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Susan Theis

Susan Theis

Action sports filmmaker and photographer Susan Theis is renowned for delivering visually stunning ski documentaries. Go behind the scenes of Susan’s recent project ‘Nexus’ for Arc’teryx and learn why Ace XL is her go to tripod system when shooting on mirrorless camera systems.

The word ‘Nexus’ means a connection or series of connections linking two or more things. A fitting title for Arc’teryx’s recent sponsored ski documentary. The film follows five distinct groups of female skiers, their connection to the mountains and how skiing shapes their relationships. Each segment explores how the mountains have been a transformative place for each of these athletes, and what they’ve learned from their time on skis.

Capturing the action on the mountains was sports filmmaker Susan Theis. “We wanted to connect these different women who have had different experiences in the ski industry in the outdoors. In one segment, there are two women who are cousins. In another there’s a relationship between an athlete and a mentor. You can expect to watch a ski documentary where totally different story telling went into it. You get a glimpse into what it means to be a woman in the ski world right now.”

Women, Skiers & Friends

We had a female crew. It's rare to be in the field surrounded by women. It was all women in front of and behind the camera which was another thing that made this shoot so special.

Staying light

For Susan, action sports shoots in the mountains wouldn’t be the same without having the right gear. “Given its lightweight nature the Ace XL is my first choice when I choose what gear I bring into the field. I love how quickly I’m able to set up a shot with it and therefore never feel like I’m holding the talent back.”

Ace XL lightweight support
Ace XL lightweight support

Often when I’m in the mountains I’m using one of the Sony mirrorless bodies. It pairs nicely with the Ace XL due to its lightweight nature.

Mind over mountain

Susan’s key shoot locations were in Canada and Alaska, two challenging mountainous environments which required the ability to stay light and setup quickly, Susan explains “When you’re in the mountains or in the backcountry my work is more run and gun style where you need to be moving quickly. Having a tripod and a camera body that you can balance easily and quickly, and you can rely on is crucial, Sachtler ace xl is my first-choice tripod.”

Susan adds “when you’re filming action sports, it’s important that you get the shot the first time because you only have one chance, often athletes are moving super-fast. The drag system on the ace really shone in those moments as it helped pan when the athletes flew by me”.

Ripping down the Alaskan face
Ripping down the Alaskan face

“Going to these extreme places and being out in poor weather conditions brings out something interesting people. It creates a more authentic experience. It’s incredible to get to film these athletes who are at the highest level, perform in those conditions. Obviously, you can watch a lot of videos online and there’s so much content out there. But seeing someone with your own eyes rip down and Alaskan face or backflip off a mountain is just spectacular to see.”

Life on the edge

Getting to extreme locations can often be a challenge, Susan explains how she sometimes must shoot, literally on the edge. “Sometimes the helicopter will drop you off on a narrow ridge line. It’s called a toe in, the helicopter only puts one toe in essentially, and you jump out. And so, in this instance it was sunset, the light was beautiful, it was going fast, and I got the tripod set up and get the drone in the air and not really moving much because you’re just in a small space on the knife edge ridge line. It’s up to you to manage camera and make sure you’re getting the shot. A lot of times in those instances I feel like I can’t even breathe while I’m shooting because I’m just so nervous about getting the shot. And then you know, when you get it it’s just it’s just a huge relief and a euphoric feeling.”

Sachtler products have been a game changer for my career. Their reliability and durability are totally unmatched by any other brand out there.

Watch the documentary here…

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