Part I: The Basics 
| Part II: Composition  

Shooting on snow is hard. The challenges are many — physical, creative, mental and technical — and let’s face it, carrying a camera pack around sucks. Every pro ski or snowboard photographer tells some version of a joke that compares skiing with a photo pack to skiing with a 50-pound midget on your back.

In this series, professional lensman Liam Doran will take a bit of the mystery out of what goes into making great on-snow photos. This article starts with the basics, and later we’ll move into equipment, exposure (purple snow, anyone?), composition and more.

So whether you just want a few great photos from your first heli trip with the boys or you’re a seasoned amateur looking to make the jump, this series will offer a few tips to improve your game. And pretty soon, you’ll be swapping lenses, producing photos with white snow, and joking about carrying Mini-Me around the mountain.

After years of shooting ski photography I’ve learned to plan exhaustively and communicate constantly with my subjects. Good planning and communication give me the best chance to get the photos I want, and are the topics of this piece.

1) Know the Weather
Pay attention to the weather forecast, scope the mountain all day while you’re riding and plan your day accordingly. I sometimes use hourly forecasts to get a feeling for when a storm might roll in or break up, and I use the forecast to plan where I shoot on the mountain and when.

While skiing, I’m always scoping which zones on the mountain will get the afternoon alpenglow and which will be buried in shadow. So if the weather cooperates, at last chair I’ll be standing atop a bowl of untouched pow with magical afternoon light and the clouds just breaking up above me.

Powder Day

Extra Tip: Shooting during a storm can be very rewarding, but can also damage your gear.  Be sure to bring extra goggles, gloves and a chamois to keep your camera and lenses dry.

2) If Skiing With a Guide, Ask Questions
If you’re planning to ski with a guide or group, call beforehand to find out if there’s a prime time for photography. It’s not uncommon for a guide to help you get in the perfect spot for a photograph, and experienced guides know the photography game well. If your guide knows your goals at the start of the day, he or she can plan the day accordingly.

3) Create a Plan
If you’re skiing with friends or family, it doesn’t hurt to create a plan of action. For a pro that might mean coordinating with athletes and drawing locations on trail maps, but for most it entails taking a few minutes to talk about what you want to shoot and what they should be ready for. Impromptu photos are great, but if you’re hoping to get the perfect powder shot, timing, location and patience all play a key role. So take five and get on the same page with everyone.


Pay attention to the weather forecast, scope the mountain all day while you’re riding and plan your day accordingly.

4) Prep Your Gear
If you plan to carry multiple lenses in that 50-pound midget, take time to clean them the night before. Always check batteries and clear memory cards before a day in the snow. It’s easy to run out of battery life or memory, and you don’t want to miss any of the action. The morning of a shoot, I typically go through all my gear once again just to make sure I’m ready.

5) Scout The Run
If you’re on a heli or cat trip, it might not be possible to take the same line twice, but if you’re shooting in-bounds take a run first and look for areas you want to set up your shot. Then go back and shoot in the locations you marked out. The extra run will help you keep from wondering what’s just around the bend and what you might be missing by staying put.

6) Get Off Your Skis
You’re smart enough to get out of your car to take a picture of the scenery, right? So why are you twisted like a pretzel trying to take a ski photo? Take your skis off. You’ll be able to move around quickly, get different vantage points and keep yourself steady. It takes just a few extra seconds, but it’s worth it.

7) Have Fun and Be Nice

Remember to have fun when shooting and look for inspiration no matter how the day goes. It’s your job to keep your subjects stoked by telling them how much they rip and always be courteous to other skiers on the mountain.