East studio filming on the ski slopes

Five things we learnt while filming in the Alps

Filming at 6,000ft has it’s own unique set of challenges

So we drove 1,300 miles to the French Alps from Brighton to make a series of videos for one of our tourism clients. We had an excellent trip, as expected, but as usual a few obstacles cropped up and we were ready for them. When you turn up to a shoot having never shot at that location before or that new environment you have to learn fast and adapt to your surroundings.

Our Atomos Ninja with the hood attached to remove glare

1. Light is your biggest enemy/friend

Being high up in the mountains the air is thinner and the sun brighter, coupled with the fact that the snow acts like a mirror bouncing light back up into your lens/face you have your challenge. The weather gave us an amazing backdrop to our shots and showcased the resorts beautifully, so we aren’t complaining too much. BUT it made everything a little bit more of a challenge.

Rear LCD screens become unusable due to massive light reflection. This meant over exposure and poor focusing. Interviews became a challenge as people squint and no-one wants to see themselves looking short sighted plus long periods on the mountain can cause minor snow blindness.

Tips for filming in bright sunlight

Use the right equipment. We had an large eyecup LCD view finder accessory on our Sony A7S because the standard viewfinder is too small. This helps keep your focusing consistent. We also had an external monitor (Atomos Ninja Blade) which has focus peaking, waveform and an extra bright screen.

Neutral Density (ND) filters make a huge amount of difference, you cannot take your camera below ISO 50 and you do not want to lose that shallow depth of field. We use Tiffen filters because of their great quality and affordability.

Bounce the light around. If your subject cannot face the sun take a reflector with you to bounce back a small part of the light to knock out the shadows and highlight their face when the light is behind them.

Be creative. The strong sun can often give you a nice aesthetic to play with like lens flares, outlined silhouettes, steam rising, reflections etc.

East studio's kit laid out to pack

2. Preparation is king

We were given 5 days to film on the Alps and 4 videos to film so our time had to be used effectively. As they say “Time is Money” and you can’t afford to waste any. If you have all your shots and interviews planned out then you shouldn’t have to worry. If you packed the right stuff then you won’t miss the shot. There is nothing worse than not being able to get that important cut-away or link shot because you forgot that crucial (often small) piece of kit.

How to prepare for a shoot over multiple days

  • Write a call sheet and make sure you have covered all the key shots and other shots you HAVE to get. Print these out and pass them around.
  • If you are not a project manager or producer, don’t try and do it all yourself, bring in someone who can help you plan the shoot before you leave.
  • Use a Google Calendar to plan each day out in detail, include travel time to the location but also travel time between shoots. Share this with the client.
  • Take as many batteries as you can fit in your bag and remember the chargers. Always keep them well charged.
  • Take a spare Hard Drive to backup all your footage from the day (we recommend the Lacie Rugged 1TB for on the road) then make a backup of your backup just incase.
  • Take extra memory cards and don’t erase yesterday’s shots until you know they are backed up on two portable HDD.
  • Take a backup camera incase the worst should happen and you lose or break your precious camera.
  • Allow time at the end of the shoot, if you can, to go and re-shoot anything that you missed or were not happy with the first time round.

Nice shot taken by one of the kids with our GoPro

3. Get creative with GoPros

Filming a ski video is all about capturing the fun and experience. So we handed over our GoPros to the instructors, while using GoPro mounts to strap cameras to the kids. These mini cameras are indestructible so it’s no worry giving it to someone else to look after.

Panning ski run with a drone

4. Commission a local professional drone pilot

We wanted to achieve amazing shots of the client’s chalets in the mountains, it would have been cheaper to take a drone and film it ourselves. Instead we brought in a local professional and it was lucky we did. The drone was only in the sky for 10 minutes before the French Police were demanding to see our paperwork, even in remote mountains resorts you need to follow the rules. Using a local professional drone operator meant we had all the correct paperwork and could continue to shoot some amazing drone footage.

James and Jason from the East team on the slopes

5. Look after yourself

It sounds obvious but the most important person on this trip is you. Things can get a bit tricky when you’re far from home but if you are well prepared you won’t come unstuck. For instance sun-cream is uber important on the slopes. No one wants to see a lobster behind the lens. Look after your back, if that goes then you won’t be able to stand up properly (I should know). Get some rest, after a long day on the slopes you need to have your wits about you for the next day. Enjoy yourself, it’s not every day you get to work in places like this, make the most of it. Go boarding!