long jumper landing in the sand after a successful jump

Reaching Out for Perfection

Aleksandra Szmigiel

With incisive skill, creative flair and the Sony Alpha 1 capable of capturing her unique vision, Aleksandra Szmigiel was ready to capture pole vaulter Robert Sobera’s jump at the 2021 Polish National Athletics Championships. “In the pole vault,” she explains, “the action is so fast that you have to set up precisely and shoot at a speed that’s able to catch the moment. Here I wanted to catch the exact fraction of a second where the pole has been released but it’s still so close to the vaulter that the two are almost touching. I always like to shoot clean, uncluttered images, so I shot from the very edge of the mat, below the bar- framing Robert against the sky.”

pole vaulter reaching for his pole in mid air

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α1 + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/1250s @ f/3.5, ISO 500

Once a professional athlete herself, Aleksandra understands that perspective of competition and what’s required to make great sporting images. “I’ve been shooting sports for almost 10 years,” she explains, “but it’s still a big passion to push my work to the next level. I have so much respect for the athletes and the way they train to meet their goals, and in taking the Alpha 1 to many events around the world this year, it was great to find that it matched my own expectations.”

female athlete concentrating on her throw

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1600s @ f/2.8, ISO 400

In sports training, there’s a phrase, ‘marginal gains,’ which is about small, incremental improvements adding up to a bigger difference when athletes compete. So, for Aleksandra, did the advancements in the Alpha 1 have the same result? “Yes, but some of them I would say are huge, not small!” she smiles. “For instance in the shot of Robert, the difference in frame rate, even from an amazing camera like my Alpha 9 II is amazing. Going from 20fps to 30fps is a 50% increase and means you have even more chance to get the perfect moment. And of course all of that comes with a blackout-free EVF, so I can follow the subject so easily.”

row of female runners lined up on the start line

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α9 II + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

The Alpha 1’s focusing also came in for praise from Aleksandra. In one image in particular, its Real Time Tracking AF mode meant she could capture the frozen expression on a long jumper’s face, despite the speed of her landing and the storm of sand she was kicking up. Shot at 1/1250sec and f/2.8 at ISO 1200, with Aleksandra shooting, straight down the barrel of the jump, “that’s such a difficult thing for a camera to achieve,” she explains, “especially with the speed of the jumper, the shallow depth-of-field, and the distraction of the sand flying in front of her.”

long jumper landing in the sand after a successful jump

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1250s @ f/2.8, ISO 2500

Like athletes, photographers can benefit from changing their approach over time, too, and in Aleksandra’s case that means shooting more portraits this year. “I found I wanted to get closer and tell the stories of these amazing people through their emotions,” she explains. “Often in the past, I’ve used wider lenses and got physically closer, but this year, I discovered the advantage of using the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS to get close in a different way but still catch these big emotional moments. It lets me catch them in a way where they’re not hiding how they feel, and fill the frame with it for the viewer to experience, too.”

For those moments,” she continues, “you don’t have time to change settings, but fortunately I can use the same set up I have dialled in for action shots. I’ll be up around 1/1000sec and have the aperture wide open, often using Auto ISO on the Alpha 9 II or Alpha 1, which I know is going to look great, even at high settings. Then I tweak the exposure manually, judging it through the EVF. I also make the most of the eye-detection AF, to keep the sharpness there, right where it needs to be.”
female athlete looking upset

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α9 II + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1250s @ f/2.8, ISO 640

“In that way,” she continues, “Sony’s 400mm f/2.8 GM lens is an absolute miracle for sports photographers like me. Its quality is superb, but it’s also light enough that I don’t need to use a monopod, which I hate because it slows me down just when some beautiful shot I’ve seen is getting away! Of course, with the Alpha 9 II and Alpha 1 having in-body image stabilisation, combined with the optical stabilisation in the lens, there’s even less to slow me down or stop me moving around to find the best shots.”

female athlete with tears of joy in her eyes

© Aleksandra Szmigiel | Sony α9 II + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/2000s @ f/3.2, ISO 640

“With cameras like the Alpha 1 and the Alpha 9 II,” Aleksandra says, “I can catch those unexpected moments more easily and more faithfully than ever before. Just like in sport, to succeed as a photographer I need to be in the moment and be without distractions, so the best thing for me is when I don’t have to think about the camera I’m using, and everything just works without thought or fault. Sony’s professional Alpha cameras are the closest to that yet.”

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Aleksandra Szmigiel

Aleksandra Szmigiel | Poland

"I don't like to speak too much. I prefer to tell stories with my photos"

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