The quiet wonder of a snowy landscape, the thrill of skiers hurtling down pistes... Don't just experience the euphoria of winter wonderlands, but document them forever with these top photography tips from professional winter sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Richard Walch.
As you'll know if you've ever tried to capture a snow scene soaked in sunlight, there's more to getting the perfect winter picture than pointing and shooting. "Wherever you go, what is most important is that you wait for a great day of fresh snow and blue sky and just head up the mountain with your camera," says Richard.
Here, he shares his tips and tricks for better photography on the slopes this ski season – from choosing the right winter holiday camera to the best autofocus settings for capturing the action.
1. Choose the right camera for the job
"When taking to the slopes you want a camera that is powerful and compact," says Richard. "You are also going to need a viewfinder, as it is often too bright in the mountains to compose an image using just a screen. If you want to shoot a fast action sport, you need to have a camera with a fast frame rate – anything above five frames per second.
"The Canon EOS M50 and Canon EOS M5 tick these boxes. Both have powerful APS-C sensors for capturing images in crisp detail and Dual Pixel CMOS AF for fast and accurate focusing.
"You can also easily pair these with your smartphone via Wi-Fi. This enables images to be transferred to your phone even if there is no network service up the mountain. As soon as you get phone signal or Wi-Fi you can share your images with the world on social media."
2. Pick the perfect moment
"Sunrise and sunset offer beautiful lighting conditions for photography on the slopes. However, mountain weather is hard to predict and can change rapidly. I would recommend getting up the mountain as early as possible – that way you are already in position for those moments of perfect lighting.
"The Canon EOS M50 is a great camera for use in low-light situations such as sunrise and sunset. Its DIGIC 8 processor is very advanced, so will still produce great results if you need to push the ISO a little higher to compensate for lack of light. Try combining it with the Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens for impressive landscape shots."
3. Use the right settings
"In order to avoid the snow looking grey in images with a lot of white, my starting point is a particular combination of settings," says Richard. "When shooting fast-moving subjects, you also need to 'freeze' the skier or snowboarder in the frame to avoid motion blur." In both scenarios, Richard recommends putting the camera in M mode (Manual), setting the shutter speed to 1/2000 sec, the aperture to f/8 and the ISO to 200.
"You need to put the camera into AI Servo AF mode for continuous focus. The trick is to guide the autofocus, which means as soon as you can see your subject, you need to start firing. The autofocus learns from frame to frame – it understands which direction your subject is moving in and what speed it is moving, and will anticipate where the next image is going to be. It usually takes the camera two to three images to understand what's going on. All Canon cameras have really good autofocus."
When working in AI Servo AF, use short bursts of continuous shooting to avoid filling up the buffer and slowing down the camera.
4. Position yourself above your subject, and observe
"If you shoot straight up a mountain, it looks flat. You always want to photograph either to the side or a little below your subject.
"Posed shots are also best avoided – you always want to be a third-party observer, with the subject looking in the direction they're skiing or snowboarding. In terms of portraits, either it's an 'in your face' portrait where you're close and talking to the person, or you're a fly on the wall, documenting what's happening. Don't try in-between."
5. Beware of temperature changes, and carry extra batteries
"Stepping into a warm building from the cold slopes will quickly create fog on your camera lenses, so it is important that you keep your gear outside until the end of the day. Make sure you bring a sturdy backpack to protect your equipment should you take a fall, and strong UVP sunglasses to protect your eyes from sunlight and snow glare.
"Also, low temperatures can drain a camera of power very quickly, so it is best to carry two spare batteries with you to see you through the day. Cold hands will also make it difficult to operate your equipment, so ensure you bring warm gloves that still enable normal dexterity!"
6. Don't be afraid to shoot into the sun
"When the sunlight breaks through the clouds, it really is a blessing for mountain photography. However, the glare from the snow can leave images overexposed if your camera settings are not correctly adjusted.
"The best way to prevent overexposure in these conditions is to manually set the shutter speed to 1/2000 sec, the aperture to f/8 and the ISO to 200. If you are shooting in an automatic mode, be sure to compensate the exposure by +1 to +3 stops, otherwise your images will be too dark. But don't be afraid to shoot into the sun – that's how you get some of the best winter sports images.
"The sun will backlight the snow that sprays as your skier or snowboarder moves. If you can get the sun right behind the person, even better. The lenses we have now are really powerful.
"When you have snow to hand, try throwing a handful of it into the air and shooting straight into the sun – it creates a brilliant effect."
7. Pack for the perfect selfie
"Planning that perfect mountain selfie starts before you set off on your holiday. Brightly coloured jackets and salopettes really stand out against a white backdrop and can make for a truly striking selfie.
"In terms of composition, a beautiful mountain range makes for an impressive background. For the correct exposure, it is best to have the sun hitting the subject's face directly, or from the side. If you want to photograph straight into the sun, you will need to use a flash to light up the face."
8. Next time, really challenge yourself!
When you succeed in getting that great shot in tricky conditions, winter photography can be hugely satisfying. Once you've mastered these tips on your winter holiday this year, Richard says photography enthusiasts should take the next step by seeking out further spectacular locations next time – destinations that make for out-of-the-ordinary holidays and even more impressive pictures.
"Europe is full of fantastic locations for photography on the slopes. The well-known resorts in Switzerland and France are stunning, but there are so many lesser-known locations that should not be overlooked," he says. "Why not challenge yourself by adventuring to Mount Elbrus in Russia or Akureyri in Iceland."