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

February 2, 2014

Think you know snow? Treading lightly on the Voelkl ski shoot.

Filed under: photography, snow — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 4:16 pm
Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. Shots like this I use manual focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200/4, 1/1000, f11.

Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. For shots like this I use manual pre-focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000/f11.

Like kids and animals, I’d throw in snow as being one of the hardest things to work with (not that I’ve done an awful lot of work with kids or animals I add). This month saw our annual shoot for ski hardware-meisters Voelkl. With dates booked months in advance, and a whole team of 15 professional athletes descending on the location for a 4-day session, I’d be lying if I pretended that I don’t get anxious in the few days before the shoot. Snow is fickle. It comes, it goes, it crusts, it gets heavy.  But you have to work with what you’ve got, and make it work, and that’s the difference between being a pro photographer and a lucky enthusiast. Your images are the single end result of a lot of planning and the handing over of a significant shoot budget.  In 4 days, 4 photographers are to capture most of the companies vast image needs for both the ISPO product launch and the rest of the year’s marketing blurb. And its with this knowledge that you step out, camera in hand.

And that’s where the snow bit comes in.

Aspirational is only half the story on commercial shoots. Marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that's where Per Jonsson comes in. he's the kind of athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus, and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

‘Aspirational’ is only half the story on commercial shoots. After all marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that’s where Per Jonsson comes in. He’s the kind of pro athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

Early snow in the Alps can make people complacent. Shouts of “its gonna be a huge winter” echo around the valleys. But in reality, the early snow and cold spell just left a dangerous hoar-frost layer and weak snowpack for any off-piste skiing. This is the kind of consideration that adds a certain pressure to real ski shoots -you know the kind of shoots that really capture the aspirational, the kind of stuff that’s put my name on the map for the last decade and a half.

And then it changed. Kind of.

Fresh snow before the shoot is always a relief. It puts pay to all that head scratching, wondering what the heck we’re going to shoot and where we’re going to do it. But it also buries that weak, avalanche-prone layer. So it’s within these criteria that we set out on the Voelkl shoot, keeping to safe areas and watching as the heat wave reduced most south facing slopes to heavy, lifeless mush. Pro ski photography is all about reading signs. It’s about reading warning signs in the weather, it’s about seeing which way the wind has blown, which way the light is angled, about reading signs in your athletes faces and body language that say “Well Dan, I’ve kind of had enough hiking today.”

Pro ski photography is about knowing snow.

Last run of the day and the camera's still out. Occasionally we take a free run, but when the terrain looks liek this and the light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you've just got to keep shjooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

Last run of the day and the camera’s still out. Occasionally we might grab a no photos, free run, but when the terrain looks like this and the dying light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you’ve just got to keep shooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

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