Photography By Paul Purpura | Ski Instruction and Professional Photography – A Most Unusual Juxtaposition

Ski Instruction and Professional Photography – A Most Unusual Juxtaposition

January 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


This is my eleventh season of teaching skiing at Wintergreen Resort.  Most of my ski lessons have been adult beginner lessons. Since I began teaching, I have always shied away from teaching children because I didn't know if I had the patience for it. I have always said to my own children that it was it miracle that I survived them; but it was even more of a miracle that they survived me. I am often not as patient as I should be (just ask some of my friends) and the last thing I ever want to do is upset a child who is not mine. Not that upsetting my own children was good either. But after teaching adult beginner group lessons on weekends for ten seasons, which can be . . .  well let's just say it often presents "opportunities", I decided that I wanted to do something different this season.

Ski Scenes - 0034Ski Scenes - 0034

I knew if I increased my skills set I would be of more value to the resort. Since I love the challenge of learning something new, I took the plunge and decided to teach children this season. I think the seed for doing such was planted last ski season when the manager of the children's program asked me to do so. I was asked because the manager wanted to bring in someone who was, well, let's just say "a little older". I had a group of children ranging in age from four to about eight. They were beginners having never been on skis before. It was an experience for most of the children. It was the first time they ever had a male instructor, moreover, an instructor who was older than their parents. It was an experience to for me as well, and to my surprise I found that I enjoyed teaching the youngsters. 

The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) places much emphasis on teaching children to ski. PSIA offers workshops in teaching children and offers Child Specialist certifications. What many adult skiers (parents) may not know is that generally speaking, young children do not (actually they cannot) ski the same way adults do. Their center of mass is higher because their heads are larger in proportion to their bodies. Muscles that adults take for granted may not yet be fully developed in children. Children have different learning preferences such as "watchers', "doers", "feelers", and "thinkers". I could go on here but then this blog would become a treatise. Getting back to my original thread, this past week I taught at the children's center for two days. On the first day I had beginners, and on the second I had a group that was more advanced. I enjoyed both. I am currently preparing for my Child Specialist 1 certification. The exam is not easy. A candidate's skiing and teaching skills are evaluated. Standards are set high and it is not uncommon for candidates to fail.

So now the juxtaposition. How does teaching skiing to adults or children relate to photography?

First, they are alike in that each ski lesson, and each photoshoot, are different from the previous. In both circumstances you are given a situation and are responsible for bringing out the best in each. For a ski lesson, you want to create a "fun" learning experience for the child and teach skills that are appropriate for where they are in their development. By doing so, you please not only the child but also the parent. The child wants to ski again and the parents are pleased. In photography it's not much different. For the type of photography that I do (sports and events) I walk into a situation and I have to determine the best way to produce photographs that cause an "I gotta have it" moment when viewed by the client. 

Second, both require training, experience, and continuous improvement. I am certified by PSIA to teach skiing and I must successfully complete continuing education and undergo periodic evaluation to maintain my certification. Becoming a Master Instructor (and there is a PSIA cert with this name) requires study, training, attending workshops and clinics, and continuous mentoring to perfect the skills required. Becoming a great instructor does not happen by chance. It is learned.

Similarly in photography I am a member of the Professional Photographers Of America (PPA) and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). I am mentored by some of the best professional photographers in the country to continually hone the skills of the craft. Today's digital cameras let most people take photographs that are "good enough". But for the professional, "good enough" does not cut it. Consistently creating "I gotta have it" photographs does not happen by chance.  There are skills that have to be mastered such as lighting, where to stand, choice of lens, shutter speed, and mastery of technique.

Finally, both ski instruction and photography offer higher levels of certification, and each is more difficult to attain. For the ski instructor, the first cert is "Level I". In photography the first cert is "Certified Professional Photographer". For ski instructors the next levels are Level II and then Level III and each is an order of magnitude in difficulty from the previous to achieve. Similarly, the highest level in professional photography is Master Photographer. In both organizations, you are critiqued and evaluated. Advancement in either organization is not easy. Just ask any Level II candidate who did successfully pass Level II requirements, or, ask any professional photographer who submitted a print thinking it should score 95 out of 100 in a national print competition, but was only scored a 75 by the PPA Jurors.

So, a most interesting juxtaposition of two diverse skill sets don't you think? I wrote about my two biggest passions today -- skiing and photography. I seek to be the best at both, but I know I have a long way to go. I set goals and then work to achieve them. It's going to be a long road for both. But my mentors from each craft say that the journey to achievement defines who you are and where you learn things about yourself that you never knew. For skiing, my next goal is attaining my Child Specialist 1 certification. In photography, I was recently admitted into MaxPreps which is a national organization that promotes high school sports photography. I submitted a sports portfolio as part of the entry requirements and it took two revisions to get it accepted. I am now working on getting my MaxPreps Press Credentials which requires the submission and approval of 10 sports portfolios of recent high school sports events. This is where I consistently create the "I gotta have it" photographs.

I started this blog thinking I was going to write about one thing, and as is often the case when I write, it morphs into something else.

Thank you for reading my bits of clipped prose.

Make it a great week.

Until next time,



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