the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

March 27, 2009

Snap decisions and the Volkl ski shoot Jan 09

Filed under: photography, snow — danmilner @ 12:08 am

Recently a discussion with a fellow photog’ mate of mine about what’s involved in photo shoots made me ponder the one I did in January, when I was asked at only a couple of days notice if I could do a 2-day shoot for Volkl skis. I thought this might be a good chance to provide blog-viewers/photo-wannabees/general passerby’s an insight into what’s involved in getting the kind of ‘rad’ XXX shots ski & snowboard companies use to promote their products. The fact that conditions were far from best  for the Volkl session (it had been a few days since new snow and winds had reaped havoc on much of what was left) and that I would be working with a crew of German-speaking pro skiers with whom I had no previous experience of working should drive home the reality that getting this kind of shoot done to the satisfaction of your client typically means delving deep in your bag of experience.

While many people, assisted no doubt in their naievity by the simple empowerment that the digital camera revolution has bestowed upon them, think this kind of shoot merely falls into place*/is shot from a vantage point at the side of the piste as the riders ski past*/is surely a matter of being in the right place at the the right time* (*delete as appropriate) -all comments I have heard about snow photography- the reality is that working with snow to get aspirational images can be a complete pain in the ass. For a start the snow can be bad (read: hard, windblown, icy, crusty, slushy or avalanche-prone) or the weather cooperative (read: kit-soakingly stormy, dismally foggy or abysmally overcast meaning flat light.. something that rarely works for snow action shoots). Then there’s the pressure: usually as the photographer you are largely responsible for deciding where to shoot, relying on your ability to read mountain features that will make for good shots and what angles to shoot them from (does that cliff look larger from below or from the side… and how do I hike between them without ruining the foreground?.. in fact how do I hike between them at all in a metre of fresh snow?) as well as knowing what the rider’s trick will look like from which angle and work out what aspects of the mountain will yield the right conditions to make a shot work (is the snow best on the shady north faces and if so is there light? Can we work with the late sun on the west facing aspects?); in fact all are massive variables that change from day to day when shooting backcountry and freeride images.

Most of the decisions you have to make will determine whether the shoot works or not, and of course whether you are going to get paid at the end of it. They are decisions that affect everyone’s safety (is a landing steep enough to avoid injury from a jump or cliff drop? Are we out of avalanche danger?) and and they are decisions you have to make there and then, on the spot. There’s no deliberating for hours about camera angles and locations while the sun slips behind the clouds or moves around and you lose the window of good light. The Volkl shoot, of all I have done over the last few years, while running smoothly really brought home the fact that snow photography, despite popular misconceptions, relies on expertise. And that’s why us snow-photographers all drive Porsches.


Nothing lost in translation on the Volkl shoot

Nothing lost in translation on the Volkl shoot



  1. Wow. That’s an amazing shot Mr Milner!

    Comment by mb4807 — April 8, 2009 @ 6:26 am

    • Well, I hope so.. thats what the client pays for. Certainly Volkl were happy enough with the two days images to make a clutch of billboard images for the ISPO trade show out of them.

      Comment by danmilner — June 21, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  2. The new Renault-Porsche van! I’ve seen it!

    Comment by Stephen Reel — June 20, 2009 @ 8:16 pm

    • OK so not Porsches exactly, more Renault Kangoos with a Porsche gear-stick knobs, but thats only because the new digital era is making us photog’s spend every penny on upgrading to new camera bodies every three weeks.

      Comment by danmilner — June 21, 2009 @ 10:04 am

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