I am presently covering the Alpine World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany – but before I get more into that please allow me to post something which I did about ten days ago.
I got a great compliment from my journalist the other day after I’d shot this assignment: “You know, when I learn that you are going to be the photographer I know 85% of my job is done”. Wow – flattery will get him anywhere – and absolutely not true – but very nice of him to say that… and much appreciated.
Then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend on the subject “how do you shoot a good sports image”. His argument was that if you are in the right spot at the right time, the good image just happens. While this might be true in some cases, often it is not.
So let me share this with you: one gig, that’s it, nothing more – a very typical assignment for me – and what happened, what came out of it, how did I do.
So, here’s the assignment: Janne Ahonen training on his home hill in Lahti. He hasn’t done so well lately – been kind of lost with his jumping – and the World Championships start in Oslo next week. Time to go back to the roots, so to speak.
I make a plan: I have several custom-made carbon poles for positioning the camera in an elevated position. I plan to set one right over him – from the side with light-weight ball joint – and shoot just when he is starting, with a 15mm rectangular fish eye on a full-crop cam (Canon 5D) with a radio remote. Get nice curvature of the horizon, him on the foreground – something you cannot do normally during a competition. Something a bit different.
So I drive to Lahti and come to the stadium: totally overcast and misty. No way you can get the horizon. Crash and burn.
Ok. Plan B, quickly. I decide to set an extreme wide – probably 14mm – as a remote right next to his feet and get the a horizontal shot, a bit sideways.
I head to the large hill – and he heads to the smaller one. So stupid of me not to ask, I just assumed that they’d jump from the big one. I rush after him, knowing that I have no time to set the remote. Fail again.
So, I try to come up with plan C quickly, as I am running after him.
The jump has no elevator. And he is way ahead of me.
Wait: the stairs make nice symbolism, sort of “climbing back to the top”. So I quickly put on a 16-35mm and shoot him going up with both the wide and the 70-200mm which I have already mounted in the other camera.
I climb to the tower behind him, still fixed with the idea that I want to have some nice scenery – his hometown – into the image.
He comes up for the second jump, starts to put the skies on when I hear his coach shouting below: “Hey, photographer, get the hell out of there…”.
For some reason, he does not like me shooting images in the tower. Maybe I interfere with the concentration, I don’t know. But: fail again.
Plan D. I decide to wait for him to walk back the stairs, to get some more of that “stairs” symbolism. I put on the 15mm on, to get some extra dynamic into the shot, but I left my 5D below and only have EOS 1 mrk4 – so no full crop, unfortunately.
He has jumped now three times – and I have no images of him actually jumping. How many times is he going to jump, I don’t know.
Plan E. I rush to the jump table. It’s pretty high, about 2.5 meters. Old worn out advertizing, looks very ugly. I decide to set a remote on a carbon pole and position it right under the table. I do it – and it’s not working. One of the radios is jammed.
Thank God I have brought three radios with me. I figure out which one is the dead one (I find out later it was the delay setting which had gotten totally off…), replace it and rig the camera back up again. Just in time as he is the next jumper. I shoot ten-fifteen frames – and get one decent one.
I talk to the coach – he says Janne I going to jump once more. I see him sitting in the chairlift, talking to another jumper, smiling.
What, Janne Ahonen smiling? I shoot a couple of frames (I only have up to 200mm) and ask a friend of mine – actually a former jumper Tami Kiuru, who is there to watch the training as well – who is the guy next to him. “His brother”, he say. The image I just took gets a totally new meaning.
I rush to meet him – or them – when they leave the lift. But they do not take the path I anticipated and the image I had in mind falls flat.
I notice Janne’s path will take him in front of a snowy forest which makes a real nice background. Sort of “loneliness of an athlete” -idea. I go very low to get more perspective, shoot it – and then run back to the hill.
I frantically climb the stairs of the other hill next to the one he is jumping so I’d get one image of him actually flying.
I toy with the idea of setting shutter speed down to 1/30th or slower, but decide to go with 1/125th. It’s his last jump, I cannot risk it. Shoot him thru the trees, against the trees, hoping for the best.
Couple of head shots when he comes up, shoot the coach coming down the stairs. Done.
The training is over.
My client (Iltalehti) runs it on their weekend edition. I’m happy with the result. Not bad – considering.
Point being: you gotta be prepared, plan things, look for something different – and then be prepared to improvise, throw all your great ideas into the trash and quickly come up with something else. And I mean quickly.
Have your technique down, know your gear, know which combination of iso/shutter/aperture/lens choice gives you the result you want.
The most important thing: not to do the easy, obvious picture but to have the enthusiasm to try to push your own limits. Even if you have done this over and over again thru the years.
Sometimes you succeed – sometimes you don’t. But you have to push it – otherwise … well, you’d be better doing something else for your living. If for nothing else, then for your own sake. It’s not getting or not getting “the image” – but failing to try which is tragic.