What do I need to take great snowboard photographs?
December 26, 2006 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I want to get in to snowboard/ski photography. I'm new to DSLRs, but have a good eye and lots of time. I have a Nikon D40 and want to spend about $1200 on good glass. What do I buy? Filter recommendations? Any tips for shooting in the snow?
posted by mrunderhill to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Grab the Tokina AT-X 124 (12-24mm) and the Sigma 30mm 1.4.

If you can, return the D40 and get a D50 - the D40 can only AF with lenses that have built in motors. The Sigma will AF, but the Tokina will effectively be an MF lens. Not a big deal, since at 12mm nearly everything is in focus, but other interesting lenses will be much less useful.

The tokina is an ultra-wide zoom that will let you grab lots of terrain as well as extreme close-ups without too much fisheye type distortion. The sigma will work well in low-light conditions - great for night and low-visibility shots.

You may want something long like the 70-200 2.8 as well, but that lens alone is outside your budget.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:49 PM on December 26, 2006

Your first mistake was the D40, as b1tr0t says, it doesnt support autofocus on a large number of lenses, and is really just a low end prosumer camera. I would suggest returning it, and buying a D70/D70s (even used) from FredMiranda.com, or a Canon XT, XTi.

Second -- Alot of practice. Snow is hard to expose correctly. Any of these cameras is going to do a horrid job exposing in automatic mode, so learn to master program mode, or even manual mode.
posted by SirStan at 7:04 PM on December 26, 2006

And since you are looking at a crop body, you might want a camera that has a great autofocus system, such as the D20/D30/XTi. You wont be able to accurately manual focus a crop body (or atleast I can't).
posted by SirStan at 7:05 PM on December 26, 2006

I was actually thinking about returning the D40 for a D80.. now i'm pretty sure I will.
posted by mrunderhill at 7:15 PM on December 26, 2006

Grab the Tokina AT-X 124 (12-24mm) and the Sigma 30mm 1.4.

I've used both of those lenses on a Canon and love both of them, but neither are practical for snowboarding pictures. Yeah, you could get some neat distorted pics if you're able to get right on top of the person, but I think a decent 70-200 telephoto would be the best choice.

Checking a list of Nikon telephoto lenses, I see there's only a 70-200 f/2.8 VR, which goes for about $1500. If you were to switch to, say, a Canon 400D, you could get the 70-200 f/4 L for $600 or so and basically be able to get the same shots as you would with a 70-200 f/2.8 on either the Canon or Nikon.

(The primary advantage of the f/2.8 IS/VR telephotos over the f/4 is that the former would work better in low light. The disadvantages are that they are much heavier and much more expensive. But considering that you'd be shooting in very bright light, you wouldn't really need the f/2.8.)

The other tip to remember is that no matter what camera you use, the metering system is going to try to meter the scene as 18% gray. As a result, it's going to underexpose (what is to our eyes white) snow. Make sure you dial in some positive exposure compensation.
posted by alidarbac at 8:15 PM on December 26, 2006

Ken Rockwell (.com) says you want the 18-200VR.
posted by baylink at 8:32 PM on December 26, 2006

The D40 is pretty slow for shooting sports, but everything that costs as much as you spent is. Also, it's not really fast enough for those snappy multiple image overlays of people jumping off cliffs. 3 frames/second may not get it done.

For $1200, get something long and something wide. Forget the middle (that 28-80 range) If you want filler, get a 50mm, but that's one of the lenses won't focus on the D40. (but will on everything else)

One of the neat things about Nikon is that there are a lot of old lenses that are awesome. There's a 70-210 f4 that can be had for $200-300, and is tack sharp, fast enough for what you're doing, and well built. There's a 20-35 2.8 that's great too. But you can't take advantage of them with he D40.

But let's say that you can't do anything with the D40. Get a 18-70 AFS (the D70 kit lens) and then find a used (yes, used) 80-200 2.8afs. (There's an older version that can be found for half the price, but you need the D50 for that)

Start to save your pennies because shooting sports stuff gets expensive. Your real gear list looks something like:

D200, and/or D2x
10.5 2.8 fish eye.
12-24 f4
24-70 2.8
70-200 2.8
And then either a 300 2.8, or something like the 200-400 f4. The long glass really isolates your subject and gets rid of extraneous stuff in the frame.

Certain shots can't be duplicated without way expensive gear. No one carries a 7 pound lens up a mountain to intimidate people. They carry it because they want a perticular shot.

That said, there's all kinds of stuff that can be gotten from a basic setup you can afford. The most important thing is to learn, to get out there as much as you can. Subscribe to a bunch of those ski magazines. See what they do. Find a local ski shooter in your area. Call him/her up and ask to come out on a shoot. Do your best NOT to work for free.

And then, start thinking about a business. You're going to want to start selling photos, yes? Get a feel for the market in your area. See who buys what. Ski areas, Ski shops, Catalogues, Sponsors, Teams. There's lots out there. There is someone looking for photos you can produce this year, probably.

Frighteningly enough for people just getting into things, the new deal in skateboarding/climbing/bouldering and even some biking magazines is lit stuff. Multiple flashes set off by a radio trigger. If you haven't seen it yet, I'm sure you'll soon see someone putting up a couple of flashes to light a boarder just coming off a jump or at the half pipe. Of the course the cost of a basic light setup exceeds what you've got to spend. Don't worry about doing that stuff yet, but do keep an eye on skateboarding, climbing, and bike magazines. All borrow from one another, and there's very little completely original work being done out there. Lots of shooters adapt/ modify/borrow things they see other shooters do.

A career in photography is greatly helped along by two things:

1) Find a mentor.
2) Build relationships with (editors, art directors, etc) who will buy your stuff.

Don't be distracted from your passion, but be mindful that most shooters do other kinds of work. Portaits, weddings, events, whatever.

Get neck deep in photography.

Buy the warmest boots you can, and a big down jacket.

Keep and archive about 90% of what you shoot. You never know when something might be useful later.

Get a second, or even third battery. They're pretty cheap, and you will need to switch when the camera gets cold. Perhaps a monopod as well.

I'll quit babbling.
posted by thenormshow at 8:44 PM on December 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding or thirding returning the D40, I'd suggest the Canon 30d, but it's kinda pricey and I gush over it so much here on AskMe, I'm starting to feel like a Canon shill. From what I hear, the Rebel XTi is pretty slick but as said above, speed is your friend when shooting sports.

My buddy is a professional sports photographer who at the bare minimum wants 5 frames per second and relies on his EOS 1-d to get him 8 frames per second. He typically shoots football, basketball and baseball, none of which are as fast as snow-boarding or skiing.

For glass, I would look into something in the 75-300 4-5.6 range (lower f/ if you can get it, but it will cost you), this lets you sit back from the action and get your choice of shots, from pulled out to fairly tight.

Finally, I'd strongly suggest a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter. Snow is bright and that is good, but you might want to cut down on the glare, and you can do some cool things with a neutral density involving longer exposures in bright light.
posted by quin at 9:07 PM on December 26, 2006

And lest I forget, if you are going to shoot long glass, don't forget about the Reciprocal Rule: for every mm if magnification you shoot, you should set your camera to a fraction of a second of the same: 200mm = 1/200th of a second, and so on.

As such, it might be worth investing in a monopod to make sure you get clear and sharp pictures.
posted by quin at 10:35 PM on December 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Since you'll be shooting in the snow, you might consider the D200 over the D80, since it has a more sealed-up body which will be less likely to get wet. It also has more rugged construction which might be important when you're shooting sports.

Get the fastest lenses you can. Vibration reduction is less important since you'll be using fast shutter speeds to capture sports action.

Also, sports photographers tend to prefer Canon over Nikon, although I cannot speak to why.
posted by matildaben at 7:09 AM on December 27, 2006

Here's a tip that I find useful, at least with a Canon 20D, underexpose snowboard shots about 2/3's of a stop. This keeps the highlights in the snow from getting blownout. Then bring the levels up a bit in Photoshop. Also, get a backpack with a rear entry system, so you can just spin the pack around on the hip belt and have access to everything. Burton and Dakine both make really good backpacks for hauling snowboard gear and camera equipment.
posted by trbrts at 9:23 AM on December 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh and after you get your camera out to take a shot, always zip your pack back up while your taking the shot. That way when you see something like this coming at you:

you can focus on getting out of the way and not have to worry about getting snow inside your pack.
posted by trbrts at 9:29 AM on December 27, 2006

< threadjack>

matildaben - It's because Canon came out with a lot of great, fast long range glass in the early-mid 90's, while Nikon didn't do much to cater to the sports market at the time. Things have since swung back into equilibrium (at least as far as lenses go) but older sports shooters will most likely have Canon setups.

< /threadjack>
posted by Fejery at 7:04 PM on December 27, 2006

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