skier negotiates a tricky slope at speed

The Thrill of the Mountain

Mine Kasapoğlu

It’s January 2021 and pro sports photographer, Mine Kasapoğlu, stares out over a twisted ribbon of snow and ice, threaded between trees and rocks. This is the Streif, the men's World Cup downhill ski piste at Hahnenkamm in the Kitzbühel Alps, Austria. It’s a harrowing descent of over 860m, known as the most demanding in the world. There is no room for error.

“This is the hardest downhill course there is,” Mine exclaims. “It’s insane, but amazing to watch these athletes testing their guts and skill in a sprint to the bottom.”

It’s clear the admiration that Mine has for the skiers tackling this most treacherous of courses. “When I’m shooting,” she says, “I always want to show them looking perfect and heroic if I can. I’m not interested in capturing the falls, because that’s not how I see them. I think they deserve that approach, because to me they’re superheroes and I want to show them reaching out for perfection. If I was in the crowd, I’d be cheering them on, but with my photography, I can support them, too.”

skier leaning to the side as he tackles the slope

© Mine Kasapoğlu | Sony α9 II + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/16000s @ f/3.2, ISO 800

Part of her approach is to investigate the human side of pro sport, something which can be forgotten if all images are lone figures fighting their way down the mountain. “I love to capture the racers in action, of course, but there’s real gold in their preparation, too,” she says. Like a shot I got of Max Franz, who’d found a quiet space to run through the course and rehearse the turns and the drops in his mind.”

skier resting on his poles after a race

© Mine Kasapoğlu | Sony α9 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/2000s @ f/3.2, ISO 400

When it comes to racing, there are challenges for photographers and athletes alike. If there’s no room for error for skiers, the same goes for those capturing their descent. “Picking the right spot is important,” Mine explains, “but, like any outdoor sport, the light and the weather can change everything. At Kitzbühel there are great shots to be had at the last jump, with crowd in the background – but in 2021 there was no crowd!”

Of course, there can also be difficulty in focusing and framing a subject moving at 140km/h – unless, that is, you’re using the Sony Alpha 9 II. At this event, Mine twinned her Alpha 9 II with the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS and as usual, captured a selection of amazing shots. “Timing is so important,” she says, “because at that speed, the skiers can be through the frame before you know it. Composition comes from experience and concentration, and there are always a few clues as to when a skier is going to pop into frame. They come at intervals of about 45 seconds, so you can be ready, and sometimes you’ll see the TV cameras turn on them before they break cover.”

skier in mid air leap

© Mine Kasapoğlu | Sony α9 II + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x Teleconverter| 1/10000s @ f/4.0, ISO 640

The Alpha 9 II’s blackout-free EVF plays a huge part in success, says Mine, combining with the electronic shutter and frame rate to make it a perfect tool for action. “This camera really changed the way I can shoot on the slopes,” she explains, “because I can follow the subject so easily, firing at 20fps and know that every image is in focus. Actually, the EVF is also incredible out in the snow. It’s so bright you can’t review images on the main screen – but with the Alpha 9 II, I know they’re all sharp anyway.”

“Most of the time I use Real Time Tracking mode, which locks onto the skier and keeps them in perfect focus and, if possible, I’ll do it from the gate before, so it’s following them for longer, as they hurtle towards me. It helps that the contrast is so high between the skier and the snow, but it works brilliantly in less than perfect situations, too.”

But freezing motion with such a magnified view is also about the shutter speeds you can reach and here, Mine relies on the Alpha 9 II’s electronic shutter and high ISO performance, using settings of up to 1/16,000 second. “I always use the electronic shutter now,” she explains. “It’s a complete winner for me. I get more frames, sharper images, and it’s completely silent, so no photographers around me know exactly when I'm shooting, which I really like!”

skier at high speed on a downhill run

© Mine Kasapoğlu | Sony α9 II + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/10000s @ f/3.2, ISO 800

In the end, there must be a winner. 2021’s Hahnenkamm downhill champion was Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, completing the course in 1:53.77, close to the record speed. For photographers, success comes in different ways. For Mine, “it’s about a successful transfer of feeling. I want someone’s heart to skip a beat when they see what I’ve shot, just like it did for me at the time. It could be the look on an athlete’s face, their body language, or the way they’re stretching into a turn. So long as it excites me, that’s what I need.”

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Mine Kasapoğlu

Mine Kasapoğlu | Turkey

"Searching for light, energy and emotion, captured at the exact right time"

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