Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soelden or is it Solden? Alpine Skiing World Cup opening races of the season 2009

The ski race season has started up again, so I jumped in the motorhome and headed to Austria and the resort of Soelden, where the annual opening races for both men and women take place. Due to the fact a few days before I went my grandmother was rushed to hospital I didnt quite prepare myself properly for the trip! I had been sitting by her bedside for 5 or 6 days instead of getting my stuff together properly. So when I arrived in Austria, it dawned on me that I had left behind my main sports camera the Canon 1d Mk3 my flash units (or strobes as they are called in the USA) also my stock of spare memory cards, spare batteries for my Macbook pro my tripod and a few other bits and pieces of camera gear. I also left behind my ski trousers. I use the Spyder Coach Pants as they have padded knees which means my old bones do not get so cold when I am kneeling on the snow.
For the races press conferences etc all I had would be a Canon 5d mk1 a Canon 20d with a built in flash, luckily for me both cameras had 8gb compact flash cards so I could at least shoot in raw (CR2) and download my images after each event.

I went up to the glacier on the Friday to have a bit of practice on my skis and to try and get some of the head and shoulder stock shots of some of the skiers, it also meant I could catch up with a few that I know. At some stage during my skiing I crashed out, nothing unusual about that as I always crash and fall over with a heavy camera bag on my back 40kgs or more sometimes throws your balance out! that's my excuse and I am sticking with it... I had not fully zipped up my bag and good old sod's law took over which meant that one of my lenses escaped and rolled down the mountain into a crevasse great!! all I could do was just lay there and watch a £1200 lens go to it's death.

On the Friday night I went to the womens USA ski team hotel as I had arranged for some of them to cut my hair and shave my beard off, to raise funds to help the ski racer Cody Marshall from the USA in his rehabilitation following a serious head injury. Lots of Cody's team mates and coaches from the mens team came over and also helped out.

Picture of me getting my hair shaved off by Olympic Gold Medal winner Julia Mancuso.

Saturday was the ladies race I was up the top of the mountain by 0730 the aim was to get shots of Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, Resi Stiegler, Chemmy Alcott, Nikki Hosp, and Kathrin Zettle doing their course inspection. But the fog put paid to that idea!! It had also snowed a fair amount the previous night so we had to wait for them to clear the course before the race could start!! For this event I was working for US Presswire, and also ActionPlus a UK agency. the best shot from Soelden is the one I shot last year with the skiers going past a gate and blue sky in the background.

Julia Mancuso (USA) during the 2008 race.

This year because I was working for a news agency I would have to look for a different position away from the other agencies. I settled for a back lit shot (where the sun is behind the main subject) I had 2 control gates covered from my position a head on shot,

Lindsey Vonn (USA) Canon 5d 400mm f2.8 lens set to manual ISO 400 aperture F5.6 exposure 1/4000

and a more side on shot.

Kajsa Kling (SWE) Canon 5d 400mm f2.8 lens set to Manual ISO 200 Aperture f5 exposure 1/4000
Shooting with the Canon 5d posed a few problems firstly the cold sucks all the life out of the batteries, secondly you only get 3fps or 3 frames per second in theory! for a fast paced sport like skiing that means you are lucky if you get 2 frames in the tight area you are focused on. The other problem is the auto focus is not as fast as a specialist sport camera like the 1d mk3. I found however that by using the back focus button and pre-focusing on the middle of the control post on the post the skier would attack on the first gate I was getting a good percentage of my shots sharp enough to use.
I shot nearly all the racers before my batteries gave out I had used 4 batteries to shoot the same amount of pictures I normally use 1 battery for.

For the second run of the race I stayed in the finish area to try and capture the skiers emotions as they crossed the line, and then also to get the podium shots. Last year I had the Young Apprentice Aislinn working with me and she did the finish area but due to her University studies she could not make this set of races. A real shame as she is Queen of the finish area and always managed to get the top shots..
The race was won by Tania POUTIAINEN (FIN) with Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 2nd and Denise Karbon (ITA) 3rd

Sunday was the mens race and again I had all the same problems as the previous day with batteries etc. Position wise I managed to get a spot in front of the TV cameraman so I could get a nice action shot with a mountain for background, again this was a back lit shot so I was constantly tweaking the camera settings, the race started in cloudy dull light but that changed to bright sunshine about the moment Didier Cuche (SUI) hit the gate I was covering, so my shot got horrendously over exposed. This is where shooting in RAW format (CR2) comes into it's own as you can retrieve a lot of information from the image that you have lost for good with shooting JPEG

Didier Cuche (SUI) Canon EOS 5d 400mm f2.8 lens Settings: Manual, ISO 500 aperture F4.5 Exposure 1/2500

Tommy Ford (USA) Canon EOS 5d 400mm f2.8 lens Settings: Manual, ISO 400 Aperture f6.3 Exposure 1/4000

Just after the last American racer passed me on the first run, I got a call from my sister to tell me my nan had passed away. So I walked off the hill and went back to the press room, I then shot the second run from the finish area the same as the womens race but my heart was not in the shoot.

Tha race was won by Didier Cuche (SUI) with Ted Ligety (USA) 2nd and Carlo Janka (SUI) 3rd

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