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Lens choice & tips - Night ski races

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I was recently "voluntold" to be the photographer for my kid's high school alpine team. My only qualification is that I own a DSLR. Most of the races occur at night under the lights in the midwest. I have a Canon XSi Rebel with my fastest "long" lens being a 100mm f2.0 USM. I also have a stock zoom, but it would be way to slow for this application. I will not be using a flash.


I can climb the hill and get fairly close to the action.


I should have the Canon 70-200 f2.8, but it's not in the budget.  Is my lens going to cut it? Advice?

post #2 of 6

Normally 100mm is "a bit" short for alpine skiing. But it's also true, that things are different, with whole lot less restrictions on some high school races, then they are on World cup, which I'm shooting, so 100mm might actually do somehow.

Another thing is light. On night races, light is far from bad one. Many people think, night races have bad, low light, but in general light is pretty cool. Snow works as giant reflector, so it's easier to get nicely lit skiers then in some harsh sun light, where you have whole lot of shadows. Sure f5.6 lenses are way too slow, but with 2.8-4.0 lenses, and with iso up to 1600, you are normally fine.

But no matter what you do, take care of your safety. I wrote something about shooting alpine skiing quite some time ago, but it still works same way:

post #3 of 6

Wide aperture and high ISO are gonna be your friends.  I wanted to bring out my kit to one of our races last year to play around with this, but didn't get a chance.  I also don't have a fast tele zoom, so I'd be in the same boat.  Worse, in fact, since the longest prime I have is 50mm.


I wouldn't worry so much about telephoto length with your 100mm (really 160mm after 1.6x crop) -- at 12MP you can crop quite a bit to 'zoom' after the fact, as long as the photos are sharp.  On a smaller hill I'd think that should be enough.

post #4 of 6

You'll probably be fine.  I'd avoid flash if there's any snow blowing around.  If you have an external flash and it's clear, you could try high-speed synch flash if you want to get fancy.


Canon's 70-300mm IS USM lens is pretty darn good for $430 at B&H.  Even the EF-S 55-250mm IS for $180 beats expectations handily.  Both lenses are 5.6 at the long end.  How's the low-ISO performance of your camera?


Remember, you're a volunteer.  Buy more gear if you want to and will use it for other pursuits.  Most parents will be delighted to get any pictures of their kids.  Unhappy parents can take over next year.  Just realize there's a lot of work associated with this job.  My advice:  find a basic, bread-and-butter shooting spot that works reliably and repeatedly; test settings in advance; don't take too many shots; shoot raw; use a program like Lightroom to organize; have a publish-to-web solution.

post #5 of 6

A few more thoughts...


That 100 f/2 lens is really nice.  My experience, however, is that shooting moving subjects with a wide aperture leads to blurry results too often.  Personally, I'd want more depth of field.  Without actually being in your situation, I'd guess f/4 would be a lower limit.  It's too bad the Canon teleconverters don't work with the 100 f/2, as that would give you some reach in return for aperture.


If you need a bit more reach and want to stay fast and cheap, the 135mm f/2.8 soft focus is impressively sharp when the soft focus is set to zero.  I saw one on eBay for $360 refurbished.


If you have a lens hood, use it.  It'll protect from physical damage as well as lights aimed at your position.


It appears that the XSi is capable of serviceable images at ISO 1600.  That's good news, and you may need it.  In my experience (with a different camera) Lightroom 3 does very well with noise reduction.


Whether you use manual or auto exposure, make sure you account for the snow being so white.  I usually over-expose as much as I can without blowing out the highlights.  Of course, night shots might be different.


Good luck.  Have fun.

post #6 of 6
Originally Posted by Xela View Post
Whether you use manual or auto exposure, make sure you account for the snow being so white.  I usually over-expose as much as I can without blowing out the highlights.  Of course, night shots might be different.


One suggestion about this... night or day, it's pretty much same. In most of ski shots, and pretty much in every single shoot from race, it's about skiers, and not about snow. Considering this, and considering difference between snow and human skin is way too big to get both right (at least with today's cameras), we normally concentrate on skiers. So got for properly exposed skier's face, and forget snow. It will be overexposed. Sometimes it's just overexposed, sometimes it's completely blown out, but it will never be properly exposed. It just doesn't go. But as I said, normally it's about skiers, so properly exposed skier is much more important then properly exposed snow.

Personally I always work on manual (manual set time, aperture and iso), and also, what is really important, custom white balance. There's no need to bother with some white/grey cards, just use out of focus photo of snow on place where you are planning to shoot and this will make perfect target for setting custom white balance. Auto white balance or any of programmed WB settings (shade, sun...) doesn't really work good on snow. Snow has normally so cold color temperatures that it's just too much for cameras algorithms.

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