How I Shot The Snowshoeing Photography Assignment

I am lucky in that I have had a client for 10 years. In fact I have had many clients just as long, but this one is always a lot of fun because it is always outdoor related subjects.

The client is a tourism alliance and I started by selling them outdoor stock imagery which later evolved into assignments resulting in many of them over the years.

In this recent post here: The Future May Be the Commercial Nature Photographer, I suggested that outdoor and nature photographers may need to expand into commercial type subjects as the markets change. There may be more work and income generating opportunities for those who provide more services from video to assignment photography.  And I bring this up because I got this client from marketing my outdoor stock.

I recently completed a winter activities assignment for them in February and we covered a lot of territory from snowmobiling to inter-tubing, the bar in the warming hut to snowshoeing, and more. I plan a few posts the next few weeks to share some of these images with you.

Pre-shoot Details

As is typical in today’s market, budgets are tight and we are asked to shoot many more images and this assignment was no exception. The goal is to get as many shots as possible within the assignments specified time frame and that seems to be the norm these days. It’s all about volume! So we had limited time to work each scene before moving onto to the next shot.

The image created and shown in this post was the snowshoeing shoot. The client arranged for a group of family and friends to come to the mountains where they were all outfitted with snowshoes. The clothing was whatever they wore and was pretty casual and just what the client requested before the shoot. Allowing them to wear whatever they wanted would be in line with the fact that these were tourists who came to snowshoe for two hours so they would not have necessarily the latest and greatest ski apparel.

The snowshoe shoot was scheduled to take place at sundown because it was an evening snowshoe that heads off along a forest trail. Halfway into the trip the guide stops and builds a campfire and fixes the guests cocoa while they roast marsh mellows and before turning on head lamps and returning to the lodge.

The first issue was that the sun was setting when we started and the fading light created longer and longer shutter speeds, requiring an increased ISO, that was much higher than I ever care to go, to keep a fast enough shutter speed to prevent the moving snowshoer’s from blurring.

The Shoot

So we headed off on the snowshoe hike and I shot along the way by zooming in on them, horizontal and verticals, and also shooting wide to capture the long line of snowshoers. This was basic stuff, nothing extraordinary. What was cool was the campfire shoot.

The Final Image

Here is the final image that was presented to the client and they loved it. I was not able to capture the perfect shot with detail everywhere like perfect trees, perfect campfire, and perfect surroundings, so I had to bracket my exposures. Once the guide began building the small fire in a fire pan he keeps stashed in the forest, I set up my camera and chose an angle.

First Test Shot

Here is the first test shot before getting people situated and to check the composition and angle. The camera was also set to Auto White Balance and the camera, seeing all that amber campfire light, dialed in a lot of extra blue. It looks cool but is a little too much.

Everybody in position and holding still.

I liked the angle and next seated everybody in a manner that showed most faces to some degree and by the time I got them all situated and shot this test shot, the exposure changed. To keep detail in the trees the campfire now blew out and that is not ideal but I can make it work. It also created nasty lens flare from shooting wide open.

Some of this amber colored campfire light is hitting the trees and this mixes up nicely with the blue back there. So I shot this and called it my base exposure. The shutter speed was 3 seconds so I asked them to hold very still and I took quite a few shots to make sure that I had at least one frame that had everybody sharp or at least one frame where each person is sharp in case I need to composite further.

Better Campfire Exposure but trees are gone

So to solve the blown out campfire I quickly changed my shutter speed to ½ second while continuing to ask them to hold still and here again, I shot a bunch of images to achieve a sharp one throughout.

Digital Darkroom Time

After editing the files I chose the two images above; the base exposure and the campfire shown from the bracketed exposures and chose to composite the darker fire blended over the good trees with blown out fire.

Layers are stacked

First thing I did was stack the two images in Photoshop layers and you can see the darker exposure for the campfire is on top. I added a Hide All mask and then with my Brush set to 20% and Foreground Color set to white, I began to paint in the campfire and surrounding snow as well as the people’s faces and bodies. (This image shows the mask turned off to see the darker exposure.)

Before toning down flames

Darker flames to bring down fire even more

Then to tone down the flames part of the fire I brought in another exposure that was even darker and blended that in over the flames to darken those a bit more.

Now I have to deal with the lens flare in the picture and I will mention one trick I have used in the past. If you have a small black card in your bag you can hold this in front of the lens to shield the campfire from the lens and take an exposure that eliminates the flare created by the campfire. Hold the card in position to capture all the trees but blocks the fire and flare. Then you  mask and blend in the forest behind without the flare.

Test shot had great trees and no flare

In this case I had a test exposure with no flare taken during setup and there was good exposure across the forest back there so I just used that image and masked and blended the forest behind to eliminate the red flare spot.

The last layers were a Hue Saturation adjustment layer with 15 saturation added and also Curves Adjustment Layer to brighten up the background for better visual depth.

The Final Image

Client loved the shot! If there is one thing that I believe is critical to anything you might be doing like this, is to bracket your shutter far and wide to capture all the necessary elements to composite. If I had my way, we would have been setup an hour earlier and captured this all in one shot where the dynamic range would have been manageable and easily capture in one frame.

After this shot, we headed off to shoot fireworks, the bar in the warming hut, and the lodge at night. More to come…..

3 Responses to “How I Shot The Snowshoeing Photography Assignment”

  1. […] this post: How I Shot The Snowshoeing Photography Assignment, I discussed the assignment and its criteria in regards to the client’s budget with respect […]

  2. […] Posts: How I Shot The Snowshoeing Assignment, How to Photograph The Perfect Campfire […]

  3. […] Posts: How I Shot The Snowshoeing Assignment, How to Photograph The Perfect Campfire […]

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