Richard Heathcote, Sports Photographer for Getty Images, is in Sochi to cover the Winter Olympic Games. He shares his expert insight on shooting winter sports.
“Capturing that moment, whether it’s the emotions of victory, tears of despair or a key split second of action is what good sport photographers strive for. We like to be able to tell the story of the event but also be able to create an image that can be considered a piece of artwork that stands the test of time.
Normally with winter sports you get lots of different colours, bright suits, colourful sleds and reflective goggles all contrasting with the white snow and ice that is part of a winter Olympiad. It’s these strong colours that help to make dynamic exciting pictures that get everyone’s attention.
The majority of my experience shooting winter sports lies between the Bobsleigh track and the Nordic Combined, having covered them at Winter Olympics and World Championships. For both there are key photographic techniques you want to consider to capture the best images.
The Skeleton makes for great pictures at the start as the athletes hurl themselves down the track head first, here you want to freeze them in that mid-air jump using a fast shutter speed 1/1000th sec or faster and a wide open aperture to throw the background out of focus. In contrast to that you also want to show the speed they travel at as they descend the twists and turns to the finish line, using a slow shutter speed like 1/20thsec you can pan the subject creating a blur of colors while keeping the sliders sharp.
The important thing to remember is to find interesting colours and to keep the subject in the same part of the frame so they stay sharp. A good tip to achieve this is to pre-focus and then switch to MF and use one of the AF points as a reference place to keep the bobsleigh in.
Similar techniques can be applied to the Nordic athletes when they jump, the backgrounds can be quite distracting or boring like trees so the slower shutter speed helps them standout.
The best bit of advice I can offer is to always look for something different, shafts of light through blinds used to keep the ice cool against the sun or a skier climbing up a hill silhouetted against a dark sky.
The more you practice the better you’ll get.”See more from Richard Heathcote at the Winter Olympic Games.