How To Shoot Your Kids On The Ski Hill

I'm going to continue with my 'how to shoot your kids' series with an article about how to get great shots on the ski hill. After the last post, I had a number of emails and messages about how people wished they had better images of their kids learning to ski. Living where we do in the world, I often say that I think learning to ski is akin to learning to swim. It is a necessary life skill. And, I know that many parents who live in areas with world class skiing feel the same, I thought I would share my tips and feelings about getting good images of your kids as they learn to ski/ride.

The Bunny Hill

It is really easy to get great shots of your kids when they are little and still on the bunny hill. I suggest choosing a beautiful sunny day when you are free of infants(they do tend to slow you down) and you can focus on documenting your little skier. I think the biggest thing to remember is that THIS WILL NOT BE A SKI DAY FOR YOU. hahahahahaha....but, it is true. When my kids were little and just learning, I never bought a lift ticket. I knew that I was just going to be watching them on the bunny hill--running alongside them with my big fancy camera and trying to get the best shot. When you are free to focus on getting great shots, you are going to have a better chance of being, if you are worrying about the ones who are too little to ski or about when you are going to have time to take a run down the hill, great shots are probably not going to be forthcoming. So, since you have that big camera of yours out, here are some technical tips.

#1: Meter for all that snow. In lighting situations like this, I tend to use evaluative metering. Your subject is constantly moving, the light(if it's sunny) is probably pretty uneven thanks to the trees and the evaluative is the way to go. You need to try and remember that all that white snow is going to cause your in camera light meter to suggest a much darker exposure...if there is a lot of snow in your image, your camera will read all that white as neutral grey. To compensate for that, you will need to overexpose by at least a stop. If there is bright sun, you are going to want to watch your info and make sure that you aren't blowing out all that's a fine balance to be had for sure ;)

#2: A zoom lens is your friend in these situations. A nice zoom will allow you to get ahead a bit without worrying about getting run over. Of course, when they are smaller, it doesn't have to have a whole lot of reach to be suitable. On the bunny hill, my favourite lens is the 24-70mm 2.8. I do have a tendency to get in your face a bit with it--especially on the magic carpet. And, I do like the quirky, fun feeling you get at 24mm.

#3: Watch your aperture. You will have better luck getting a sharp shot with a more closed aperture. I find, especially when first learning, many photographers like to leave their lenses wide open. Outside, where you have all the light you need, it is not necessary to do, I like getting the mountains and everything nice and sharp to show us all where we were(if you are like me, you can name that hill from almost any run of any local ski resort).

#4: Watch your shutter speed. You will be amazed at how fast those little ones are'll need to keep it nice and fast to avoid motion blur. Of course, a couple shots with some motion blur to show them how fast they were going might be nice as well :)

Up The Quad

As your kids get to be more accomplished skiers, you will undoubtedly head up either the quad lift or the gondola(depending on the hill). Taking your gear up becomes more complicated. You'll need a nice backpack that promises to keep your gear nice and safe in case you fall. I tend to only take it up for a couple of runs each year. And, the truth is, I choose one body and one lens depending on what I hope to capture, and I wrap it in a pillow and stick it in my pack. During those runs, no unnecessary risks are taken and--even with a couple of minor spills--the gear has been kept safe and sound. I also tend to sort of plot it out a bit first...find some spots on the hill that I think would make for a good place to stop and take some shots or goof around. On the days when I plan to take my big camera, I am always on the lookout for some cool spots to stop and force my kids to let me take some quick pictures.

But, here's the real kids get impatient with me when I want to pull out the big camera. They really want to be skiing and so do I, so it is not a very enjoyable experience to be had by the entire, this year, I took a different approach. I truly thought about it...I thought to myself 'what is my goal for these images?'. I mean I going to blow these up and put them on my wall. Probably not. What am I going to do with them then? Do they need to be so huge? The answer--of course--was no. I didn't need the files from my SLR. So, then...I decided on a different approach. A more...paired down approach. Because we already use our iPhones for communication while on the hill, I decided to try and get more shots with that. Many professional photographers list their iPhone as one of their favourite cameras. Can I make a large print for my wall with the images? No. Can I put them in our annual family album? Yes. Will the kids sit long enough for me to pull it out of my pocket and take a quick picture? Yes. It truly makes it the perfect choice for documenting our time on the hill. Here is a compilation of some of my favourite shots that I took with my phone whist skiing this year.

My next approach involved getting my kids on board. Like a lot of kids in Calgary, my kids got a GoPro for Christmas. How do I know a lot of kids got them? Well, trying to buy accessories for these amazing little cameras in the city is next to impossible because they are so popular. And, they are super popular for a reason...they rock. Yes, it has limited ISO capability making low light a bit tough, but in the beautiful natural outdoor light of the mountains, it does a fabulous job. And, my kids love it...meaning they will gladly wear it and indulge me by filming an entire chairlift ride...or wearing it on their board, their wrist or their helmet. Not to mention, pointing it in the direction which I most desire :)

My tips for the GoPro are as follows:

#1: The helmet cam is the least interesting way to wear it. it's okay if it's nice and sunny and we can watch your shadow and your friends ski by, but unless you are skiing some sort of fantastical run, it's really kind of boring.

#2: Try to include yourself in the shot. That is why using the attachment to put it on your ski/snowboard and then pointing it up at you, is a great way to document the run. For me, it really is a matter of wanting video/stills of my kids on the hill and this is a wonderful way to do it. On your wrist or on your pole(if you are a skier) is a wonderful way to control it as well. You can sort of aim your arm at yourself or others to get a nice shot of them doing their thang.

Here are some of my favourite GoPro stills from the year...


And, here is a video compilation that I put together with the footage from the kids(and Bob...because he is really just a big kid). Don't worry, it's a quick one just showing you some of the different ways we wore the goPro...and a funny bit of Jack at the end(wait for it):

The song is one that Bob and I used to listen to on our ski trips when we were a local punk band called Chixdiggit. The song is called 'Gettin' Air'.

Apres Ski

Most importantly, don't forget to photograph before and after skiing. For me...most of the story of the day lies in those moments. Lounging around while we get the gear ready...back at the condo for lunch...and then afterward with helmet hair and hot chocolate. These ones are easy to get with the big camera so make sure you do ;)

~ Dana

PS--what else would you like to know how to shoot?