This is the third in a series of blog type articles I have been thinking about for a while. I realize that this isn't really "news" but in the past Newschoolers has encouraged this type of writing. This is just meant to be a discussion of my personal opinion and I realize that not everyone will find it interesting. Let me know in the comments what you think. Thanks!
Check out part 1, What? here: http://www.newschoolers.com/membernewsread/44697/What-?c=latest&o=2
and part 2, Why? here: http://www.newschoolers.com/membernewsread/44770/Why-?c=latest&o=2
Every time anyone writes anything about taking better sports pictures they mention communication between the athlete and the artist. They usually just mention it in passing, assuming there is not much to be said. I think that this relationship deserves a second look. This article introduces the topic with more articles following to expand and delve into the issue.
Some monochrome cliff dropping to start things off.
The relationship between the athlete and photographer is complicated. Often they have very different goals and even when they both share the same goal their ways of realizing it can be very different. This can lead to conflicts and difficulties that derail a shoot. In the past when I wasn't shooting seriously everything was simple. I took mediocre pictures of decent skiers doing run of the mill tricks. As soon as I transitioned to shooting seriously and trying to get good photos every time I skied things changed dramatically. With publicity comes pressure and other problems.
Caleb E gets it done
Now I use one of two basic strategies to shoot. For the sake of simplicity I will call them the athlete based and the spray and pray methods. The athlete based method consists of going up with one or two guys with the specific purpose of getting good shots. The spray and pray method involves getting random groups of skiers to hit a feature while I hold down the shutter and hope one turns out. I will outline the specific pros and cons of each bellow.
James E sets a flat three
I started out with the athlete based method. I am fortunate enough to know a few good skiers who are kind enough to shoot with me. These guys are incredible to ski with since they both understand my goals and are very creative as well as solid skiers. Caleb E. has had great shots with me and with Josh Satterfield and James E. has shot with me almost every day this season. With these guys I can go out with the shared goal of getting great shots and we can realize it together. Early this season I took a two day trip with James and Caleb to shoot park at Schweitzer. On that trip I got the in-air close ups of James' safety grab and Caleb's japan that I would call my first two good ski photos. Those were the result of hitting the same feature multiple times trying to get the timing and angle right for the shot we all pictured.
Caleb can drive trucks as well as grab japan
James can drop cliffs...
...and slash turns
Another prime example of this is this shot of James' brother, Ian. He has only been able to get up for a few days this year so when I got the opportunity to shoot with him I was determined to get at least one shot. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. When we arrived it was freezing cold, dumping snow, and the wind was howling. Lifts were on wind hold and visibility was almost nonexistent. I ended up only being able to take two laps with the camera and only shot three or four features. I put my camera back in the lodge disappointed that I hadn't been able to shoot anything worthwhile of Ian. When I got home I loaded the photos and started processing them. When I changed this one to black and white I realized that I had a winner. From the whole day I only had two shots where the skier was in the right position and the camera wasn't covered in snow. Basically the percentage of good pictures was very high compared to the amount I shot. Quality beat quantity.
One of the few useable shots from this day.
The only other useable shot from the same day. Conditions were wet.
This more personal process with the athlete is even more visible in the pow slash pictures I shoot with James. We started taking these because we were frustrated with Schweitzer's social media team. They always talk up conditions and post up pictures that make the skiing look much better then it actually is. We figured we could replicate their technique so on a crummy snow day we set out to take the best deep pow shot possible. The mountain had received three inches of fresh snow three days before and although most of it was tracked out and frozen crud there were still hidden patches big enough for one turn. We systematically worked our way down the mountain stopping at every patch to shoot. James would straight-line in and crank a turn in the fresh patch, usually bogging down as he came out of the turn. I would shoot at the apex of his turn, capturing his almost pitted technique. I want to dive deeper into the practical aspect of the athlete communication required here in a later article but for now suffice it to say that communication was the most important part of this process since we had to make sure he made his turn at exactly the right place.
Our first "deep" shot.
I had to develop the spray and pray method on a day when I went up to the mountain without any of my usual subjects. I was planing on just skiing for myself for a day but that got boring quickly since I'm pretty bad at skiing park and I really wanted to shoot photos. I ended up just going up to a group of people I had seen around a lot and introducing myself. I told them I took ski photos and I asked them if I could chase them around for a few runs. This technique worked out much differently for me. I ended up setting up at a feature while six or eight people hit it in a row with my shutter clicking madly away. After a few runs I realized I this was not working out. I asked the guys to start trying specific tricks and I got some better shots but still nothing the quality of the shots I usually get shooting one on one with an athlete. I think there is a place for the spray and pray method but it needs to be better developed to realize it to its true potential. I think a good place to start is to use the crowd to the photographer's advantage and have a bunch of people hit the feature at once.
One of the pros of the spray and pray method is all the friend requests you get on Facebook when you get home.
You also get to see people try tricks for the first time.
Trying to get artistic while spraying and praying
Definitely the best shot I have captured with this method.
This is a prime example of a totally unplanned shot. I saw this guy killing it from the top of the park and I chased him down to get his story and take his picture.
I want to go on about the mentality it takes as an athlete to be photogenic and specific techniques that help me work with the skier but by this point the average attention span has been exhausted so those topics will have to wait for future articles.
Thank you for your time!
I'll leave you with one real pow slash shot.