Tips from the X Games: Taking the Perfect Action Shot with @wilhelmvisualworks

For more photos and videos from the X Games, explore the Snowmass Mountain and Aspen Mountain location pages and follow @aspensnowmass on Instagram. You can also follow Canada snowboarder Mark McMorris (@markmcmorris), US snowboarder Shaun White (@shaunwhite), US Snowcross World Champion Tucker Hibbert (@tuckerhibbert) and US snowboarder Hannah Teter (@hannahteter).

The Winter X Games (@xgames) is officially underway in Aspen! The X Games are annual sports competitions put on by ESPN (@espn), which focus on extreme sports. The winter edition happens at the beginning of every year and hosts snow sports, including skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.

Whether you’re attending the Winter X Games or simply hitting the slopes with friends, keep these photo tips from X Games photographer Brett Wilhelm (@wilhelmvisualworks) in mind:

  • Know your equipment. If it’s a smartphone, learn the basic ways to control focus and exposure, especially when trying to compensate for very bright snowfields or nighttime compositions under a black sky. These scenarios will often fool your camera’s automatic exposure attempts. Know if your phone/camera has a burst mode, allowing a number of photos in quick succession. Burst will give you a better chance at nabbing the peak action in a shot.
  • Take care of your gear. Try to keep your camera warm until it’s time to shoot—the cold wreaks havoc on battery life. If your smartphone is your main camera, get a decent waterproof case or a simple Ziploc bag. Nothing ruins electronics and optics faster than moving from freezing cold to warm humid conditions and back again. The bag helps shield your phone from that condensation.
  • You’re responsible for the entire frame. Great photographic composition is about learning to anticipate the action. In most competition environments, you know where the athlete’s going to be, so line up in a position that guarantees a nice, clean, non-distracting background. The goal is to isolate your subject against a clean snowfield, a bright blue sky, a soft dark background of trees—anything that assures they jump out from the background. At the same time, watch your foreground. Make sure there aren’t distracting elements popping out from the corner of your frame that you didn’t intend. Finally, try to avoid putting the action smack dab in the middle of the image. Moving it off center allows your eye to drift around the frame and generates a better visual complexity.
  • Know your sport. Most action sports are judged on height, difficulty and stylistic mastery. Include the take off or landing to give the viewer a sense of how big the subject is going, not just a guy-in-the-sky without context. Capture them at peak height, but give the viewer a reference point. If they’re getting inverted, show them while they’re inverted. Most of the grabs in skiing and snowboarding reflect a certain mastery of the trick, showing the athlete locking in their balance and control.
  • Have fun. Photography today is easier than it’s ever been. Immediate review allows us to quickly learn from our mistakes and social media allows us to share our images with the world in an instant. Learn these and the many other lessons of photography, then learn to break them as you play with your own style. In the end it’s art, and art has no right or wrong.