Photoessay: On the slopes, Queenstown

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If you think about it, skiing must be one of the most pointless activities on earth – right next to motor racing. Both involve completing the same circuit (or piste) repeatedly. Sometimes with the objective of speed, sometimes with no objective at all. I’ve tried to figure out why we find it enjoyable, but honestly have no idea – perhaps it’s both the necessity of focusing on something to the exclusion of everything else, and the fact that it’s different enough from our normal activities that other parts of brains are stimulated. I remember having to work very hard at the basics before everything ‘clicks’ – and then you start moving at a much more intuitive level. I suppose it’s a sort of meditation, not unlike photography. Today’s photoessay is a series I shot at Coronet Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand a couple of months ago whilst taking a break from developing my landscape photography. I’m the sort of skier who learns off piste so he can fins something else to shoot; this time I used a Manfrotto Lino Pro field jacket to hold the gear – it’ll take a 645Z/55mm in one padded pocket, and a D810/Otus in the other. Enjoy! MT

Series shot with a Ricoh GR, Nikon D810 and Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus.

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Ascendency, I

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Ascendency, II

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On arrival

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Staging area

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Descending into cloud

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A lack of contrast – you can probably tell these were challenging shooting conditions, let alone skiing conditions…

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…but made for fantastic opportunities if prepared.

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Detour I

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Detour II

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Nearing bottom

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Making snow

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Apres ski, child style


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  1. hello Ming, what is that protruding thing in frame titled ‘on arrival’?

  2. Reblogged this on Eileen Lyn Wah.

  3. Peter Boender says:

    On (maybe not so) “pointless” activities:
    So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.” – George Mallory, on climbing Everest

  4. Hey greetings Ming, I cannot tell which shots were taken with the 85 Otus but I must mention that not one single comment was on the subject of your selection of an 85 to shoot with your 810. The reason that I mention this is because after years of disdain from whenever I went on vacation with my DSLR and a set of heavy lens…I got smart and started carrying 1 DSLR with one 85mm lens. I love this lens. It shoots as the King of Bokeh when I want that. And it shoots landscape when I want that. And it is at the best quality that you can get in an image!

    • I didn’t choose it for the bokeh, but the perspective. Most of the time I shoot stopped down. Too much bokeh removes all context and storytelling ability and makes for a weak image.

      • Totally agree!

      • Absolutely agree! I know that you do not shoot closeup head shoulder portraits on travel, but I do. But when I wanot environmental landscapes, this lens likes to stop down for no bokeh landscapes. Most people do not realize that most postcard landscapes are shot with a 105mm perspective. 8th is close enough for a one lens travel pack.

  5. Gorgeous pictures Ming! So special colors, almost reminding film/slides.

    One question on the Ricoh GR please: did you ever experienced crazy high ISO automatic settings. Like, I was in bright day light at noon (LR said +7 for brightness value), Aperture priority at 5.6, and the GR chose ISO 6400 and speed 1/2000 ! Why not 1/125 at 400 ISO? Is there a way around that crazyness?

    Thank you!

  6. Jorge Balarin says:

    Thank you Ming for the wonderful photos.

  7. Jon Henrik Laake says:

    Actually, I think you could have bumped up exposure a bit. Snow tends to look grey unless you do.

    • I suggest you check your monitor calibration. It’s very close to white on mine except where intentionally grey to accurately reflect reality, and you’re the only one who seems to think they’re underexposed.

  8. I have to say everytime I go skiing I just get lost in the environment, just at peace with nature (admittedly ruined by the bucket loads of other folk in the alps…) but I always find it difficult to take any quality shots with the lack of contrast. You did pretty well!

    I totally forgot you had the manfrotto jacket, how is at as a jacket?

    • Thanks. It actually does pretty well as a jacket; very waterproof, breathable, and lots of usable pockets. It’s a shell though as opposed to a complete solution, so you’ll still need a fleece or down inner.

  9. These are beautiful Ming…Rejoining is Majestic…love the dynamic range.

  10. Your thrilling shots are the answers to all your questions about skiing – no matter how fast you go getting down the exhilaration of being up there, in such a space and time, is always overwhelming. Getting down is also a thrill, no ride down is ever the same as another.

  11. Splendid set, Ming. I have favorited a few, since there are several outstanding images here. My pick would be “Reward”, and it’s interesting that all my favorites were shot on the Ricoh!

  12. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Lovely photos!

    My favourites:
    Ascendency, I
    Ascendency, II
    Descending into cloud
    Detour I (outdoing a classic)

    (Apologies for the inserted photo,
    I didn’t know the link would insert it.)

  13. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “If you think about it, skiing must be one of the most pointless activities on earth – ”

    Yes (if you mean staying on the same pist..), but there is also:

    With deep enough snow you can go anywhere, or in spring when the snow often has a crust your skiis just swish over it.

    And don’t forget the close-up lens.
    You will already have found out what the otus does (or rather does not do) to snow.

    • The only reason we do it is for the sensation of speed and the environment, and perhaps the companionship if you’re going with friends.

      The Otus does very nice things with snow 🙂

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        (as with sailing)
        It’s also about continuously responding to the changing environment with your whole mind and body.

        “The Otus does very nice things with snow.”
        I was sure it does!

        (“Thanks – it didn’t insert though”
        My browser shows a photo and not a link under “..but there is also:”)

        • Actually, I find the less you think about technique and control, the easier it is to ski and respond to changes in conditions…especially when visibility is poor.

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            My bad expression.
            Of course you are right about that!

            I didn’t mean think, I meant the experience when the skiis (or boat, or even motorcycle) become an extension of your body, it becomes immersive, and even though it can be more or less automartic all of you is in it much more than when e.g. driving a car.

            – – –
            ( Pardon me for repeating my question:
            ” – it didn’t insert though”
            My browser shows a photo and not a link under “..but there is also:”)

      • I would replace speed with thrill as there is more to it than speed alone (jumps, all different g-forces, the almost falls, and even the falls themselves if your body is still young enough). The is also the physical exercise aspect and trying to push yourself harder, to improve your skills. And any kind of sports has at least some of these aspects and any kind of game (be it a board game or a computer game) would be mostly pointless using your criteria.

        • Most games are pointless. What’s really pointless is the territorial fanboy disputes that go with them. Not so different to cameras and forums, I suppose.

  14. Gerner Christensen says:

    Incredible beautiful photography Ming. Wow wow wow .. 🙂

  15. I ride motorcycles on and off the track and it is entirely about the experience and engagement – much as it is with most things enjoyable in life. Like photography, motorcycling requires a balance of ego pushing and awareness. Ego pushing gives way to true concentration and this in turn expands into awareness. Engaging all five senses, balance and timing.

    As it is with photography, motorcycling is about the rider. The human in the seat.

    • I admit I don’t have the stones for motorcycles. And with the level of poor driving in KL…it’s asking for a death sentence. Photography, I think I can take my chances…

      • Actually, for me it is more about the flow than it is the speed. Although, some tracks lend themselves to fast flow which is awesome. The first corner coming off the long straight at Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway is just awesomely fast. I have yet to ride on Melbourne’s wonderful Philip Island. By all accounts one of the most high speed tracks in the world.

        I would not ride the streets of Sydney. Getting hit in that city would be a matter of when, not if.

        The more connected the rider is within themselves the less the fear goes to their head, so they are able to be more present and responsive. Training is key. There is a whole science to riding a motorcycle as fast as you possibly can. Keith Code did a lot of work in this area.

        • Traffic in Australia is positively calm compared to SE Asia – it’s unusual not to have had an accident. Most of the motorcycle riders I know have broken at least one limb whilst out…

  16. Super images! A 645 & 810 + lenses – ballast for speed no doubt. Just imagine hitting a rock with all that on board

    • I tried very hard not to 🙂

      • bluetwango says:

        Over 25 years of downhill skiing in Colorado, only once did I hurt myself bad enough to feel it a few days later. It was when I fell on an early-gen Sony Walkman in my chest pocket. Probably I bruised a rib, slightly. But taking a tumble onto a big Nikon and lens might have been lethal– or prompted suicide later, when I totaled up the equipment damage. Your ski trip was ideal for a quality compact camera, and we web-watchers would never have seen the difference. Or perhaps there is a lucrative, untapped market for Ultraprints of ski area candids? I only saw full-sized gear in the hands of the guys who shot quickie portraits at the top of the lifts, “prints available back at the shop.”

        • I’d see the difference when I went to print the landscapes later. And I’m a pretty good skier.

          • bluetwango says:

            I was a pretty good skier, too. Problem was, this was my first time trying to telemark! I was lousy at that.

            I’m sure you know what you’re doing, and I don’t mean to be critical. If you best cameras, you should take them out and use them often. But having done this, would you do it again next time, or choose something smaller?

            • Ah, well, that explains it! I won’t take anywhere near the same level of risk carrying equipment as I would normally (very limited off-piste, for instance).

              I’d do it again, no question. But I’d probably pick something different (i.e. smaller and lighter) lens-wise because a) I don’t need the silly apertures on a ski field, and b) I probably wouldn’t be testing a new Otus.

  17. Great set as always Ming. My favourite is #10, A lack of contrast. It’s quite different from the rest of the set and most of your usual images. And just my personal opinion, but I think it’s a good example of how breaking the rules can lead to great images as well.

    If I were in your shoes at that moment I don’t think I would have shot this, thinking that the lack of contrast and light would make it a dull, boring image at best. And as we can clearly see, I’d have been wrong.

    • Thanks – I wasn’t sure it’d turn out, to be honest. Couldn’t see much on the LCD…but experimentation is also a critical part of creative development.

      • True. I suppose with digital it’s always better to try and then delete during curation than not try at all. By the way, looking at the image following “lack of contrast”, the light around the silhouette looks a little odd and a bit out of place to me. Is it the sun or a spotlight?

  18. Beautiful pictures!

  19. Wonderful pictures Ming!

  20. What an incredible set. I’ve seen and faved some of these before but this is far more comprehensive. It’d be fun to ski with you someday. 🙂

  21. A cracking set of images Ming, I love the ski lift shots and the B&W reward stunning.

  22. bluetwango says:

    Because it’s the point of skiing, or one of the big ones. How else can you go 40 mph on your own two feet?

  23. I love the pictures Ming! And being snow, it’s so different than your usual locales and climate. Different weather is always so much more interesting to shoot in.

  24. Father Raphael says:

    Irresistable photos. Thank you.

  25. Stunning Work Ming! Awe inspiring!

  26. Interesting that you have no feeling for the thrill of speed

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