Tips for Taking Better Cross Country Ski Videos
- Record in HD settings
- Consider terrain, trail width, sun position and back drop when choosing where to film
- Skiers should wear clothing that contrasts against the background
- Hold the camera close, locking your arms to your torso
- Try not to use the zoom (tips provided)
- Pan by rotating your body, not the camera
I have mixed feelings about video.
As a skier I like the idea of watching myself on video as a way to improve my technique. It’s easier than actually training to build strength, speed or agility.
But as a coach I find it time consuming to work with video and it doesn’t always provide a lot of benefit. That’s especially true with standard YouTube videos, which don’t allow you much control over playback.
Things change when you work with video analysis apps on tablets or smart phones – especially tablets, because of the larger screen size.
Watching your ski technique on a video analysis app is a richer and more interactive experience than watching yourself on a YouTube video.
The playback interface alone is worth the small cost (prices range from free to ~ $7). The ability to slow the video playback as much as you like, zoom in at will, and easily scroll back and forth through the clip are just some of the powerful features you’ll enjoy using.
Our experiences creating ski videos for this website taught us a few things about capturing high quality, information-rich video of cross-country skiers. This article outlines our best tips.
It’s a cliché, but technology is amazing. Virtually any camcorder, digital camera, DSLR, tablet or smart phone will take excellent quality HD video.
We prefer a camcorder for a few reasons.
First, with a camcorder there’s no pre-set duration for your shot. Some digital cameras and DSLRs will time out after a maximum recording time.
Second, the camcorder’s LCD screen rotates. You can independently adjust the angle you’re holding the camera and the angle of the viewing screen, which makes it easier to get a stable shot and to minimize the glare from the sun on the snow.
Finally, the record/stop button is easy to access on a camcorder. This matters in cold weather when you’re wearing gloves or mittens.
We always record at the highest setting; you can downgrade quality during processing and storage but you can never add it back.
HD video files are large, which is a problem if your camera doesn’t have much storage. Upgrade your storage capacity with a supplementary SD card. (Cameras and camcorders only. This isn’t an option with most smartphones.)
Obviously, you’ll want to practice using your camera before your first shoot. Test different settings and upload your test clips to your computer to see exactly how they look. If you are using a video analysis app, you can record within the apps, which helps with file management.
Cold Weather Issues
Batteries drain more quickly in cold weather. Always begin with a fully charged camera, phone or tablet. You may even want to pack an extra battery and/or charger, but they’re expensive, so test your capacity first.
If you’re filming with anything larger than a smartphone, you’ll probably want a gear bag. Plus, if you have to ski to your filming location then stand around, you can get cold. You’ll be happy if you packed extra clothes.
In my gear bag, I pack my camcorder, hand warmers, a lens cloth, an extra SD card, extra batteries and a down jacket. I use the jacket to protect the equipment, then wear it when I get to the filming location.
Choosing the Best Location
This is by far the most important factor that determines the quality of your video. To get the most information from your videos, you need to get all these factors right.
Choose a stretch of trail where your subject would naturally use the technique you want to film. For example, don’t make your subject diagonal stride on a flat unless they are a true novice.
Look for a wide, straight section of trail. The wider, the better.
Ideally you want to frame your subject against a plain background. A snow bank is perfect; trees and shrubs are least desirable.
Skiers should wear close-fitting clothing in colours that contrast against the background. This will give you the most information for evaluating skier technique.
Sun Position and Lighting
One of the biggest challenges to filming cross-country ski video is lighting. Winter days are short and the sun is low. Stay out of the shadows.
You’ll get better light in the springtime but the shadows are harsh. Bright, but overcast days are best.
Don’t shoot into the sun. Try to position the sun behind or beside you.
Try to Avoid Zooming
Zooming is an annoying distraction because it’s almost impossible to do smoothly. Here’s what we do to avoid zooming as much as possible:
- Determine where the skier will start and finish his pass.
- Stand about 2/3 away from the start. The front view of the skier is more useful than the backside view. By standing closer to his finish line, you’ll get a longer front shot.
- Begin by asking your subject stand on the trail perpendicular to where he’ll pass you. You have 2 options for framing the shot:
- Wide Trail (Best Choice) If the trail is wide, stand as far off the side of the trail as you can, then use the zoom to frame him. Leave a margin above his head and below his skis. Send him to the start location and begin filming. Don’t touch the zoom.
- Narrow Trail With the subject opposite to you, set your camera so it’s fully zoomed out. Now adjust your position, not the zoom button, to frame the skier. Step closer or further back until the skier is well framed in the viewfinder. Remember to leave a margin above and below him to allow yourself room for error. Next, send the skier to the start line and zoom in on him, but not too tight. As he skis towards you, zoom out as required. You don’t have to worry about zooming out too far because your position is perfect for the max zoom out setting.
Note: Two situations where it’s almost impossible to avoid zooming are front shots and skate skiing shots.
Panning – Be a Human “Tripod”
Here’s how to take steady handheld video:
Hold the camera close to your body with your elbows locked against your sides. When you want to pan the camera, move your body, not your hands or arms.
Imagine you’re a giant tripod. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, with a slight flex at your knees and ankles. It’s like the athletic position, but your feet are staggered and angled outward in a “V” position.
Position yourself so the camera is pointing where the skier will finish. Then pan back to the start. Adjust your feet so you don’t have to take any steps during the pan and so there’s no moment when you’re off balance.
Practice your pan a few times to make it as smooth as possible. As you pan, imagine the skier on the track and check your vertical alignment. Make a mental note if there are any spots where a change in angle might cause you to cut off the skier’s head or feet.
Dealing With Glare
Sun + snow = glare. Glare on your LCD screen is one of the biggest challenges of making cross-country ski video. How can you take good video if you can’t see what you’re filming?
The truth is you don’t need to see all the details. If you can just see enough to keep the skier centered in the frame throughout the pan, you’ll get a usable shot.
When there’ a lot of glare, I focus on the skis and try to keep them lined up with the bottom of the frame. If I pre-set my zoom correctly (see above), it usually works OK.
File Storage and Organization
Finding a way to organize your video files that makes them is easy to access is challenging.
Videos labeled Year/Month/Day will auto-sort chronologically. Other information you might want to use: program name, the skier’s name, technique, event, and location.
Spend some time thinking of what will work best for you. Don’t just toss your videos into random files. You’ll end up with a confusing mess.
Also, be sure to back up your files. Buy an external hard drive, if you need to.
Be Kind to Yourself and Others
The risk with video is that it can discourage people. I’ve felt this myself. Somehow I don’t look as awesome on video as I feel when I ski.
A good way to protect skiers and keep the experience more positive is to use video in a before and after setting. So, for example, many skiers struggle to develop a good forward body position in skiing. There’ a big gap between their perception of how far forward they feel and how far forward they actually are.
You can use video to reassure them that what feels extreme, actually looks pretty good. That can provide just the reassurance they need to know they’re on the right track.
Bonus For Tech-Loving Skiers
Below are 2 video files you can download for free. We might remove these in the future – this is an experiment – so if you want them, you should grab them now.
You can upload them to one of the video analysis apps like Coach’s Eye, Ubersense or Dartfish Express and use them for side by side video analysis. But please don’t contact us for support – contact the app company. We can’t provide IT support.
Remember, you shouldn’t expect 2 skiers to look exactly the same on video. Many factors that will affect the way a skier looks on a video, especially differences in terrain, snow conditions and camera angles.