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How to Shoot Ski Photos from a Helicopter

The work of Whistler-based ski photographer Dan Carr has been featured in ski magazines and commercials across the world. He recently returned from a heli-skiing trip to Alaska and spoke to us about what it’s like dangling from a chopper by a harness and how you can get a bird’s eye view without a helicopter.

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After earning a degree in aerospace engineering, the UK-born Dan Carr moved to Vancouver, BC. A lack of formal photography training didn’t stop him from becoming a Telus Pro Photographer Showdown finalist (2008) and one of the ski industry’s most highly esteemed photographers. Check out these videos from his recent trip to Alaska and read on for his perspective on heli-skiing photography.

Heli shooting in AK from Dan Carr on Vimeo.

Shooting skiing in Alaska, GoPro helmet camera video. from Dan Carr on Vimeo.

In this footage, you are taking stills and shooting video at the same time. How is that even possible?

My primary goal on this particular trip to Alaska was shooting still images for magazines and ski companies. I was working alongside the Poor Boyz film crew while they made their new ski film. In some of the shots you can see Poor Boyz producer Tyler Hamlet next to me with his video camera. On top of my stills I was also shooting video using a GoPro HD helmet camera. The helmet camera was strapped to my chest in an attempt to give people a look at what it’s like to be a ski photographer. It produces some fantastic quality video for something so small.

It looks like you’re dangling over thin air.
Shooting from helis varies, depending on the make and model of the helicopter. Sometimes you can simply slide the door back, but in this instance we had to land and remove the door completely. Then we buried it in the snow to prevent the rotor wash from blowing it away. Once that’s done you are harnessed into the heli with multiple straps and carabiners, which all clip onto a climbing harness that we wear all the time in Alaska. There’s just enough length on them to allow you to lean out the side of the heli without falling. So basically I’m sitting sideways on the seat, with my legs dangling out of the space where the door once was!

What’s the advantage of shooting skiing from a helicopter?

The unique perspective it gives you. There is really nothing else like it. It allows you to stay relatively close to the skier for the whole run. If you were on the ground shooting the same line you would be a long way off (up to 1 km away). Down there you often need to keep your distance because of the avalanche risk. The bird’s eye view makes for much more dramatic shots.

Admit it: Isn’t it at least a little bit frustrating to be in a helicopter in Alaska and not actually skiing? Or do you get a bunch of skiing in too?

I do get some skiing in, but it’s not always as enjoyable with a 30-pound pack on my back holding very expensive and fragile equipment. Most of the lines that filmers and photographers get to ski are alongside the athletes’ lines on shallower pitches, but the snow is still incredible. Some of my most memorable turns were definitely made in Alaska.

Any tips for amateur photographers who want to try to replicate a heli shot but don’t actually have access to a helicopter?

The best thing you can do is to find a tree to climb and then have someone make some powder turns underneath you, but be careful! Any kind of unusual perspective will bring something extra to your photos. Also, if you can find a cliff with a couloir next to it you can cautiously make your way to the edge of the cliff and shoot photos of someone skiing the chute beneath you. This is something I have done a few times and it usually makes for some really cool looking shots.

If you’re an aspiring photographer, check out Dan’s website, where he keeps a growing list of ski photography tips.