Photographers' Blog

Fast and fearless: photographing at Sochi’s Sanki Sliding Center

February 18, 2014

Rosa Khutor, Russia

By Fabrizio Bensch

It must take a lot of courage for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitors to hurl themselves at mega speeds down the 1,365-meter ice track at the Sanki Sliding Center. It looks crazy – would you do it?

Sanki is one of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic venues, where some of the world’s best athletes compete for glory. The venue is some 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Sochi in the “mountain cluster” of Olympic venues.

Throughout the Games, my photography colleagues Arnd Wiegmann from Switzerland, Murad Sezer from Turkey and myself have been getting up in the early hours of the morning to start what is normally a 14-hour day. We travel to the venue using a cable car and cover everything from the training sessions in the morning to the competitions in the evening.

I love being so close to the track and shooting pictures that tell stories of success and failure, dreams and defeat. Minutes, seconds and thousandths of a second can decide an athlete’s fate as he or she speeds down the track for bronze, silver or that highly coveted gold medal.

Before the speaker makes his announcement: “Clear the track, clear the track, one minute to the start!”, we photographers have often been in our positions at the starting line for one or two hours, waiting to capture the moment when a luger is adjusting his or her visor and concentrating on the run. We always try to find the best possible angle to show how spectacular and fast-paced the ice-track sports are.

Capturing the Olympic Rings on the track is especially difficult, but can be essential to a good picture. It’s not easy to freeze the moment when a luge, skeleton or bobsled speeds past at over 100 kilometers per hour and capture it with the Olympic logo in the frame!

We also keep our eyes open for any accidents, which would be very important news stories, but fortunately the Sanki track is very safe.

Reuters photos show the same race from different angels – front, top and sides. But how do we get all these different shots of the track at the same moment, especially when the athletes pass the photographer just twice in a race? The secret is our remotely triggered cameras.

We use a specially developed, high-speed motion sensor to trigger several remote cameras at the same time – including pictures with the Olympic rings in them. The sensors detect luge, skeleton or bobsleigh drivers when they are a certain distance from the rings, and then wirelessly set off the remote cameras pointed at the iconic Olympic symbol.

The remote technology gives me the freedom to shoot other pictures with my handheld camera – a long-lens with a low shutter speed – to get a nice motion image. Perfect for these sports!

Within seconds, the pictures captured by the remote and handheld cameras are automatically transmitted over a wireless connection to our editor Pawel Kopczynski at the main media center in Sochi.

He edits the images with our remote system, and in minutes my shots arrive at the desks of our online and newspapers clients around the world. There is not only speed on the track, there is speed in the pictures! Fast – and with rings on them!

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