It is frequently said that I have worked in over 40 different countries around the world – and I certainly have (in fact I think the latest count is actually over 45).  But the more pertinent question would have to be; to which countries do I regularly return?

Obviously my work plays a big part in that – many times I don’t have a choice and I’m sent to wherever my clients need me.  Other times I have developed personal favourites and will look for opportunities to get back there just for the joy of photography in that country.  Looking through my passport you’ll see that Asia features regularly (particularly China), I am back and forth to Fiji a number of times every year, Alaska is a personal favourite and I try and get there at least once a year if I can (in fact I often run a Grizzly Bear workshop up there in the summer).  And one of my other regular jaunts is the US – in particular Colorado – where I am fortunate to have regular work shooting in the ski season over there.

2013 was no different with a number of different ski areas booked in for ski shoots.  Snowshoe in West Virginia, Angel Fire in New Mexico and Vail Resorts (Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge ski areas) in Colorado.

So why do ski resorts in the US book a photographer from New Zealand to shoot their ski products?

I remember a comment made by my very first client in the US, Jack Affleck from Vail Resorts.  He was explaining to a friend how I had continuously kept banging on his door (figuratively of course, but I would e-mail and even phone fairly regularly) until he eventually decided to just give me a try!  Probably from frustration and hoping to shut me up!!

I was given the bottom of the heap as far as the list of commissioned work they needed for that season was concerned – no action ski stuff (they kept that for the “top guys”), just some people shots and general destination imagery.  I went out of my way to over-deliver and threw in some extra action stuff I did on the side – off my own back – and I’ve been working for them regularly ever since.  AND shooting the good stuff.

That was back in 2005, eight years ago.

Since then I’ve picked up new clients and I enjoy shooting in the US most winters and summers.  While looking forward to the trip I spend my January holidays here in New Zealand on my mountain bike aiming to get my legs fit in preparation for a month on skis once I hit the US in February!  The work is great and I love being able to shoot some exciting ski action imagery as well as a bit of resort and destination work also.

Growing up in the South Island of New Zealand the mountains always feel like home to me, and so over time Vail has definitely become like my second “home away from home”.  At nearly 2,500 meters above sea level the altitude is a lot higher than your average New Zealand ski resort (Queenstown sits at 328 meters), so there is no denying you are “in the mountains” once you get there!

Shooting action on the snow is no easy task – I learnt in an era when camera metering was fairly basic and there was a skill involved in finding the correct exposure for snow photography – and every time you pushed the button it cost you money!  Although these days your camera is far more likely to be able to handle not only the tricky exposures but also the cold conditions (batteries are less likely to fail), there are still some basic guidelines that will help when shooting in these settings.

Obviously it’s a big help if you can ski (or snowboard)!  Getting around the mountain both on-piste and also off-piste – and often in tough conditions and at altitude – with 10 kg’s or more on your back does make for a long day.  I usually scout the ski areas first to pick my locations for photography, noting when the light is right for each spot and visualising what I want to shoot there.  I also prefer to work with pro skiers so that they can respond to my requests and ski exactly where or how I tell them, often completing an aerial manoeuvre or skiing past a specific spot to best suit the framing of my pre-visualised image.

Gear wise I carry a Nikon camera body, generally with a 70-200mm lens attached as this is the most commonly used lens on the mountain.  It helps minimise the need to swap out lenses – especially if in windy, wet or otherwise adverse conditions.  Remember your hands do get cold!  I have modified a number of pairs of gloves (giving me different options depending on the temperature) so that I have an inner liner with first finger and thumb cut so that I can get these digits free for easy control of the camera, which then slips inside a much warmer, heavy duty outer – with heat packs inside to warm up my fingers after shooting if it’s really cold.

And most importantly, I have fun!  I love skiing and I think this shows in my work.  I love being on the mountain and I love the excitement of action photography – particularly ski and snowboard action.  The athletes themselves always thrive on the challenge (telling them exactly where they have to take off and land, and what to do while in the air) and they are likewise just as thrilled to see the results as I am.

So while I am privileged to have photographed in over 40 different countries to date (make that 45…), it is a pleasure to return to some of them as often as I do.

Chris McLennan is a New Zealand based commercial photographer who specialises in travel, wildlife, and adventure photography.  Recently announced as an Ambassador for camera brand Nikon, Chris has worked on assignment for some of the world’s top travel and tourism businesses.  His award winning imagery has been published worldwide, while his standing within the photographic community has been recognised through endorsement relationships with some of the industry’s top names including Lowepro, Lexar, and Manfrotto.  Not only is Chris an Ambassador for Nikon, he is also an Ambassador for computing brand HP, as well as a board member on the HP Influencer Advisory Board.  See more of Chris’s work at www.cmphoto.co.nz

As published in D-Photo Magazine.

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