Take one-part athlete, simmer through years of competition, then stir in some photography zeal, and bring to the boil at some of the world’s most exciting sporting events. The result? A photographer who’s as focused as an elite athlete – something that gives them an edge on the competition and brings an insider’s honesty to their pictures. Say hello to Mine Kasapoğlu.
“If you’re not exhausted,” she laughs, “maybe you missed something!” This attitude perfectly sums up Mine’s approach. Fully invested in what she’s shooting, she’s as into it as the athletes. It’s something that can only come from a genuine and passionate connection with your subject.
Maybe the most important thing for me when shooting sports is being in the moment – just like the athletes. My best pictures are in those moments where everything melts away and I’m on autopilot. I let the thing take over me. Sure, you can plan, but it becomes instinctual. When you’re in that moment, you don’t get hungry or feel the cold. You just think about the image. You’re at one with your camera, and when you’re finished and you come back home, you just crash.
Now shooting competitive sports around the world, including the summer and winter Olympic Games, Mine started skiing when she was two years old and by the time she reached 14, was on the national team for Turkey. Aged 16 she switched to snowboarding, but didn’t start competing again until 2006, when it became an Olympic sport.
During those intervening years she’d also studied photography at the Speos Photographic Institute in Paris.
My passions for photography and sport were separate for a while. I was doing portraits, fashion, and capturing my life as a twenty-something… I liked portraits of real people, spending time with them and getting to know them. I was increasingly drawn to real moments, and for me there’s nothing more real than sport. So that’s when the two started coming together.
Although in the end she didn’t qualify, Mine spent the four years ahead of Vancouver 2010 training almost every day in the hope of competing in the Games. Even though she didn’t make it, the journey turned out to shape what she would become: “I started to get those same feelings from the photography as I did from the competition. So, I didn’t qualify for 2010 as an athlete, but as a photographer: that was the first proper job, the point it got real.”
Searching for that same element of realness and truth in the pictures she shoots, Mine sees her job as conveying the emotions at play during competition. “I want to take what that athlete is feeling and make the viewer feel it too.”
So what sort of things does she look for? How is the frame made dynamic enough to draw that emotional response from the viewer? She explains: “One of the first things I want is a clean background. I don’t want distractions, but it’s not just about aesthetics. I want the photo to mirror how the athlete is thinking – totally focused. A lot of that comes from positioning and also of course using the right lenses, like the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master, which I use a lot.”
When you have a subject like a skier coming straight at you, you need some serious performance to keep up with them. The Sony α9 makes it so much easier than before. I use the Wide AF area setting sometimes, like when the subject is very close, but usually I like to set the Focus Area to Flexible Spot Medium, where you can move it around the frame to suit, and let the Continuous AF pick up the subject and keep it them in focus.
“To get that emotional response, I’m looking for energy – something in the athlete’s movement to make you hold your breath - so the α9’s 20fps burst mode is very helpful. In competitions, you can’t just say to the athlete, ‘can you do that again?’, but the 20fps means you can pick the defining moment when editing. The one that gives you the feeling. It’s amazing, and it makes my job so much easier. Of course, you can’t just be firing off shots randomly, but it just refines your ability to get the best.”
Rather than at a particular stage during the competition, Mine often finds that the ideal time to capture the perfect shot is actually right before the event takes place: “I can’t get enough of those moments because I relate to them so strongly. Imagine it. You’ve trained your whole life for what’s coming next – maybe a race that’s only 20 seconds long. So right before it, the potential energy is at the maximum. Anything can happen and I love that moment, because of all the possibilities. You could be capturing them just before they do something amazing. Compare that with all the shots you see, smiling with medals– I’ve seen enough of those. It’s okay for other people, but I’m more interested in finding the truth of what were they doing right before.”
Being inspired by the athletes she shoots is central to what Mine does, so in many ways her pictures are about paying homage to them. That’s the competitive element – the focus – that drives her photography just as it drove her as an athlete, too. “I know how much effort it takes and how hard it is to be there, so they’re all heroes to me, just for making it there. I tried to be one of them, and I failed. They’re 1000 times better than I was, and it humbles me. So if I’m ever tired or down, they give me motivation – because I think they deserve a great picture of themselves. I always want to make them look good, so even in editing, I never choose the pictures of them failing. I want to make them look like heroes.”
"Searching for light, energy and emotion, captured at the exact right time"