When I heard the IOC was staging their first Youth Winter Olympics (in Innsbruck, Austria from 13th – 22nd of January), I jumped at the opportunity to cover. Covering the Olympics is one of the biggest challenges for any sports photographer. With so many different sports, it’s a fresh change to your usual schedule.
Finding that the speed skating event was taking place outside, I knew this would produce good results. The oval track was used for the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, and with reflections created by the ice, it means good opportunities photographically. Fortunately the sun was shining, so it was ideal conditions, but it wasn’t straight forward to get the perfect angle.
The picture of Anastasiya Kapustina of Belarus competing in the Ladies 3,000m race was the strongest picture I took at the games. Being a 3,000m race, the skaters arm movements were not as big as the sprinters that compete in the 500m. However, I captured the leg movement in a good position as she raced past the spot of sunlight on the track silhouetting the body as well as showing the shadow reflected on the ice.
With the sun moving during every race, I had to adjust my position and hope she made a good shape in the area of light. I was shooting from the spectators stand and needed some extra height so I climbed a little higher. After many laps of failed attempts it finally lined up just right. It’s perfectly symmetrical and very graphic in shape. With a monotone look it’s simple but effective. I shot this on a Canon Eos D1 Mark 4 body, 70-200 lens. ISO 100, F.16 and shutter 2500/sec.
There’s a lot of preparation involved before attending a winter sport event. It’s tough when packing before the journey, needing so many different pieces of winter clothing. My salopettes kept me well covered and crampons were needed to help keep still on the steep mountain face. The lack of sun on nearly all of the outdoor venues made it difficult to create nice photos but also meant sitting around in cold conditions hours on end. Hand and feet warmers were essential on the alpine events as you could be sitting in the shade for several hours.
For the skiing, I had to be in a position an hour before it started. After a ski down the slope to view possible positions I was set on a chosen spot. Once they begin, a lot of concentration is needed so you don’t miss a runner speeding down. The photograph of Nora Grieg Christensen of Norwegian in the Ladies Super Combined is nice because of her facial expression, mouth wide open hoping she makes it down in one piece.
Shooting several different sports that you are not used to, researching the rules and schedule format is a must. I’ve shot an Olympic games before and this was very similar but on a much smaller scale. These athletes are all under the age of 18 and not used to media interest. This made it more interesting to me, as it would be the first time these athletes would have experienced success or failure. This showed in many of my photos.
I was working alongside Shaun Botterill and Martin Rose so we rotated between the different venues each day. Martin brought his ice hockey goal cam remote which he uses on the German Ice Hockey League. This gives the photographer a unique angle and one that no photographer could actually place themselves. I borrowed his equipment one morning, but made an error by attaching the remote to the wrong goal. After realizing I had attached it to the training net and not the match net I had minutes left to quickly swap it over before the players were about to enter the arena to begin their warm up. It was worth it though, capturing a nice Swedish goal celebration.
The outdoor winter sports generally start early so getting yourself to the main media centre to catch a bus and arriving at a venue before the sun rose was not unusual. Shooting winter sports is a real challenge, as it’s hard to move about. Unless you grew up in a ski resort or by a mountain, it proves very tricky. Not falling over was a challenge as we set ourselves on the icy roads and steep slopes. We had a lot of snow before it began so this was perfect competition conditions – but we encountered some more snow/poor visibility and windy conditions during the games. Our schedule was very weather dependant as some of the Alpine/Nordic events were changed or cancelled.
This event gave me the opportunity to cover many winter sports I had never photographed before. Understanding the photo positions for ski jumping was interesting for example and a little dangerous at the same time. One mistake and you may end up at the bottom of the slope.
I captured an interesting picture of five judges viewing with great interest out of their windows as the ski jumper flew past. I like the diagonal composition and facial expressions of their faces, each of the judges tilting their necks to get the correct perspective.
The Nordic events were being staged 20km away from Innsbruck in Seefeld. These events were a challenge to cover but very interesting to shoot. I shot the Biathlon and wanted to show the different sides to this sport, skiing cross country and the competitors shooting at targets and finally placing myself at the finish line to capture the athlete’s emotions. While seeking a good spot on the cross country route I found a misty river. With the sun rising behind I silhouetted the skier in front of the white snow. After achieving this shot and a couple of stock shots of each competitor I had to rush back to the finish line to get the winner.
These athletes are super fit — skiing long distances to then compose themselves to shoot at targets. A target missed means a skier skiing around a 150m penalty loop. This is all in view around the finish area which makes for high drama. The shot I like (one that sums up the efforts put into this event) is of the winner collapsing to the floor at the finish line: pure exhaustion.