Friday, December 21, 2012

A no picture blog.

So just a quick blog, no images as I thought I would try something different, today's blog is about being on a tour, this would apply to any sport where you are away for some time. Obviously the first thing you miss are your loved ones, but when you are away you do start missing other things, bacon sandwiches, proper green asparagus! (the white stuff over here is pants) are amongst the first things I have when I get back. You also miss things like a washing machine, travelling from hotel to hotel means limited time for laundrette runs, and sometimes finding a laundrette is like finding rocking horse pooh!! so most evenings are spent with the glamorous task of washing stinky gear by hand in a sink, and drying it on radiators. With all the travelling we do sometimes we arrive too late to check in, or if its a long drive then quite often you pull into a service station and have a nap, most motorway service stations have showers in them primarily for the truckers, and some of these are pretty darn grim, but a shower refreshes you for the remainder of your journey. Internet connections can be a nightmare, most places in Austria like to bleed every last penny out of tourists and charge for it, yet in Italy even a cheap @21 a night bed and breakfast gives me a free fast internet connection. People think that because we are in ski resorts it's all apres ski parties and fun, but for the majority of the real press and also the racers it's our job so most nights are spent in hotel rooms preparing for the next day, TV and Radio guys have to study and make notes, journalists have to do something I am sure ;-) photographers have to prepare all the background data for the images, study race lists and make a general plan of what they will do. With skiing being a mountain sport and the weather is always changing you have to prepare for all eventualities, failing to take up waterproof covers means you could kill you camera gear.
One of the items I carry around with me is a kettle, now this may sound daft, but when you are up a mountain for hours its nice to have a flask of coffee or tea, or soup. It's little things that help make the day seem so much nicer.

I will be back to bogging properly after the skier cross race.

So ta ta for now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A great weekend to be working with the US Ski Team

Ok so its blog time again, now that the craziness of a weekend in Sud Tirol is over, I have been shooting at probably my favourite ski resort, Val Gardena in italy, or Groeden as the Germans and Austrians know it by, it's in the dolomite mountains just inside Italy, I am not that sure about the history, but basically it was once Austria and is now Italy. I try and get by with my Gerglish, and Engtalian and seem to muddle on ok.

The day I arrived here it was a bit nippy, about -16 at 7pm, after collecting my accreditation and stuff and catching up with emails and boring stuff I hit the motorhome for some zzzzzs in the morning when I woke up everything had frozen, I am guessing it had got to -20 or colder, I tried lighting my gas fire but the type of gas I have is a load of steaming poop in cold conditions, so for the time being the touring and staying in a motorhome is on hold.

The races in Val Gardena are a Downhill and a SuperG (Downhill) is where they go as fast as possible from the top of a mountain to the bottom, with lots of jumps and bumps, (SuperG) is a slightly shorter course and more technical with more turns. (ski racing dumbed down there)

We had two training runs on the downhill course which allows us photographers to get to play and experiment with positions, well those photographers that are not on a mission to churn out the same old stuff every time they come to this race. On the first training run I shot a small ridge where I hoped to get some nice action I then had a second shot of the skiers in the air after the Saslong jump. Neither shot worked out quite as I had hoped but I was moderately happy.
A bit too much of a blokes arse in Spandex for my liking.
 This would have been ok if it had been sunny and a nice blue sky background.
 A super tough Norwegian skiing with a face mask so he does not ruin his beautiful face!!
You can retire from ski racing, but the pull of the mountain will always get you. Didier Cuche now working as a "consultant" with his Swiss team.

For the second training run I shot the first jump, only about 100mtrs or so from the start, but the background would have been blue sky if the weather had been ok but instead cloud and mountain, it was quite a nnice shot but bloomin hard work getting it, as I was standing on a very steep section for a couple of hours, which would be like trying to stand on one of those big exercise ball for a couple of hours you are constantly having to shift to stop yourself slipping, by the end of the session I was knackered and played safe walking down to a flat area before I put my skis on..

 Canadian skier and top bloke Jan Hudec taking off.
 Travis Ganong with a nice mountain view.
 A view of other photographers waiting for the race on a relatively flat section
 My office for the 2nd training run, steep and hard work, but the photos were worth the hard work.
At first I thought it was a Canadian coach being a ski biff, turns out the guy had blown out his knee but rather than get off the hill and get it fixed he skied down into his position to work, a true professional.

Friday was SuperG day, I had a couple of shots in mind, but in the end I settled on shooting a gate on a steep slope, which was a blind shot (I had no way of knowing when the skiers were coming) the action was not great but it was a nice challenge for me to practice and improve my timing, by trying to listen to the sound of skis gliding over ice, however the piste cleaners, gate keepers etc never seemed to shut up, it's quite a social occasion for these guys (I dont think they get out much) so if you add that to the fact that Italians like the sound of their own voices you get a peed off photographer, that jsut wants to shout "SHUT THE F%*K up" 

Travis Ganong coming down a steep section in the fog.... He didn't even recall their being fog.
 Ted Ligety speeding down the Super G course, not my greatest shoot but if you experiment sometimes they do not workout. Cest la Vie

Saturday was the Downhill race day, but the weather was awful, it was snowing hard, and also foggy, I decided that I would save the classic Val Gardena shot the Ciaslat bend for this day, so after skiing down to position after chatting to a couple of guys from the team, we had to wait, and wait and wait for the race to eventually start, at one stage I was convinced it would not happen and nearly skied off the hill, some guys did but after 5 hours of standing around in the snow they raced with no food or drink brought to us, they started a race which after a few racers was then put on hold for a short while because of fog.
Our equipment about 2 1/2 hours into a 5 hour wait for the race to start, 20 minutes before the race we had to almost dig it out, and after the race finding skis was a bit of a nightmare
A racers view from the start of the downhill course, picture was taken on the day of the 2nd training session.

Mr nice guy Steven Nyman who's promotion for sponsorship for the last Olympics had the tag #believeinsteven, believes he can fly (crap now I have the R Kelly song in my head)
My boss Doug Haney, alpine team press officer chats with Steven Nyman before the award ceremony.
Hear the mighty lion roar with pride.
It may be only one guy that crosses the finish line to win, but it takes a team effort to get him there. Coaching staff, fellow racers, physiotherapists, physical training instructors, doctors, ski technicians, chefs, friends etc etc all working behind the scenes for this moment of glory.

I was really happy to hear that a guy I am proud to call a friend one the race, Steven Nyman from the US team, who had won here in 2006 but since then has been virtually stuck with one injury or another. Of course with a guy from the team I am working with winning that means I need to get down the piste after the last racer pretty sharpish to shoot the presentation ceremony, I met up part of the way down with head Coach Sasha Rearick, and coach and ex ski racer TJ Lanning and after congratulating them on the win I tried to ski down with them to the finish... Now I may be a little mad but blimey that was a stupid thing for me to attempt carrying my camera gear after a bit of the way I suddenly came to my senses, and slowed down a bit, well after stopping to change my underpants after a little scared accident!! I made it down in time.. briefly congratulated Steven on the win and then fought my way into a decent spot for the presentation.

After editing and sending images to both the US Ski team and Getty Images it was a case of jump in a friends car and get over the pass to collect accreditations piste access brazzards and find out bed and breakfast.

Sunday was a giant slalom race in Alta Badia just over the mountain from Val Gardena, Alta Badia is notorious for being icy, I have shot here a few times, and once it was so cold the metal toe catch on my crampons snapped off, this year after the previous days snow it was not too bad, but I had left my skis in Val Gardena as there was no room in the car for them plus I was expecting another icey steep piste. So I walked down (with extra strong crampons) to a decent position, I was joined shortly before the race by one of the team coaches and the team doctor so for the first time in ages I would actually know what was happening in a race, it was also interesting to hear the conversations about how a certain ski brand seems to be better at handling the icy pitch than others, Ted Ligety murdered the first run, and was over 2 seconds faster than the 2nd placed racer, which if you think he missed out on a podium in a race recently by 1/100th of a second that was some margin.After the last racer I walked down the hill to find a position near the finish area, I had hoped to get a decent shot of Ted celebrating in front of the crowds, but alas that gamble didn't pay off, the photo looked crap so I didnt send it in the end. So with wins for Ted and Steven it' been a good weekend, long and hard but also fun. I am taking a few days off then I shall go and cover a skier cross event which I am looking forward to.
Ted getting nasty as the Americans say, he blitzed the first run.
Even on one ski he kicks arse.
The great thing about being with the team is you can get to capture moments others can't Ted getting congratulated by the head of the technical team Mike Day, and my fellow brit and the team conditioning coach Mark Dixon. Ted even found time to verbally abuse this poor little photographer as he stepped up to the TV stage for an interview. Wow I am so honoured............
Marcel Hirscher and Ted on the podium. These two guys will have a great GS battle all season long and I look forward to capturing more of the pair of them.
I created a comparison for the coaching staff of various skiers and how they each attack the same control gate, they all video the race, but its fast and you cant see the angles truly like you can in still images.

As a photographer I love Tim Jitloffs image, (bottom right) wiping his bum on the floor is much cheaper than buying Andrex toilet tissue.

Technical stuff

The equipment I use is:
Canon 1d mk4 camera
Canon 1d mk3 camera
Canon 5d camera
Canon 400mm f2.8 lens (mk1) big heavy bugger but works a treat
Canon 100-400mm great for technical races where you need different focal lengths
Canon 17-40mm nice for the wide angle shots and my office view shots
Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 I did have the Canon version but lost it years ago in a crevice on a mountain

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back on the white circus and first stop St Moritz

So back to blogging and blatant self promotion.

The Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup has returned to Central Europe, so that means I get to work, this season I am following the tour as best I can splitting my time between the men's and women's races, and to try and make it as cost effective as possible I shall be using my motorhome.

The drive down from London to St Moritz in Switzerland was done over a couple of days due to the fact my 24 year old van does not really like hills, or going over 50mph (80kph) unless it's going downhill. Because this season I am working alongside the US Ski team, I hope to get a reserved space at the races, with electric power to help keep warm and allow me to cook etc. In St Moritz I had a space next to a huge motorhome, so now I must sell loads of images and buy one to get rid of my jealousy.
This is the first time in years that I have been to a race in St Moritz or St Moretits as I prefer to call it (lots of plastic surgery enhanced women in town)
Because the town is situated high up in the mountains, the weather can be very very varied.. Most days it did not get warmer that -10 and when you take into consideration wind chill, it was a bloomin cold week. Image wise I did not take a decent photo, either because I was moved last minute from what I considered to be the best action shot, or I misread the course and the expected action didn't happen.
I had hoped to get some nice training shots pre race days but alas the weather conspired against me.

For the first race, a super combined race which features one run of super giant slalom and slalom, I misread the course and expected some action at a gate I was covering, but after the first fore runner I realised that I had screwed up and ran up the hill about 100mtrs to a safe spot to get a back up shot I had in mind. For the slalom I decided to stay in the finish area, as there was a chance that Lindsey Vonn would win and I wanted to capture her emotion as she crossed the line... But it was not to be oh well, Cest la vie.

On Saturday it was the Super Giant Slalom race, which for those that do not follow ski racing to often is a cross between a downhill race (where the nutters go fast as f@*k and a giant slalom, where they do lots of turney things) I skied the course a few times to find a nice position, which was quite near the top and I thought that a few skiers may get into weird positions as there was a hidden dip, and with the light being very flat, I hoped to capture some crackers, but alas this was not meant to be, just as the FIS officials were with me as we discussed the position a message came over their radio saying that the start gate was being lowered down the hill because of the pants weather. So I skied off to try and find another position. Had this been a sunny day this shot would have been really nice, with a blue sky background........
I had a friend covering the finish area for me, and because it was another win for the US Ski team through Lindsey Vonn, and a 3rd place through Julia Mancuso I was fortunate to get podium shots and finish area emotion shots.
The problem with shooting a speed event is as a photographer you are meant to stay in position until after the last racer. Sometimes we can get out if our position is near an exit point. Also in St Moritz, they do not allow photographers to ski into the finish area after the race so we can get the podium shots, but instead they make us ski out the course and walk around to the finish area and always this is too late for slow skiers like me. (try skiing fast with about 20kgs of camera gear that is your lively hood)

Sunday nd the last race day of the St Moritz weekend was a giant slalom race, I love shooting GS as it lends itself to great images. Going up the piste I had a big grin on my face as ther was a lovely blue sky or bluebird as my American colleagues call it. I found a great position and after shooting the racers inspect the course I sat down with a cup of tea to await the start.
The weather Gods however soon wiped that smile from my face.

This shot of Anne Sophie Barthet of France would have looked so much nicer had the bloomin clouds stayed away.

Photographing Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany is always great as she really seems to attack each gate.

Next stop on the tour is Val Gardena in Italy or Sud Tirol as the locals would prefer!!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Working with the US Ski Team

Time for a quick blog... hmm has anyone else noticed that Blog is similar to bog a place where people get rid of their crap?

For the past week I have had the good fortune to be working with the US Ski Team, as they trained at their winter base in Soelden. It's been a fun time and one good thing is I now have much more confidence skiing with my camera gear on me. I first learnt to ski 20+ years ago on a weeks course with the British Army, which basically entailed me on planks going down black runs with a hangover, so my ski style has always been rather more Banzai than style and grace!! I think sometimes I am a frustrated downhill racer (for those not ski officiandos the really long dangerous races with jumps and tight turns) Now however having skied alongside Olympic gold medal winners and taking photos at the same time I can safely say.... My skiing is still crap but I am faster at being crap. Anyway back to working with the team. As Soelden is not only the opening race in the season it's also the winter base for the US Ski Team, so there has been plenty of promotional work for the team to do. I have been covering the behind the scenes of these events, something quite new to me.For those of you that follow my life on social media, you will no doubt be aware of the day to day shoots and images I have produced but I will slap them on here as it's shameless self publishing.

Mr and Mrs Bode Miller (Morgan Beck) standing on a platform with a 400mtr drop beneath them during a photo shoot for Soelden tourist board. Hats off to Morgan as she does not like heights.

Members of the US team pose by a giant snowman. Austrian advertising companies certainly know how to stage a daft shoot!!

Getting ready for a team shot with a lovely background... Well had the Austrians not loved a seriously backlit image with the sun directly behind the team... Apparently it's called art.

Two olympic gold medal ski racers battle it out on a basketball court. Ted Ligety and Bode Miller during one of the teams fitness sessions.

Because of recent knee surgery Bode Miller will not be racing this weekend but has been doing some light ski training (still a hell of a lot faster than me)

Tim Jitloff (Jit) training on the race hill

A comparison shot of Ted Ligety (Shred) and Hannes Reichelt as they trained on the race hill

Cool ski racer and all round Mr Nice Guy Warner Nickerson knows how to dress for an occasion.

My favourite shot of the day when they trained on the hill, Austrian racer and future star, Marcel Mathis bails out at the top of a steep pitch.

Julia Mancuso hits a gate during the giant slalom training carried out in what is called the "Ice Box"

You can't hide from me Lindsey Vonn.

For once Ted Ligety is not chucking snowballs at me!!

Warner Nickerson gives the old wedding tackle a bit of a bashing as he attempts a "Donkey Kick" as been described by the Norwegian team

After seeing Julia Mancuso's great image from her new GoPro Hero3 camera (she is a GoPro Athlete) I thought I would try the same with my Hero2 I think I am prettier.

New kid on the block Robby Kelley training in the "Ice Box" Robby will be getting his first world cup start this weekend, and I think he will be a bit of a star in the future.

Young starlet Mikaela Shiffrin getting a nice low angle on a gate. I did cause a few giggles amongst the coaches when I asked if she was poor and could not afford loo roll as she is almost dragging her backside on the deck.

Enough of the pictures and stuff now, as it's the endless round of press conferences and stuff to shoot, so my leaving thoughts are:

With the start of the 2012-13 alpine world cup in a couple of days and with certain rule changes to equipment, there is a lot of people looking to see how this is going to effect races, I am no expert on turning radius and stuff like that, in fact when the coaches and racers go into the techno babble at meetings, I tend to start singing in my head to stop me nodding off and my snoring ruin the meeting. But what I have seen is the racers seem to find it harder to take a tight turn especially on the soft snow that is on the hill. The race hill will not be as soft I am sure as the course gets injected with water to aid in the hardening of the course making it like a solid sheet of ice ( this is a basic description so non ski racers can try and understand) so with skiers struggling to make turns I have the fear that there may be more crashes and injuries (I hope I am wrong) which now leads to a dilemma for me, do I inspect the course for great action shots, or inspect with the view that a part of the course is highly likely to spit out a racer, crash shots sell, but do I want to witness more friends getting injured? I guess this will be a spur of the moment decision when I am on the hill.