How To Work With Photographers in the Backcountry

In this modern age, it seems some people are more obsessed with getting the perfect ‘gram than with skiing the best lines. For others, getting the shot pays the bills. Some people just want nice images to document their adventures, while some simply don’t care about anything but shredding. Whatever category you find yourself, there are some tips and tricks I would like to share with you to help make your experience productive and effective, but also enjoyable and fun.

COMMUNICATION

Communication is a vitally important quality in any relationship. Without doubt it is the most important quality in an athlete/photographer pair. You’ll want to shoot with someone with whom you have an easy rapport, who has a similar taste in skiing and style, and most importantly, someone with whom you will enjoy spending a day in the mountains.

Get a good set of radios and learn how to use them effectively. I recommend Baofeng because they can be programmed to work on VHF or UHF frequencies, allowing you to communicate with virtually any other radio on the market. Establish a set of terms to use and keep your radio coms clear and concise.

Use landmarks for reference, i.e. “make a right turn to the left of the dead tree” or “pop off the donger cross-court to the micro tranny”, you know, stuff like that. Use a snowball for reference: have the athlete throw a snowball in the direction of their intended trajectory. Even if you miss your target, you can still use it as a reference (i.e. “five metres to the right of that and two upslope!”)

Decide ahead of time whether you are going to “shoot it live” (i.e. ski the line how you want and have the photog track you and hope for the best, also known as “spray and pray”) or set up a specific shot. The latter is more difficult but often more effective and better for getting your desired composition, whereas the former is quick and easy and feels more natural for the athlete.

Tell jokes! It will lighten the mood and you will look better wearing a smile in your photograph.

PREPAREDNESS

Similar to preparing yourself for a day in the mountains, there are plenty of logistics that need to be addressed before you even attempt to take a photograph. The importance of sufficient training, adequate equipment and wise decision making won’t be covered here, but are covered extensively under the “University” tab on the G3 website. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking them out as there’s a wealth of backcountry knowledge just waiting to be absorbed.

What I want to discuss is what to do differently on your shoot day compared to your regular day of ski touring. Depending on the dynamic of the shoot there may be a bit (or a lot) of standing around. Bring more clothing than you normally would, especially a down jacket that fits over your shell. This makes it easy to stay warm while waiting to drop as you only have to deal with one zipper versus adding a layer under your shell.

I cannot overstate the importance of boot heaters. You might not get cold feet when you are charging around the resort or up a skin track, but sit at the top of a line for an hour while “Cover Shot Carlos” sets up a remote flash, and I guarantee your toe box will feel like an ice box.

Bring a big enough pack. You want to have adequate room for all your gear plus a little bit more in case you need to carry something for someone on your team. The photographer’s equipment is bulky and heavy and it’s always nice to offer to help lighten their load.

Snacks! Bring some tasty, healthy, sharable food/beverage and you’ll be on your way to becoming your team’s MVP.

LIGHT

Light is—literally—what makes a photo. Look at a topo map and the weather forecast before your shoot. Decide the zone you want to go to and then plan your day based on which slopes will have light at certain times. Hint: East facing slopes in the morning and west in the afternoon, but beware on warm days when the sun is beating down as this may also increase avalanche hazard.

If it’s greybird, shoot in the trees as they will provide contrast and definition to your shot. On sunny days, avoid the forest as patches of bright light mixed with the shadow cast by the trees make it difficult to expose the shot correctly. On very bright days, start early to get that crisp sunrise light, take a siesta around lunch time, then come back to shoot the golden hour before sunset. 

Flashes can be another way to light your shot, but they come with their own set of challenges. Battery life, connectivity issues and placement can all become sources of frustration. When used correctly, flashes allow you to capture creative and interesting images even in adverse snow and lighting conditions.

Taking photos can be a great way to experience the beauty of the mountains and of our sport, as well as to get to know those you are working with better, all for the same central reason: it forces you to slow down, observe, communicate, and be truly present and aware of your environment and companions. Have fun, be safe and go get those bangers!

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