Flight of imagination
INNSBRUCK, Austria, January 5, 2014 - I first covered the Four Hills Tournament twelve years ago. Part of the men's ski jumping World Cup, it takes place in four legs - two in Germany, two in Austria. Apart from three years spent in Los Angeles, I have done this every season for a decade. Almost a routine.
But the key this time is that I was not working alone. With my colleague Samuel Kobani here to cover the main competition – I didn’t have to worry about the generic, have-to-have pictures - the finish line, the winner podiums and so on.
That gives you a certain amount of freedom.
During training sessions you can shoot from underneath the ramp – which you can’t access during the actual competition. I didn’t have a monopod or a fish eye – just a zoom I was holding in my hands, pointed upwards and ready to catch the skier just as he flies into the air. With a 14/24 zoom you have to be careful to snap quickly. There’s no room to manoeuvre or crop.
But there is always an element of luck involved! I guess I was very lucky that day. The weather was really bad, and then when the skiers took their jumps it broke up a little bit, so you got the guys silhouetted against blue sky, high above Innsbruck and the mountains. A great panorama.
I spent many years learning from my own mistakes. With the slow-shutter shots, it’s really about experimenting.
Here I was playing around with exposures of between one quarter and one tenth of a second. You are always hoping that you don’t screw up.
I guess I used to experiment more than I should… Now I try for a more classical style – but I like to add this kind of ingredient from time to time. Like a cherry on top.
And when I have another guy with me I can afford this kind of stuff – that’s why it’s nice to be in a team!
These ski jump competitions are pretty physical – lots of trekking up and down hills. The atmosphere is fantastic. That said you are thoroughly limited as a photographer. In Innsbruck there are big canvases blocking the wind that reduce the visibility from the spots we can shoot from.
The organisers have made it difficult to get to the good spots – you are increasingly kept to standard places so you know exactly what pictures to expect. The only variables are the weather – and luck.
Photography is a very humble sport – you never know what you are going to get. It takes you by surprise as well. You have to go with whatever’s happening around you – now it’s started snowing again, so maybe it will be good for some slow shutter action.
Today I was unlucky: I was not in the right position to capture a crash – by a couple of minutes. Oh - and another one - just now! Better get back to it…