‘Big Mountain’ – the clue is in the name. Where – on that wide open, steep, gnarly looking terrain – can one person and their camera safely position themselves with any hope of snapping a shot at the exact moment a competitor comes charging over their heads? Freeride event photography is not for the faint of heart. Luckily, we have NZ Skier Mag’s Neil Kerr on the case. He shares some of his experiences over many years and many comps.
Where on the mountain do you go to get those epic photos?
This is one of the conundrums of shooting big mountain events as the venue is usually spread over a large area that’s impossible to shoot from one position. So I tend to work my way through the terrain and shoot from a couple of different angles. Getting as close to the athletes as possible really helps give a perspective of steepness and extreme nature of the terrain and I much prefer this over the other option of sitting miles away with a huge zoom lens. A lot of athletes will ski completely different lines through the venue. I usually have a chat to a handful of key riders at the top and suss out where they are thinking of going then try and position myself in a spot that can cover a few different options. Some venues are harder than others but most tend to have one zone that will attract a lot of traffic and is usually a safe bet for photos.
Many close calls with people nearly landing on you?!
Not too many as I tend to try and put myself in positions where I think I’m safe, however athletes do sometimes surprise you in where they can get to and I have had a few sail over the top of my head. But 95% of the time I feel very safe. It tends to work the other way in that I’m usually first one to the scene of a crash as I’m in the middle of the course somewhere and can get to an injured rider before ski patrol.
Most memorable shot you’ve taken?
Hard to put my finger on a favourite one particular shot, for me it’s been more about the memories of documenting the different riders over the years from the Geoff Small, Hamish Acland, Sam Hazeldine era through to Sam Smoothy, Tom Dunbar and Charlie Lyons and on to the new breed of young guys that are leading the charge at the minute.
Biggest challenge in this role?
Getting the money shot of the winner is always the biggest challenge. There are always a host of skiers capable of winning and if it’s a skier you weren’t expecting or a rider who chooses a very unique line that you didn’t have covered you can miss the shot altogether.
What about creature comforts like eating and drinking?
I’ve always got that well covered. When you are set up in your spot for an hour or more, watching a great show of world class free riding it’s essential to be comfortable so I tend to bring a bit of foam to sit on, snacks, water and occasionally the odd cold beer to keep on par with the spectators at the bottom.
And to sum up, why do you it?
For me the most rewarding aspect is getting to watch and shoot images of the very talented Kiwi skiers as they showcase their skills in my favourite discipline of competition.