I recently embarked on a trip to Montana’s northwestern corner, primarily concerned with a couple of things: enjoying a few days of skiing and snowmobiling, and keeping my shutter going all the while. Truth be told, it’s harder than you might think. Managing to capture photos — let alone ones that you’d be proud to show off — in wintry conditions is certainly a challenge, but it’s not completely impossible if you prepare well and allow a bit of extra composing time out on the hill.
Being the family photographer while out on the slopes (or on the trails) requires extra effort, but I’ve got a few tips to make things as painless as possible. If you’ve splurged on a winter vacation, you won’t want to return home without any images to prove it. Read on to see how I pulled off a few clutch shots while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort and covering the trails in nearby Olney, MT.
%Gallery-114795%First, let’s start with the slopes. There’s a reason that many ski resorts offer professional packages costing hundreds of dollars to have someone follow you down the slopes snapping shots. It’s not exactly easy. But even if you don’t have a DSLR, it’s possible to capture key moments while keeping your precious camera dry and your loved ones back home in the know.
Here are a few tips for selecting a camera that’s fit for use on the mountain:
- Choose a waterproof camera if at all possible. Canon’s PowerShot D10, Casio’s Exilim G EX-G1 and Fujifilm’s FinePix XP20 (or XP30 if you want integrated geotagging) all are great options. I’ll cover how to avoid drops in the snow, but accidents can happen.
- Don’t lug a DSLR onto the slopes. Unless you’re shooting professionally, I’d highly recommend sticking with a point-and-shoot. DSLRs are too heavy, too bulky and too difficult to operate with gloves hands or frigid fingers.
- Choose the smallest compact you can find. Ever tried to wrangle something large out of a ski jacket pocket with thick, stiff gloves on? It’s not easy. Keep things slim and you won’t grow frustrated with pulling your camera in and out.
- Keep a spare battery handy. Frigid temperatures can zap a battery in no time. If you plan on taking more than a hundred or so shots, it may be wise to invest in a second battery.
- Aim for a camera with a large shutter button. It sounds weird now, but the more surface area on that shutter button, the easier it is for a gloved hand to operate.
- Avoid touchscreen-based cameras. Touching is good in normal circumstances, but covered fingers need physical buttons to wade through menus and selections.
- Disable the flash. You won’t need it in broad daylight, and the reflections look terrible off of the snow.
Now, a few tips on keeping your camera safe and dry:
- Use a long, rugged strap. This is vital — you’ll want your camera to easily wrap around your wrist while using it, so you’ll need a long leash.
- Zip your camera within an internal jacket pocket. Keeping a camera closer to your chest makes it less susceptible to breaking if you fall (the horror!), and the added warmth is a boon to battery life.
- Never grab your camera with a snow-soaked gloved. It should go without saying, but mixing water — even cold water — with electronics is never a good idea.
- Leave the strap dangling out as you zip the camera into your jacket pocket. Leaving that tether hanging out makes accessing your camera a breeze; if the entire unit falls into your pocket, it’s nearly impossible to drag out with a gloved hand.
- Always handle the camera with an ungloved hand if you can. Don’t get frostbite, but on balmy days, using skin gives you more control and makes you less likely to lose grip on your camera.
Onto snowmobiling. I’d always recommend carrying a pack while hitting the trails, if only to lug around a first air kit, a SPOT GPS Messenger and a collapsable shovel. But there’s another reason: it’s perfect for holding your DSLR and a couple of your favorite lenses. Riding on a sled enables you to carry a lot more gear, and given the amazing sights you’re apt to see while riding in the backcountry of northern Montana or in Grand Teton National Park (just examples, of course), you’ll probably want to capture some of these landscapes with a bit more style. For this, I’d highly recommend a DSLR (and a pair of hand warmers to keep the feeling in your mitts).
Here are a few basic pointers when hauling a rig via snowmobile:
- Pack padding around your camera, and always keep it near the top of your pack in a separate compartment if possible. Less time digging means more time shooting.
- If you own a wide-angle or fisheye lens, this is the time to pack it. Vast landscapes and pristine mountain shots are likely to find you, so be ready to capture all of it (or as much as possible) in a single frame.
- If you’d prefer to go bagless, invest in a waterproof case to keep it dry from falling snow as it’s strapped around your back.
- In most cases, you should be able to compose shots with your gloves on. Learning shortcuts to adjust settings within ‘Manual’ mode would probably be beneficial before heading out.
- Watch the aperture. If you’re looking to capture vast landscapes, you’ll want a higher-than-average f/stop figure. On a bright, clear day, it’s not unusual to shoot between f/14 and f/22 or higher.
- Watch your exposure. Snowy landscapes can confuse Matrix metering modes, and if you’re noticing that your shots are constantly turning out darker than you’d prefer, feel free to bump the exposure up a few steps to compensate.
I’ll close this one out by recommending a helmet cam if you’re the daredevil type. The ContourGPS, GoPro HD Hero and Drift Innovation HD170 can all be strapped around your helmet in order to record your wildest rides in high-definition. All without you lifting a finger while riding. These are certainly niche products, but there’s hardly a better excuse to buy one than to record your day on the trails.