The final touches are being made to the course of elaborate snow shapes for the 2018 Audi Nines freestle ski and snowboard event kicking off on April 9th in Solden, Austria. Winter action sports are driven by the constant hunger to go bigger, jump further, spin more and redefine what is considered possible, and this year's event promises to redefine progression once more.
Photography has also been a big part of this event, and f-stop is proud to support this, so we took a moment to look back at some of the best moments through the eyes of three photographers who's shots have helped to shape the history of this event.
We caught up with Italian creative Eleonora Raggi, award winning big-mountain photographer Tero Repo, and Alessandro Belluscio, a veteran of six years of this event and winner of Best Action Photo in three of those years. Read on to hear their challenges and highlights, and the gear they used to create these stunning images:
Above: Multiple riders, helicopters and make an epic sunset session at Nine Queens for Eleonora Raggi's lens.
Below: Finding creative angles is one of the challenges. Alessandro Belluscio getting the shot less taken:
Tero Repo: I was there in 2014 (for Nine Knights). I don't have one best session. The whole event was so well organized without any stress for photographers. I really enjoyed every moment of it.
Eleonora Raggi: Nine Queens 2013 and 2014 were the editions where I took part of this amazing event. The first one was located in Serfaus, Austria, while the second one in Livigno, Italy. I’d say that I have so many epic moments in mind that’s hard to choose. Maybe I could mention the psycho-fun lifestyle shoot with Silvia Bertagna, Zuzana Stromkova, Katie Summerhayers and Maude Raymond in an abandoned house in Austria. Or the time I’ve climbed a chairlift pylon to get a different perspective, forgetting a permission, and pretending I did not hear the officer that was coming getting me while taking one of my fav images of Jamie Anderson – but this might be something secret ;)
Alessandro Belluscio: Well, nice question! If I remember right, my first edition was 2009 in Obertstdorf, Germany. It was the second year of the event, and it was amazing. I had never seen a big event like that! Then the year after, in 2010, I took part at the contest with Markus Eder. He won the online qualification as rider. There were 2 Italians for the first time. I spent all the season around with "Makke" (Markus Edder) and when we arrived at the Nine Knights, I was a unknown photographer and he was the “rookie”. That edition was epic. At the end of the week he won the contest and I won the best action photo. That year I had the pleasure to watch with my eyes the one and only Teddy Bear flying over the cast naked. The rest is history.
In 2011 there was no snow, so no Nine Knights. It was a sad year! 2012 was the first year “at home” in Livigno-Mottolino. There were very big names again, the event was bigger than ever. The Italian hospitality made what was already the best free ski event ever, even bigger and better! In 2012 I won the best Lifestyle photo, with 2 Italian skiers. In 2013, it was in Livigno again, and I won the Best Action Photo. For 2014, we were once more in Livigno and I took the Best Action Photo prize again. That was my last time!
Taking part in this event was a very big experience. It gave the opportunity to improve some skills, meet interesting people, work close to some of the big names of freeski photography and have fun while doing the best job in the world!
Do you think Tero Repo was staring into his morning coffee wondering how he could get creative with his angles that day?
The lifestyle category on the photographer's competition gave them a chance to show the riders' personalities. Serenity and chaos from Eleonora (left) and Alessandro (right):
Tero Repo: I used Canon cameras and lenses. I also had Elicrom Ranger and Quadra flashes with Manfrotto Tripods. Everything was packed in an older f-stop Satori (now Sukha) + Flashes were packed in my f-stop ICUs.
Eleonora Raggi: While being on this kind of shoot you’ll want to ensure yourself both wide and close-up angles. I carried with me a fisheye, a 17-35mm, 70-200mm and a Lensbaby that I’ve mounted on the camera I owned back then, a Nikon D3s. Having the opportunity of accessing the event obstacles at any time, from sunrise to sunset to night, you want to light up the scene properly, and that’s why I packet my bigger lights (back then) that were 2 Broncolor Mobiles + Pocket Wizard transceivers.
Alessandro Belluscio: I was moving around with one Tilopa for the camera and lenses and one Tilopa for my flash. At this event you have to be fast to follow the flow of the shooting during the day. Also, you have to be ready to shoot at sunrise and sunset (depending on the mountain) with the easiest and most effective set up possible. Everything is planned, but at the same time everything is moving fast during the important moments. Having the right backpack is important - and as you leave it on the snow all day long, it’s important to get a good heavy duty partner to protect your lenses out there. For the Nines you don’t need particular lenses or cameras. Sometimes a tilt shift lens can change a little bit the perception of the castle, but that was just at the first year's event.
Gear corner: (Above) Alessandro Belluscio - When you have to bring a tent, you know you are putting in long days. (Below left) Tero Repo - Packing the sun, photographers and their flashes at Nine Knights in 2014. (Below right) Eleonora's custom edition Tilopa in the field.
Tero Repo: I think when Jasper Tjäder threw down a massive double back flip over the big gap. Unfortunately that was kind of after the session and I don’t have a photo of that.
Eleonora Ragi: Seeing all riders dropping together on such set-up looked like dancing in the sky.
Alessandro Belluscio: As I mentioned, instead of the level of tricks Teddy Bear was the most riding stuff ever :D
But also when Makke won his first edition, when Jasper did the double backflip over the castle - the big transfer line, and every sunset/sunrise session was epic. Probably the warm light can magically transform everything, and when you've got a castle too it can be mystic.
Tero Repo's creativity with color (above) and Eleonora's playful take on the 'Knights' theme (below):
Tero Repo: It is made for riders. They decide what they want to do and normally then you make the best results. If it is windy there is no jumping (Not like in the Olympics).
Eleonora Raggi: This year will probably once again push it to a level higher...
Alessandro Belluscio: Having the opportunity of training and riding for a week with the top-notch riders provides the perfect platform for pushing themselves. They all want to have fun, if you add to it a crazy well shaped set-up, and the best conditions you can just have, you get a bunch of athletes that will try and land what they’ve envisioned for a while without any external pressure.
Every year, communicating the sheer size of the features presents a challenge to the photographers. These different approaches to this task by Alessandro (above), Eleornora (below left) and Tero (below right):
Tero Repo: I think it is easy to shoot a good photos over there as the features are so beautiful but if you want to step it up you have to bring some creativity in your photography.
Eleonora Raggi: The Nine Queens had a very particular format that pushed photographers to get their own perspective and be creative. My issue is that at a given task, I tend to go a little bananas, so I’ve found myself looking for Polaroids and Helium balloons that I’ve carried on the slopes or loading myself with countless gadgets. This to say that what could be challenging is finding a new and fresh perspective.
Alessandro Belluscio: From my personal point of view, the challenge is to get focus on what are you doing all the week long. It was a full week of shooting. Long days on the mountains waiting for the best light-structure conditions. As originally a “media event”, we were focused to produce the best images possible. Usually on Saturday, the open day, there was the contest, but from Monday to Friday I was super focused on the shooting. From my side the most difficult part was the selection at the end of the week. After days of intense shooting you arrive the last day and you need to select the best shots to submit, do the post production and deliver on time. Every year the goal was to invent something different for the lifestyle photos. Creativity, in composition, was for sure the most interesting challenge for this kind of event.
Tero Repo used a Satori EXP, which was part of our previous generation of Mountain Series. Its successor is the Sukha.
Alessandro Belluscio used also two Tilopas, one for his camera gear, one for his flashes.