Breakdown: The what, why and how of a successful ski image

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We all know that quality ski images don’t simply fall into one’s lap. They require vision (pun intended!) communication and cooperation. Read on to get an inside look at what went into creating this keeper of athlete Jamey Parks at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.

1. Skier Position

I’m referring to two things here—where I’ve placed the skier in the frame, and the actual body position of the skier. The most important part of ski photography really is communicating with the athlete. They need to know what your vision for the image is. They need to know where they should be dialed in. I made it clear to Parks that “the shot” was going to be primarily from his transition between turns and into his right hand turn. This makes all the difference in skier position.

I wanted to capture lot of action/energy in this shot and thus directed him to really push his left hand turn, which would send up a big cloud of snow and make for an engaging background. I manually selected one of my AF points in the mid to lower RH third of my camera viewfinder, and kept it on him through the entire sequence. Why down there? Check #3.

2. Texture/Separating Elements

I purposely set up in a location that had me shooting “through” this chunky snow, lying on my stomach. I asked the skier to flirt with the edge of this chunky snow section, knowing it would add lots of texture to the image. It also serves as a good separator between a secondary FG focus and the main subject in our mid ground.

3. Open Space/Contextual Background

For me, this is the element that makes the image. The image I had in my head before actually clicking the shutter was one of a skier ripping a turn back through a cloud of snow from a previous turn. This does two things: it infuses the images with energy and gives the viewer a great sense of the speed the skier is carrying (context). It also provides me with a clean background. The sharp skier really pops against this soft cloud of snow. As a heavy AF user for shots like this, it was imperative to pre-visualize where the skier needed to be in the frame to make this image work, and select the AF zone accordingly.

Lastly, this cloud of snow really fills the open space in this image with “value added content”. Not only is it giving us space to see where the skier is going (also contributing to the overall balance of the image), it tells us much more about where he’s been and what he is doing (as mentioned above).

4. Tack Sharp Clarity

I wanted definition in every last little chunk, ripple or speck of snow with this image. It’s amazing what the camera can pick up in a fraction of a second that the human eye doesn’t have time to process. To do this, you must shoot at high enough shutter speeds to freeze the action. This image was shot at 1/3200 sec. at f 4.5.

Turning the Commercial Corner: Part I

As a full-time, family-supporting, mortgage-paying photographer, I learned several years ago that to make a living as an artist, one must also become a business man. At a certain point, photographers who wish to turn their once precious hobby into a legitimate source of income must recognize where the income lies. I can tell you one thing for certain, it’s not where most think it is. I found my passion for photography in scenic landscape work. There was nothing better than spending time alone with my camera, capturing unforgettable light in places most only dream of visiting. Soon enough, however, I found that the commercial demand for such images was slim to none. Simply put, I needed to find a way to transfer my passion for scenic imagery into other genres of photography that would give me a client to produce for and a check to cash.

Commercial imagery photographed for Park City Mountain Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercial imagery photographed for Park City Mountain Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

I imagine there are many photographers out there who have either turned this corner, or are currently wondering how in the world they will make a legitimate living off an art that has a depreciating perception among most (“I have a camera. I could shoot that”), and an appreciating level of supply (so many amateur photographers producing “adequate” imagery). I’d like to share a couple of things I’ve gleaned in my short time as a photographer IN BUSINESS.

1. Find clients that match your interests and style of shooting. It’s easy to lose the strategic blinders and be pulled in any number of infinite client-based directions. I could shoot this and make a killing, or I could shoot that and do just fine. Or I could even try and start to shoot something like so and so and there’s no doubt I would be filthy rich like those guys. The problem? You’re a climbing photographer trying to shoot dog shows. Or a wedding photographer trying to shoot slacklining. Don’t spend your time trying to match what you shoot, or your style of shooting to potential clients. It never works. Instead, search out clients whose branding, product and general message fit who you are and what you’re able to produce as a photographer. Sure, it may require some fine tuning and tweaking to how and what you shoot, but the message here is that you shouldn’t be reinventing your own creative wheel.

Commercialy imagery photographed for Volkswagen of America by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercialy imagery photographed for Volkswagen of America by AdamBarkerPhotography

The clients you want to work with are the ones that recognize your own unique ability to produce imagery in line with their own professional exploits. For those of you who are married, think of how many dates you went on before finding your spouse. My guess is it was no small number. For those of you who are single, think about how many crappy dates you’ve been on trying to make yourself into something you’re not so “the hotness” you’re spending time with will reciprocate that generous stream of thought. For those of you who neither married nor dating, I’ll think of another analogy some time soon enough. In the meantime, maybe you should thing about getting out a bit more…

2. Learn the biz. The hardest part of making a living as a photographer is not clicking the shutter. It’s negotiating rates and usage. It’s finding clients who can pay for imagery. It’s sending invoices, and following up–again. And again. And again. It’s understanding when to bend the rules, and when to say “thanks, but no thanks”. It’s understanding when there’s more on the line than just a creative fee and sum total. The hardest part of making a living as a photographer is a crazy combination of suppressing your creative free spirit at times, putting on the proverbial suit and tie and literally, getting down to business. Read blogs. Read books. Ask questions. Make mistakes, and learn from them. Understand what it is you can offer a client, and make that very well known. Make it valuable, and make it sexy. Make sure they know that there may be someone else out there with an index finger, but there’s NO ONE ELSE that can think, see and capture like you can. And then, charge them appropriately. Stick to your guns. Have a plan B, C and D for your client if they are unable to afford plan A. Be willing to do whatever you must to work with them, but know that if you undercut yourself or the industry in which you hope to one day be a prominent figure, you are essentially digging your own professional grave. I know much of this is a gray area, and it will only become more clear with experience. Nobody learns the business of photography overnight.

Commercial imagery photographed for Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercial imagery photographed for Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

3. Self promote. You may or may not be the type of person who likes to toot your own horn. I am loud and obnoxious and sociable. But I’ve always hated the whole “look at me” side of photography. It feels shallow and pompous and self-serving. But that’s just it. If you want to be successful, you MUST serve yourself to some extent. You must make your exploits known, and you must be proud of them. There is a big difference between ego-padding, and legitimate self promotion. Those that recognize the difference will appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there. Those that don’t, frankly, don’t matter. This is your job. This is your life. This is what puts food on the table and diapers on your kids. Your ability to produce meaningful imagery is the best thing that ever happened to whomever is willing to listen, and that’s that.

Commercial imagery photographed for Eagle Point Club by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercial imagery photographed for Eagle Point Club by AdamBarkerPhotography

4. Be professional. I’m not talking about producing professional grade imagery. I’m talking about the simple things like being punctual. I’m talking about being reachable and returning emails and phone calls in a prompt manner. I’m talking about treating the client as a customer, and we all know the customer is ALWAYS right. These are the simple parts of running a business that have nothing to do with photography, and everything to do with common tasks that may not make too many waves when done correctly, but can sink you in a heartbeat when forgotten or overlooked.

Commercial imagery photographed for Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercial imagery photographed for Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography

5. Be confident. This is incredibly important. Let’s break it down: if you are confident in your imagery, then you’re confident in your ability to produce for potential clients. If you’re confident in you’re ability to produce, then you’ll be confident in the rates you charge and why you charge them. If you don’t value your work, who will?  That’s why you’re a professional. If you’re confident in your style, then you’ll spend your precious time searching out clients that are likely to give you the time of day, and ultimately give you an opportunity to work for them. You’ll recognize when a client is simply not the right fit, or if your time is better spent courting someone else.  Confidence is like a freight train–it builds and builds, and in the end, you’ll build enough internal momentum to battle through the harshest of critics and the leanest of months.

Commercial imagery photographed for Loon Outdoors by AdamBarkerPhotography

Commercial imagery photographed for Loon Outdoors by AdamBarkerPhotography

Each of the images in this post were produced for commercial clients in varying fields. I have been a full-time photographer for less than two years and I have much to learn. But what you see above is what has helped me to get to this point. Each day seems to provide a new learning curve of some sort. Some days, it feels like the top of the world. Other days it feels like rock bottom. In the end, however, I have made a career out of my passion. If that isn’t living the dream, I don’t know what is.