Pro photographer Melody Sky identifies 10 common mistakes with ski photography... and more importantly how to fix them!

1. Skier too small in the frame

I see this all the time in ski holiday snaps. One of the reasons may be that you’re simply too far away from the skier. Move in closer or don’t descend too far down the piste. Discuss with the skier where they’re going to ski and decide between you where they’re most likely to do their best turns.

Get into your shooting position and if you need to zoom in, use something to gauge how your skier will fill the frame, for example, a nearby tree, rock, or patterns on the snow. Don’t zoom in too close or it may be difficult to follow the action. The more practiced you become, the closer you can get whilst being able to keep a fast moving subject in the frame.

Bad shot

Good shot

2. Backlit skier

Another common mistake is the skier being a dark silhouette in a well exposed image. This is most likely due to the position of the sun. Make sure the sun is behind you and not behind the skier – it may be as simple as moving to the other side of the piste to get the correct angle. Even if the sun is slightly side-on it will be better than being behind the skier.

Bad shot

Good shot

3. Image underexposed

Even when you’re using the automatic feature on your camera, you may find your image is underexposed (too dark). This is probably because the brightness and glare of the snow are often confusing to the camera, so it may be necessary to overexpose by 1 or 1.5 stops.

You can try exposing on your hand or taking a reading from the skier’s face just before you take the shot before. Then you can set the camera accordingly – on most basic point and shoot cameras there is a beach and snow setting that does this for you.

Bad shot

Good shot

4. Skier blurry

This is most probably due to the speed of the camera’s automatic function being too slow for the speed of the action. On most compact cameras there is a sport setting for action – this sets the camera at a speed that will capture fast moving objects crisp and clear.

For slightly more advanced cameras you can set the camera on TV setting (Shutter Priority) and set the speed on minimum of 1/1000sec (this is the speed that the shutter opens and closes). The TV setting is very useful as you’ll only need to set the speed and then the camera sets the applicable f-stop or the aperture for you.

Bad shot

Good shot

5. Tilted horizons

You might notice that the horizon in your photo isn’t straight and can be distracting, taking away from a potentially great image. The background is sometimes just as important as the skier in the frame and can really add to a great shot. So make sure your horizon is straight in the frame before taking the shot. Also bear in mind that keeping the background simple can make the skier stand out more.

Bad shot

Good shot

6. Missing the shot

Ever find that you just keep missing the shot? Despite trying to take the photo at the right moment it’s easy to end up with only part of the skier in the shot, normally the tail end. Try getting away from your subject a little or even zooming out slightly so you have room for error. The more and more practice you get, the closer you can get.

You can also experiment with the time it takes for your camera to complete taking the shot from the moment you press the button – you may need to press the button just before the action happens. Some cameras take longer than others; you most probably won’t notice this when buying a camera but when trying to shoot fast action the milliseconds will count!

Bad shot

Good shot

7. Obstructions in the frame

You may shoot the perfect shot of your skier and be disappointed when you see ski lifts and lift cables, other skiers, piste signs and other obstructions in the finished picture at the end of the day. The solution is to simply study the area before you take the shot.

It may only mean moving a few metres or even turning your body slightly. Make sure you know where your skier is skiing from start to finish so you can do a test pan, checking in the cameras viewfinder no obstructions come into it, before you take the shot.

Bad shot

Good shot

8. Lens flare

Lens flare is when you see circles of light or flare and perhaps a faded image. This is when the photographer is shooting in the general direction of the sun. The sunlight gets into the camera lens at an angle where it bounces around the interior of the camera and ends up on your shot.

To prevent this, you could simply turn slightly so the sun isn’t getting into the lens anymore. Or if you have a lens hood, use one. If you don’t have a lens hood and are using a basic compact, use your hand to shade the lens from the sun.

Bad shot

Good shot

9. Dead space in your image

I have seen photos that would look great if they were composed slightly differently. If, for example, you have an image where you have the top of your mountain in the middle of the frame and the skier a little below with lots of clear blue sky above filling most of the frame, this would leave an area of dead space that wouldn’t look right.

One of the most common devices in photography is the rule of thirds. Imagine placing a grid on your image, broken down into thirds (horizontally and vertically) so that you have nine parts. Position your skier at one of the intersections of the grid, rather than in the middle. The human eye doesn’t like to look at objects in the centre of a photograph; we find it easier to start on something on one of the intersecting lines on the grid and then travel around it.

There are many times when skipping this rule will also work, so just use it as a starting point!

Bad shot

Good shot

10. Lack of a reference for perspective

When shooting in a  snow park or terrain park you may be disappointed when your shots, although perfectly exposed, look less exciting than when you were shooting them. This may be because you’re shooting into the sky without showing where the skier has come from.

It often looks better to have a reference in the shot to give it perspective. For example, the top edge of the kicker or the take off in the bottom of the frame, which gives you a feeling of how high they are actually going.

You may also be taking ‘sky shots’ because you’re very close to the kicker and your lens isn’t wide enough to fit anything else in. Simply get further away so that you can fit the skier and the kicker in the frame. There’s nothing wrong with the odd shot of the skier in the sky, but too many won’t leave you with a good memory of the scene.

Bad shot

Good shot

Main Skier: Warren Smith