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19 February 2013

Photography Tips 3: Location, position and time of day

Melody Sky talks tactics - how to plan your photo shoot to get the best results

Photographing Nick Southwell
Melody Sky shooting Nick Southwell

By Melody Sky

So you've got your new camera and you're getting the hang of using semi-manual settings. What next?

It's time to plan your shoot. The day before, make sure and check the weather conditions. I use the WeatherPro App on my iPhone as it gives accurate details of what the weather will be doing throughout the day. Next, know where the sun is going to be positioned so that whenever you are shooting at a specific time of day is not in the shade (unless you want this effect).

Don’t be disappointed if there's no sun in the time you can shoot. This could be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes going out in unpredictable weather conditions when you would normally choose to stay inside tucked up warm will work in your favor. I love to shoot in cloudy or moody weather as it can make a powerful shot. The sunny days will always look the same, but on the cloudy days the light and the atmosphere will constantly change in the image. It can look magical and profound.

Anders Fritzon
Skier: Anders Fritzon

It’s all very good shooting in locations that we know and have seen in other photographs, but it’s nice to get off the beaten track a little to find something a bit different than what has already been seen. Get a little creative and find spots that haven’t been shot over and over again. You may also find fresh snow in these locations. Or even choose a composition that you haven’t seen before rather than recreating an existing shot.

Use the environment to complement the skier rather than focusing solely on them as the subject. I frequently look for days when there are strong clouds and sun together looming over an astounding backdrop with the skier smaller in the shot. It brings a sense of the enormity of the environment in which the skier is privileged to be. Use nature!

Davide Capozzi
Snowboarder: Davide Capozzi

Hiking always expands your possibilities of getting a unique shot and also reduces your chances of having other people around when you are trying to get a first-rate shot. But you have to be physically fit to do so and also must have a good knowledge of the mountain so that you don’t get yourself into a dangerous position. It's vital that you have a transceiver, shovel and probe (and know how to use them!) if you are hiking off the piste. The fluffy white powder may look inviting and soft and pretty but it can be dangerous. So please don’t take any unnecessary risks to get a good shot. It’s not worth it. I am never ashamed to say I feel afraid and the skier will respect this.

You don’t necessarily have to hike to get a great shot.  You can quite often get amazing shots just off the piste by using your imagination a little and by the composition that you choose or other subjects you feel like putting in the frame like the restaurant in the shot below.

Anders Fritzon
Skier: Anders Fritzon

It’s a good idea to ski the area at least once with your ski model to check for the angles you want to shoot. It looks completely different from above and could be difficult for you both to have the same idea of where they should turn/jump or you should photograph them when you are distant from each other.

Beanie Milne Home
Skier: Beanie Milne Home

Whilst doing this, make sure to ski far enough from the line that they are going to take so that you don’t put tracks in the fresh snow that will be in the frame of your photograph.

Cliff jump - Nick Southwell
Skier: Nick Southwell

Also, make sure and don’t place yourself in a position where you may create a danger to the skier or yourself. For example if they are going to jump off a small jump or cliff drop, ensure you know which direction they will be jumping off so that they don’t land directly on you. It's also good to pay attention to the skier's favoured turn direction so that you know which way they will be going off the jump and in that case you will also know where to position yourself to get the best shot as well as avoid being in the line of fire.

When shooting a jump or cliff, get low down and if you have one, use a wide-angle lens. This will make the jump appear to be a lot higher and more impressive. It will also help to eliminate any distracting features from the frame, and depending on environmental features may provide a blue-sky background that would focus all the attention on the ski action.

In most cases it's preferable to have the sun positioned behind the photographer as this lights up the whole scene rather than backlighting it. However there are occasions when you might want the skier to be backlit and would like to see lots of snow being kicked up with the sun sparkling through from behind, so in this instance the sun could be in front of you. It may take a few times to get the exposure correct for this type of shot, but once you’ve mastered it you can get some great effects. Initially try and shoot with the sun behind you though until you fee more confident with your knowledge of the camera's manual settings.

Becky Hammond
Skier: Becky Hammond

In short your positioning is predominantly about the light. It takes some planning to be at the right place at the right time. You have to be aware of the position of the light at different times throughout the day.

The backdrop is also as important if you want to include it in the frame. Having the skier below a large peak could show the enormity of the natural environment, creating a dramatic picture.

Anders Fritzon
Skier: Anders Fritzon

Time of day
Often, people new to photography will shoot when the sun is at the highest point in the blue sky at the sunniest part of the day, but this is actually the worst time of day to shoot. The mid-day sun flattens the scene and takes away any texture and shadows. You will end up with a bright but dull and boring image. The best time of day to shoot is mornings or late afternoon. Lighting from the side is what you should be aiming for. Wherever the sun is, turn 90 degrees away from it, and look at the scene in front of you. Chances are the mountains you see will look pretty dramatic if you shoot them from this angle.

Hopefully you will now have a better idea or where and when to shoot. Next time we will look at artistic effects with depth of field, ISO and lens choice to create some awe inspiring images. Please feel free to mail me at if you have any questions and I will answer you as soon as I can – weather permitting ;-)

Read earlier articles in this series: Choosing the right camera and Using semi-manual settings.

Melody Sky
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