Photographers' Blog

Eagles without wings

Oberstdorf, Germany to Bischofshofen, Austria

By Kai Pfaffenbach

For a German sports photographer covering first division Bundesliga soccer, every week between December and the end of January is actually quite boring. While other major leagues (not only in soccer) continue their season, Bundesliga is “off” for four weeks. Although I would normally tend to miss “my“ weekly fix of soccer, I always look forward to the so-called “winter break”. It gives me time to cover one of the sports events I really love to photograph: the four hills ski jumping tournament.

As a young boy watching it on TV, I could never imagine standing on top of such a ski jump. But it was my 14th time this year traveling from Oberstdorf, Germany’s most southern city, where the opening jumping is traditionally held, to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the “new-year-jumping” on January 1. After those two jumpings in Germany, the tournament convoy rides to Innsbruck in Austria and then the final “epiphany jumping” in Bischofshofen. Four different cities in nine days. Up to 30,000 spectators cheering their heroes when they soar down.

But it seems ski jumping is not very popular overseas. Besides the strong Japanese team, all the top athletes come from central Europe. The top leading nations this winter are Austria, Norway and Germany. No wonder this year’s tournament was a duel between Austria’s ski jumping super star Gregor Schlierenzauer and Norway’s Anders Jacobsen. As wind, snow and rain are new challenges to the athletes during each jumping, it is a great challenge for a photographer to find new angles and develop ideas for “new” pictures.

The officials of the International Ski Federation FIS are incredibly helpful and give me opportunities which I never get anywhere else. They let me mount a camera on a pole behind the jumper to capture the moment before they descend the starting beam. And they allow me to set up a camera directly at the end of the slide track at the so called “jumping table.” It gives you a unique view from “ski-level” and offers the panoramic view the jumper has.

The one and only problem is the speed of the jumpers. They reach almost 100kmh just before they take off and although our cameras have 1/8000 sec as the fastest shutter speed and can take up to 14 images per second you will only have one proper picture of the athlete “taking off.” Using a photoelectric barrier solved the “timing” problem.

Shooting birdmen

Downhill from the height of a 30-story-building and soaring through the air: this is the definition of ski jumping. The skiers reminded me of birdmen, or extreme skydivers.

Austria's Stefan Thurnbichler soars through the air during the practice session of  the FIS World Cup Ski Jumping in Sapporo, northern Japan, January 15, 2011.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

While I was covering the “birdmen” at the Sapporo Ski Jumping World Cup, I noticed a similarity between shooting ski jumping and the job of Siberian hunters, which I had watched in a TV documentary. Instead of the hunters’ trap, I set up a remote-controlled camera at the bottom of the slope to capture the leap.

Austria's Andreas Kofler soars through the air to take first place in the FIS World Cup Ski Jumping in Sapporo, northern Japan, January 16, 2011.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-HoonInstead of their hunting rifle and telescope sight to pursue deer across the snow-covered Siberian plains, I had a 400mm lens with a converter in my hands and my viewfinder was aimed at the flying birdmen at a snow-covered ski resort. My camera fired like a gun whenever the birdmen appeared in my sights.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 16 2011

Our thoughts are with photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega who was covering the street protests in Tunisia who is now in a critical condition after sustaining head injuries on Friday from a tear gas canister fired by a nearby police officer.


A passenger in a car waves for assistance as a flash flood sweeps across an intersection in Toowoomba, 105 km (65 miles) west of Brisbane, January 10, 2011. Tsunami-like flash floods raced towards Australia's third-largest city of Brisbane on Tuesday, prompting evacuations of its outskirts, flood warnings for the financial district and predictions that  the death toll is likely to climb.     REUTERS/Tomas Guerin

Rupert Murdoch's iPad only newspaper "The Daily" is getting closer to launch (reports say the proposed launch of January 19th was delayed due to technical glitches) and others are  launching similar pay-for publications. Along with rumours of an imminent iPad2 and Apple's competitors rushing to launch their own tablet devices, it seems to me much more likely that people will once more expect to pay for their news as opposed to expecting  to get it free. They will now have a device to easily download and read news and look at pictures and video immediately. Maybe the much heralded notion that the sometimes faster, but unsubstantiated, social media generated news would be the death knell of main stream media (why should I pay for the news when I get it free from the net quicker?) might have been a little premature and could actually be one of the factors that contribute to people expecting to pay for quality news viewed on hand held devices. What do you think?

from Left field:

Sports picture of the day

GERMANY/ Sports Pictures Editor Greg Bos has varied the theme today and gone for a picture from the world ski jumping championships. Here's Greg's view of the shot: I like this picture from Munich-based photographer Michael Dalder because he took the time to find a different angle and made a beautiful picture combining the falling snow and a spot light to isolate the ski jumper in mid air.

Original caption: Austria's Martin Koch soars through the air during his second round jump at the ski jumping World Championships in Oberstdorf, February 13, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Dalder  

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