Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Photographing ski jumping - something I have always wanted to try

If you have been following along on with the blog for the last couple of days, you know that I covered 3 different events in one day. And, as promised, here is the post showing the last of those three events. This time it was ski jumping. Ever since covering the Olympics, I have wanted to photograph ski jumping, since it is visually so cool. but, up until now, I have never had the time to make it to this sport.

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.

This particular photo position is designed for photographers to capture the end of the run, and more importantly, the athlete's reaction to their jump.

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 another vertical shot.

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.

After capturing countless jumpers at fast shutter speeds, it was time to try and capture some motion blur. Why? Because I already had the safe shots, and wanted to get something different. For these shots, I changed the camera to shutter priority mode and set the shutter speed to 1/125th. Panning along with these jumpers ain't easy, and most of my slow shutter photos looked like this. Throw aways. (Funny story - I was going through these photos on the hour long bus ride back to the coast, and the woman next to me looked at me like "seriously, your a photographer???" when seeing all these blurry shots.)

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.


Unknown said...

Enjoying watching your blog posts. I'm curious on the Ski Jump and Luge shots, how high did you have to go on the ISO to stop the action? Also, what do you use to reduce noise? I'm shooting a state HS swimming event this weekend. I've been sing NeatImage but am considering Topaz tool now.

Aubrey said...

Hi Jeff...I have been following your work and yeah :I AM INSPIRED AND THANX for explaining your Camera settings as well...

Unknown said...

Great shots and as always good story. Thx and hope to see more yours pic of ski jump soon !

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff Jeff. Glad that you got to fulfill a dream. Very cool shots, thanks for captioning out what was going on also, makes me almost feel like I was there.

Kevin Hall,UK said...

Great captures of the jumping & very informative blog ,Nice work Jeff !

Kevin Hall,UK said...

Great captures of the jumping & very informative blog ,Nice work Jeff !

Anonymous said...

Great photographs Jeff! Has to be said that if one is looking for that "dream" photograph, then climb that mountain. :)

John Gutierrez
Austin, TX

Unknown said...

Love your blog! Thank you! As usual, pics are awesome!

Alex said...

Another awesome post. Thanks for all the inside info. I really loved the first vertical image, you looked almost head on with the jumper. The DOF on the foreground really beings that image image into perspective.

Taku said...

Congratulations on being able to shoot your dream shot Jeff! There's always shots that I'm after during events too, while sometimes I get it, other times I don't. As an event photographer myself, I appreciate all your effort in getting these shots. I love how you like to experiment and try different things during your shoots. I'll be doing the same next time as well. Nice bus story too. I had to laugh at that one. :)
Love your blog! Keep it up, and thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Jeff these are amazing! Thanks!!

Jerry said...

Thanks for posting your work...great stuff.

Jerry said...

Thanks posting your work....great stuff.

Troy Breidenbach said...

When you're panning, are you focused on their chest or face?

Mark R Coons - Music Man5 Photos said...

Wow! Very cool Jeff, thanks a lot for sharing.

Dawn Gail said...

Love the pictures. While watching on TV knew you were taking pictures and could not wait to see the pictures you posted.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your pics. They
are good.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your pics. They are very good.

Dandy said...

I really appreciate your posts, but it kind of set of bells that you are revealing security measures at Sochi publicly. Be careful about what you reveal. Those security measures are there for the safety of you and everyone there.

Kerry Frank said...

FABULOUS Jeff, just fabulous shots! Thanks so much for sharing the backstory behind the photos.

Alan S said...


Amazing shots and great commentary, too!

Unknown said...

Jeff-You have some amazing images. I am very jealous, and enjoy being able to live vicariously through your blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to post your beautiful photos and great stories of the games. One day I hope I can get to be able to photograph sports in the way you do. Unfortunately, I don't live anywhere near pro sports :(
Keep up the great work!

Luis said...

Is it my imagination, or one of the sky jumpers has a prosthetic arm?

Ruben said...

Great shots. Thanks for explaining how you did them. Look forward to seeing more of your beautiful pictures!

Unknown said...

It is fun to watch someone get to follow a dream and try capturing something for the first time.

Great photos and perspective. The only thing missing are the sounds.

I remember shooting training jumps at Lake Placid and all the noises and quiet taking place as they jumped.

Unknown said...

It is fun to watch someone get to follow a dream and try capturing something for the first time.

Great photos and perspective. The only thing missing are the sounds.

I remember shooting training jumps at Lake Placid and all the noises and quiet taking place as they jumped. That was back in the late 70s.

Larry S. said...

Thanks again, Jeff! More great shots, more great detail. It really makes me want to get out there and try everything.

ncoomber1961 said...

Great blog jeff felt like was right there with you. Looking forward to more.

Jay B. Wilson said...

Great post. I love panning, too, and often get the same reaction when someone sees me going through my throwaways. Here in NYC, the best subject for panning is taxi cabs - they're high contrast, you can select a variety of posts with great backgrounds to blur (like neon!) and the writing on the side of the cab is a great indicator of whether you got the subject in focus. Great work, Jeff.

Greg B. said...


I really enjoy reading your post about the photos taken at the Olympics. Not only do you have great photos but I like that you not only include the technical details (ISO, aperture and shutter speed) but you also include details such as getting the Olympic rings in the shot. It's almost like being there beside you.

I don't know how you can find the time go get the great shots, do some post processing and update your blog as often as you do. Thanks for putting in the time and effort for this.

Greg Brennfleck

julie hartman said...

Wonderful shots Jeff, I check in with you first thing in the morning before I hear Matt Laurer recap the previous days events! Keep up the excitement!