The First Rule of Being a Freelance

The First Rule of Being a Freelance

Well, there might be diffe­rences of opinion here. Somebody might say “remember to pay your taxes/retirement” or “show only great images to your clients” or whatever… But: doing this for a living for a long time I’d like to make a point of mentioning something I learned a long time ago — and which I have during the last couple of days tried to put into practice:

Don’t go where everybody else is going, don’t do what everybody else does”

Very simple — and often very hard to put into practice. “Yes, you do your own thing…” but then you still get the question: “Do you have the image of this and that coming to the finnish…?” — from a paying client. And you don’t want to be forced to say “No, because I wasn’t even near there — because we agreed I do my own thing”.

But: for the past couple of days, I’ve been blessed with two great writers who understand the impor­tance of having your personal vision — or at least trying to do something different. I’m covering the Alpine World Championships in Garmisch-Parten­kirchen — I have four days behind me, two more to go.

Let me run you thru how this is normally done — and then show what I did.

Tanja in SL, first round.

As I am covering mainly Finnish athletes I’m only doing the technical disciplines: slalom and giant slalom. GS is done already, women have their SL now and men on Sunday.

If you are working alone (as I am) typically you go to the slope for the first round. Make a quick edit, have lunch if you have time and shoot the second round at the bottom of the course.

In order get to the course you need course access permission from FIS — and it has to be applied in the beginning of the season. You have to have done this for a while so they know who you are and you have to be competent skier to get it. If you do have “FIS course access” ‑permit, you might get a sleeve which entitles you access. You have to wear skies or be on crampons. If you don’t have access — well, then you shoot over the fences or cover the finnish area. Typical lens choice: 400–600mm.

If you get to go to the course, you have to be in position you want to shoot from one hour in advance. If the race starts at ten, then this typically means up at six, breakfast, get your butt to the press center, then to the venue and start climbing to your desired spot (or take the lift and ski down) at 8.30 .After that, you don’t move. There is a photo inspector who comes and approves (or disap­proves…) your chosen spot. You wear crampons, stick your skies and gear outside the security fence — and wait. It can be pissing rain, it can be minus 20°, the compe­tition maybe be delayed for several hours (like yesterday) — trust me, it’s a long wait. You basically shoot one (or two gates) — i.e. the window you shoot is a second or two — each skier to the same gate, then you walk/ski down.

Tanja in SL, first round. Canon 800mm 5.6L

Second round you typically do in the finnish area. 400–600mm lens, look for emotion, celebration, tears…

So, basically, it is very simple.

Tanja in training.

I chose to do a bit diffe­rently. Wednesday: training with Tanja Poutiainen in the morning. Did the “hang” i.e. the 45 min. the women had to get to know the slope. Shot it from the start.

Went skiing in the afternoon to get to know the area, so I would not get lost and would know which lifts to take and which slopes to ski to get where I wanted to go.

Thursday: women’s GS. Decided no go to the first round, but did men’s training instead on the top. Why? Nobody would be interested in seeing Tanja just skiing in the first round. If she’d crash that would be interesting — but she has not done that in six years — and it’s GS: what are the odds that I’d be in the right spot to get that potential crash?

Remember: you shoot one of (typically) 40–50 gates i.e. 2% chance there.

Tanja in training.

So I cover the men training — beautiful sunshine on top, totally gray and foggy down where the race is taking place. Turns out that the first round is being postponed and I actually make it in time. I shoot it with 70–200mm plus 1.4x which is way too short and get to the main press center to get a 400mm lens.

Do the standard second round, leave after Tanja finishes, climb to a small hill to see her come out of the mixed zone. For couple of seconds after she has done all the inter­views the smile drops from her face… and I manage to get it with 400mm plus 1.4x on Canon EOS1 mrk4 (1.3 crop) which trans­lates into 728mm effectively.

Tanja leaving after the disap­pointment of the GS.
Marcus Sandell and Ted Ligety.

On Friday I do the same thing: I delibe­rately miss the first round of men’s GS but cover Tanja’s training instead. All the Finns apart from Kalle Palander ski on the second round. I shoot it with a 800mm 5.6L lens (a beautiful lens, btw) on mrk4, effective 1040mm — instead of the typical 400mm 2.8L. I get both the celebration and the last couple of gates (as the minimal perspective change with that type of monster lens allows that).

On the way to the second round I bump into Marcus Sandell and Ted Ligety talking and joking. I shoot it, think no more of it. Then: Marcus does his best ever result and Ligety wins the whole thing. My image gets a totally new value.

Today: ladies slalom. I have course access, but no skies allowed. So I have to climb up with crampons. I’ve decided to shoot it with 800mm — it’s a bit long but the images are just astounding if you succeed. We’ll see…


As I said above, on this assignment I’ve been blessed with two journa­lists who really understand the need of going beyond the obvious “comme il faut” — as the french say.

In addition, it is always great to see that your clients approve your vision and use it exten­sively. I will not bore you with tearsheet after tearsheet, but I show you just a couple from the first days which really made me happy. Especially a big hand to Lapin Kansa — great use of imagery (first one). Other tears­heets are from Iltalehti, Satakunnan Kansa and Aamulehti.

And just to give some kind of idea of the stuff I’ve shot, here are some images (cropping might be totally off as I just laid them out very quickly). This is not meant to be “The Best of…” but merely to illustrate my point. All of the images are shot during training — and the few which are not I shot with the Canon 800mm 5.6L — my new favorite… ;-)

4 Replies to “The First Rule of Being a Freelance”

    1. Hi there -

      nice to see you are keeping an eye on what I’m doing… We gotta do that thing we’ve been talking about one of these days.

      I envy Barcelona… I fly home tonight and tomorrow it’s Oslo and X‑country.


  1. Yup, your posts are like straight from the Master’s degree in the art of sports photo­jour­nalism. Very insightful and valuable for anyone into this kind of thing.

    I’m glad to see you advocate so strongly in favour of the philo­sophy of sharing knowledge. In a world of freelance profes­sionals each facing the challenge of building their own careers, this might seem counter intuitive. But it certainly creates a much nicer community to follow or be a part of, and when you think of it, a cloud of people trying out different things and sharing the lessons learned just might be more productive for everyone than isolated indivi­duals reinventing the wheel. A wheel that in many cases may not get invented at all that way.

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