It was a day like any other day, my alarm woke me at the ungodly hour of 4am. There’s no time for breakfast, not even a coffee! Really? No time for coffee? How the hell was I going to function without some black gold flowing through my veins to give me the kick I needed to start another day shooting in the sky.
I love my job, I am a sport photographer who specializes in trail and mountain running. I travel the world - Costa Rica, Nepal, China, Australia, South Africa, Morocco, France, Spain, and so many places.
The sport I love is Skyrunning - a high altitude sport where earth meets sky - created in the late 80’s by founder and International Skyrunning Federation president, Marino Giacometti. Runners traverse and cover often technical terrain with 1000’s of meters of vertical gain and loss to become the best in the world in a series of races that starts in April and concludes in October. I’m fortunate to be the person who documents the journey from sea to sky!
It’s a demanding sport and to work in this environment, one also needs many of the elements and fitness attributes that make a Skyrunner - I too need to climb those mountains, cover big distance and live to tell the tale.
Today, I am it Italy - Livigno to be exact, right on the border where Italy meets Switzerland.
The Livigno SkyMarathon is organised by mountain running legend Marco De Gasperi, his race route personifies Skyrunning with brutal climbs, technical ridges, mountain exposure and views the make the heart flutter.
It’s a fast course and one that compromises a photographer’s ability to not only make several points during the race, but also to reach those points. A highlight of the race coming at 3000m. I’m lucky, today I have a helicopter and it departs at 0715 - the race start coming at 0800.
My bag is packed and I’m soon on the road. I meet the mountain rescue team and before we know it, the helicopter is hovering at the summit as the team and I climb out.
I stop, open my pack and prepare my equipment. I’ve recently sold all my Canon equipment, 5D MKIII’s and MKIV’s and switched to Sony. Sony’s ability to embrace new technology and provide unparalleled quality in smaller and lightweight cameras has in many ways made the transition a no brainer - the recent A9 release made the conversion complete and now my A7RII is accompanied by two A9’s. May sound corny but the A9 has taken sports photography cameras to the next level - no compromise on speed, no compromise on where I place my focus point and no compromise on quality - mind blowing.
The Sony G 70-200 f2.8 is a permanent fixture on one of the A9’s - it’s a go to sports set up. The other A9 usually when working on a race has a Zeiss Batis 18mm or 25mm. For me, photographing the runner within the context of the playground in which they run is so important, I need context and that therefore usually comes from shooting wide. The A7RII in this context will also have a wide lens on, today it’s the Zeiss 35mm - I will use it for landscapes in-between the action.
I hike into place, I’d seen a wonderful exposed ridge with a layered backdrop on my location recce two days previously - I’d seen a shot in my mind and today, the weather conditions were perfect - I was going to get it!
The whirl of the helicopter notified me of the first runners arrival, I could see him maybe two kilometers away, a small spec in a dominate and over powering landscape. Before I knew it, he was arriving on the ridge section - it was Tadei Pivk, the Skyrunner World Series champion. I was filled with adrenaline and expectation - it’s that moment when everything starts to align and that sense of expectation that brings out some of my greatest moments.
I’d already fixed my focus point ahead of Tadei’s arrival, the ‘off’ was switched to ‘on’ and as the camera reached my eye and I looked through, I knew that I was getting the shot I wanted. Tadei danced making the technical and challenging terrain look easy and by equal measure, the Sony A9 blasted off frames with no lag, no black-out and the buffer within this incredible camera caused no wait problems.
I was on a high, sky high!
I moved around as other runners came, looking for new angles, looking for visual stories that would allow viewers to understand the nature of the event, the ability of those who practice it and the awe-inspiring arena in which these gladiators battle.
Time flew and before I knew it I was running down a scree slope, I had a rendezvous with the helicopter and a transfer to the final summit.
Capped in snow, the final summit was very different to the previous sections of the course, a defined single-track trail would weave its way down from 2858m back to the lower elevations and the town of Livigno and the conclusion of the race.
I’m now mobile, running with my cameras looking for view-points, different angles and as the runners fly past I struggle to catch a breath. I too embrace the journey that the participants will make - it’s 10km’s to the finish line.
Many faces and many stories - it’s a blur of emotion and colour. As the final runner crosses the line, the noise subsides, the tales are told and then my moment shifts to preserving the day.
The images flood on to my hard drive and the magic begins once again, it’s the time I get to see my dreams become a reality.