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Shooting Winter Action Sports

Ian Durkin
March 6, 2012 by Ian Durkin Staff

Recently, some of the Vimeo crew had the pleasure of attending the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. While there, we were lucky enough to spend time with ski videographers Andrew Napier and Nick Martini as they captured footage of X Games gold medalist Tom Wallisch. Get the inside scoop on some of the best techniques for capturing winter action sports on camera:

Let’s go over what Andrew and Nick showed us:

When shooting winter action sports, you’ll often be crunched for time. Conditions can change quickly, unforeseen events can put a stop to your shoot, and light is often limited. With this in mind, it’s important to prepare before filming to increase the chances of getting the shot you want. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Figure out the angles that you want to shoot in advance. This way you won’t waste time when the athlete is hitting the feature.
  • If the feature has been filmed before, it’s a good idea to choose angles and tricks that haven’t been done on it — make it look new and different.
  • Before you start shooting, make sure your camera’s white balance is properly set. Since you’ll (hopefully) be surrounded by snow, you can use it to calibrate your camera’s color balance.

In the video, Nick and Andrew show us how they film on a basic rail feature. Nick was standing far away from the rail while Andrew was shooting up close. This dual-pronged approach lends itself to filming on almost any feature, as having two angles to cut between will make the final video more interesting and dynamic. Once you know you’ve gotten a shot from one angle, try mixing it up and shifting your position. A variety of shots and perspectives will make your video more fun to watch and give your audience a better idea of the feature.

+ Telephoto - While Nick was positioned below the feature, he used a telephoto lens (100-400mm) to capture the close-up details of the action from far away

  • Wide Angle - While Andrew stood close to the rail, he used a wide angle lens (11-16mm) to capture the entire feature from an angle that makes it look bigger
  • Zoom - Shooting action sports requires you to be quick on your feet and ready to change angles at a moment’s notice. A zoom lens, which provides you with multiple focal lengths, is a great tool as it gives you the flexibility to move closer to and farther away from the feature when shooting.

+ A Neutral Density filter (ND) can come in handy when filming on snow, which is among the brightest environments you can shoot in. ND filters reduce the amount of light that enters your lens, allowing you to achieve a wider aperture/ shallower depth of field.

  • Batteries run out much faster in cold conditions, so be prepared and bring extras. In a similar vein, there is nothing worse than running out of memory before getting the shot. When it comes to batteries and memory cards, the more the merrier.
  • Point-of-view cameras, like those from GoPro and the Contour, can capture fun and unique angles when mounted on your equipment or body. The more angles you can use to depict a trick or feature, the more engaging your video will be.

While DSLRs are great tools for shooting action sports due to their light weight and small size, keeping them stable while you are moving can be problematic. There are a few solutions:

  • Glidecam - A glidecam is a small rig that uses weights as a counterbalance for your camera, keeping the camera stable while you are moving.
  • Dolly - A dolly helps you capture smooth tracking shots. Andrew built his out of PVC piping, 2x4s, and inline skate wheels. With a dolly, you can add very clean movements your shot, making it more dynamic.

Good communication between athlete and videographer is vital for a productive shoot.

  • Everyone needs to be on the same page in order to stay motivated and get the best shot.
  • In situations where verbal communication is difficult, you can use a set of hand signals to ensure that athletes know when to start, so the videographers will be ready to film.

Keep these points in mind for your next winter action sports shoot and your videos should turn out stone-cold amazing!


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