And...as it turns out, I almost did not make this one!
I left the Sanki Sliding Center two hours before the ski jumping was to start. I knew that I would have to take two different press buses to get to the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center, and I also knew that you had to be in position before the jumping starts. Leaving two hours seemed like overkill, but I had already captured what I wanted in the luge event, and figured that I would rather be safe than sorry.
The first bus ride was smooth, going down the hill from the sliding center, but then there was a lack of communications back in town. It took me 20 minutes to find the right press bus up to RuSki Gorki. And then, the real problem occurred.
You see, the security has tightened up, and appears to be much more strict in the mountains. Normally, once we go through security, we are in the "clean zone". Down in the coastal cluster, once you are clean, there is minimal security going from one venue to another. Not in the mountains!
We got on the bus, and a security person entered the bus to scan all of our credentials. This was the first time that I saw this, although it happened everyday in London, so no big deal. But then, once everyone is cleared, the security person gets off of the bus and tapes all the doors shut. As long as the tape is unbroken when we get to our destination, all is good.
But, for some reason, one of the pieces of tape on the back door of our bus must have ripped. When we pulled into the jumping center, security people freaked out and wanted to know if anyone got on or off of the bus. So, one by one, we were escorted off of the bus and brought into a room to go through more security.
I made it though this security, looked at my watch and noticed that it was now 9:30pm. Starting time for the event. Damn!
Since it was too late to get a good photo position (where I could be close to the action), I had to stay back at a position that was REALLY far from the jumpers. I was told that I had to stay there until the break, 45 minutes away. Ughhh. Luckily I had the Canon 200-400mm lens which has a built in teleconverter so I could shoot at 560mm.
This far position was good for some "wide" shots like this, showing the jumper over the Olympic rings.
And...I could get some shots of them making their landings. Shooting with a big zoom lens, it was difficult to track these guys and keep them in the focus points throughout their jumps.
So, for 30 minutes I photographed from afar, and then just stopped since I had so many photos which I knew would be ok, but nothing amazing.
Then, it was break time, and I had already walked to the entry point, to get into position before the jumpers started their second round of jumps. I was finally going to get a chance to photograph these guys flying through the air like I have always wanted to do.
So, I started my climb. What I did not tell you yet, is that the initial climb up to the venue for everyone (press, spectators...) was about 500 stairs. This was a lot of fun, carrying all my equipment and the big 200-400 beast. And now I had some more climbing to do. At least I was getting my workout. My FitBit said that I climbed 71 flights of stairs that day.
And just like the half pipe venue in Vancouver, where we had to climb forever, there is no bathroom at the top. If you were to need go, you were told to walk back down to the base of the mountain. Trust me, you just hold it!
I climbed up the jump and watched the workers preparing the jump for round 2. I saw this guy drilling and replacing the little pieces of spruce, which are placed all over the bottom of the jump. My son saw the iPhone picture that I had posted on Facebook and he texted me and asked what these plants were for. These are there to help the jumpers determine their location. Think about it, if you were flying hundreds of feet at highway speeds, it would be hard to determine your height and distance if all you had was a patch of white in front of you. Then again, I doubt that many of us will ever have this challenge! I know that I won't.
This was so much more fun to shoot from this vantage point. Now I could clearly see the bend of the skis and reactions on the athlete's faces. They was so close to me, that I could ditch the 200-400mm lens and handhold the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I set the camera to manual mode (ISO 1000, f/2.8, with a shutter speed of 1/1600) and fired away happily.
This was very close to the photo I had dreamed of capturing. I decided to shoot this vertically, to show the jumper and the spruce in the snow.
And then, after capturing some good verticals, I went back to horizontal position.
It was especially hard as they approached me at 60mph.
This is the shot that I wanted! When going through the photos, I was happy to see this one. Normally, I would want the jumper to wear something other than a black suit, but with the stadium lights backlighting him, it worked perfectly. And the reaction on his face is priceless.
Here is a brighter suit, but the lighting is not quit as dramatic as the photo above. But, I still like this photo and may crop it tighter for my portfolio.
At this point, I wanted to move further up the jump, but there are rules against this. They do not want any movement on the jump as it can distract the jumpers, and it can also move the TV cameras, which are mounted on the same staircase.
With a little patience and some steady hand holding, I was able to capture a couple of solid motion pan shots.
When shooting motion pan shots like this, it is key to move at the EXACT same speed as you subject.
You know you have a keeper when the background shows motion, but your subject is tack sharp. This is an enlargement of the same image. I usually look at the writing on their helmets of outfits to see if it is clear.
If you have never tried this, you should. And remember, even us pros have a lot of throw aways when shooting this way. Don't get discouraged.
Then it was medal time, and once again, I was there to capture the excitement.
Kamil Stoch celebrated his gold medal performance, and I silently celebrated my own personal accomplishment.