment with the exposure of your camera and choose one or two exposure levels higher when you begin. However, be careful that your subject isn’t overexposed.

Skies and ski sticks plunged into the snow

Even your camera’s automatic white balance has its limits when in use for winter sport photography. In order to ensure that the snow depicted in your photos is white, and not blue or grey, you can take photos in RAW format, as long as your camera supports this format. Images in this format will take up more storage space than photos taken in JPEG format, but they allow for much more extensive editing. This will enable you to alter the white balance and many other settings later using photo-editing software. Nowadays, many modern smartphones also offer you the option to shoot photos in RAW format.

Image source:

[1], [3] - iStock.com/Imgorthand

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