Creating an amazing snowboarding or skiing photo, especially one for the cover of a major publication, takes a good knowledge of composition and some thinking in the field.
There are several different rules for photography that are designed to help you understand how to create a well-composed image. This article is not going to dive into those specifically, so for the more technical specifics, be sure to check out the "Basics of Composition" post.
One of the most important things that any photographer can learn to make their images better, is to compose so that the main focus of the image (athlete in this case) is not right in the center! When you place the athlete right in the center, it makes the viewer miss out on the other details in the image. Centering the action makes the image look unexciting and uninspired. If you are just starting out, make sure not to do this! If it's a matter of focusing, the point you choose to focus can be moved to keep the athlete out of the center during continuous shooting.
Keeping things from being centered applies to the horizon and environment as well. By moving the horizon slightly up or down, you make the image look more dramatic and exciting, and by keeping things out of the center, the viewer's eye won't be drawn straight to the middle, instead of to the action.
The next tip is that you should TEL (Takeoff, Environment, Landing) the whole story with your picture! Capturing "guy in the sky" photos where the athlete and sky comprises the whole image may look cool at first, but those just won't sell, and don't tell the whole story. When an athlete is jumping, try to show the takeoff and landing, or at least one of the two. When they are turning a corner, try to show where they came from, or where they are going. What you are trying to do here is show what's really going on. Incorporate the environment into every shot, whether it be foreground elements, background scenery, or a sweeping vista. Without this, the image could have been taken anywhere and is only a part of what's really going on.
Finally, have the athlete lead the viewer's eye into the frame. It typically works better to have the athlete coming into the frame (preferrably from a corner), than to have them shooting out of the side of the frame. Unless the main action was behind their position, having them leave the frame will make the image look like it's missing some detail.
CREATING A COVER SHOT: To create a great cover shot, your best bet is to shoot in vertical format, and often times, forget about the not-centering the athlete rule…. This makes the image a more obvious choice for magazines to run as a cover. They do occasionally run horizontals on the cover, but vertical is far more likely. Compose so that there is room for a title up top, writing on the side, and bar codes/writing on the bottom. The simpler the shot (less distracting elements) the more usable it will be. It's tough to get covers, but with these tips, you at least can shoot in the right style.
This article is part of the snowboarding and skiing photography series on APS. Below are more articles in the series:
10 Basic Tips for Successful Skiing and Snowboarding Photography
10 Tips for Shooting Night Skiing Photos
Capturing Classic Powder Shots
Shooting Cliffs: Snowboarding and Skiing Photography
Shooting Park: Snowboarding and Skiing Photography