Photography Tips: Capture the Action of Winter Sports

Gain some insight from photographer Johan Stahlberg on taking great action shots of skiers & snowboarders .

Photo of John Olsson. Copyright © Johan Stahlberg. All rights reserved.

Red Bull Illume Image Quests receive a fair proportion of freeski and snowboard photos, and while the action itself usually appears clean and simple, getting the shot is far from easy. We talked to renowned Swedish freeski photographer Johan Stahlberg about what goes into winter sports shoots and what you need to achieve the best possible results.

“The skills you need for freeski photography are the same for all types of photography,” says Johan. “You must have an eye for a good picture, and you need to know good camera technique and how to make best use of your equipment.”

Copyright © Johan Stahlberg.
All rights reserved.

“My standard equipment for a winter sports shoot is a Canon EOS Mark II, a 24-70 lens, a fisheye or a 70-200 lens. With these lenses you can go a long way. If I’m shooting someone over kickers, 95% of the time I use my flashes too.”

“If you are out and about on the mountain, you need a good backpack. It’s a must! To be good at skiing or snowboarding is quite essential too. You need to be able to move your arms and body when you are skiing.”

“Being fit and having a good bag like the LowePros is also important. You have to carry up to 15kg (33 lbs.), all which is very hard work.”

Although it might be considered as stating the obvious, Johan adds, “Remember to close all the zips on your bags – they can get filled with snow quite easily!”

“You need a lot of good knowledge of freeskiing or snowboarding and the snow conditions,” continues Johan. “Then you can tell if you’ve captured a skier in a good position or not. It’s also important to know avalanche safety and what to do when accidents happen.”

“It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t listen to the people who have more experience than you. In fact it can be fatally dangerous.”

“I’ve been lucky not to have had an accident. There have been small avalanches but so far nothing too serious. You have to put yourself into tricky shooting positions, such as abseiling from a rock that could be very exposed. It definitely helps not to be scared of heights!”

“I assisted on a shoot recently on a glacier where there was a really big storm. Winds were up to 80km/h and I had to cover all my face up so that I didn’t freeze. It was definitely hardcore! There was a film crew up and they were having really big problems stopping their equipment from getting covered in ice.”

“I kept my camera under my jacket and only got it out for a few seconds or so before putting it away again so it didn’t freeze up. You have to try and keep it warm or things stop working. In those conditions the auto focus slows down so much that it makes shooting sports very difficult, and the batteries don’t last very long either.”

“However, the results can be spectacular.”

Photo of Henrik Utter A¦ère. Copyright © Johan Stahlberg. All rights reserved.

“In December 2008 in Are – my home town in Sweden – a few friends and I took a snowmobile up to the top of the valley. It was near the end of the day and for a few weeks every year between December and January you can get incredibly beautiful sunsets.

“Down in the valley the temperature was about -25°C, but up top where we were it was about -3°C. There was nobody else around and the light was golden. We did some shots and right at the end I got some really good ones.”

Photo of Mattsson. Copyright © Johan Stahlberg. All rights reserved.

Johan’s favourite shoot of late is one that has been submitted to Illume’s 2010 Image Quest. “It’s of my good friend Kristoffer Fenkel,” Johan explains. “We were trying out some new flashes and generally experimenting and we got a really cool picture.”

Though that particular image can’t be shown here (it has been entered into the Red Bull Illume competition), there is certainly more to share, including this one of Kristoffer.

Photo of Kristoffer Fenkel. Copyright © Johan Stahlberg. All rights reserved.

Deciding the nature of the shot is a two-way process between athlete and photographer, says Johan.

“Some skiers usually have their own ideas of what to do, and sometimes I have an idea and show them where they should go, or where to make a turn.”

“I think a good relationship is important so that you can plan the shot together. Of course you can always stand in a funpark and shoot random dudes, but I think it’s always good to have a dialogue.”

Self portrait: Johan Stahlberg
Copyright © Johan Stahlberg.
All rights reserved.

“You know the feeling: It has been snowing all night, your the first one up on the hill, and heading out in the untouched powder. Nothing beats that. Can you catch that feeling in a picture?”

Johan’s incredible images can be seen at and in his new book “Adrenalin”.

Copyright © Johan Stahlberg.
All rights reserved.

by Red Bull Illume

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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