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WITH FERNANDO MARMOLEJO

From performing tricks to photographing them, Fernando Marmolejo shares his tips and techniques for shooting sports and why the OM-D E-M1X is ideal.

Image by Fernando Marmolejo

Sports photography gets your adrenaline going. Sometimes it can be down to how the rider you are taking pictures of feels. Looking for an impossible angle is sometimes difficult, but it is the best way to differentiate yourself from the rest.

I had never been struck by photography, I was always the one doing sports in front of the camera, but everything changed in 2007. I was on a bike trip with some friends in Leogang, Austria, riding every day in one of the best bike parks in Europe. On the first day I suffered a big fall and broke my collarbone. The second day, as I had nothing to do, a friend lent me his camera and I spent the remaining five days shooting everything that moved. After that I expected to be awakened by a passion for photography, but it wasn’t until a year later when I started a graphic design course that I bought my first DSLR. After the mountain bike injury, I went to the BMX thinking it would be less harmful (now I have two broken knees, too). With my new camera and a wireless flash, I had my first work published in magazines within six months and soon began to travel across Spain covering BMX events.

Then, in 2011, I started working at Monster Energy in the marketing department. I was always attending world events and took my camera with me everywhere. Sometimes I even had the opportunity to cover a local event, although it wasn’t until 2015 that I started working as a photographer for Monster Energy as well, which helped me learn a lot. By 2017, I had too much work as a photographer and so I made the decision to leave the company and become self-employed. I was also lucky as Monster Energy wanted to continue counting on me for the same projects. Today, I think I have been so lucky. I consider it super important to be passionate about what you do, because in the end you motivate whoever you have around you and that makes the workflow positive. The day that I don’t want to go to work is when I think I should start worrying.

Image by Fernando Marmolejo

About a year and a half ago, I tried some Olympus gear and decided to test it in very extreme conditions; I tried wakeboarding where the camera got completely wet, I used it with flashes in skateboard sessions and I tried to cover it with dust while doing a mountain bike session. From that moment, the camera opened up much more possibilities for taking pictures and today I’m still discovering new features that keep me falling in love even more with this brand. For example, having three bodies and more than ten lenses in a backpack increases my creativity by not being limited on what lenses I can take due to the weight – I can go on a trip with a PEN-F body and four premium lenses in a bag, whereas with a DSLR, I could only fit one professional lens.

Image by Fernando Marmolejo

The gear

In my backpack, I always carry the OM-D E-M1X, OM-D E-M1 Mark II and OM-D E-M1. Then I have the M.ZUIKO 8mm f/1.8 PRO, 7- 14mm f/2.8 PRO, 17mm, 25mm and 45mm f/1.2 PRO lenses, the 75mm f/1.8 and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. Sometimes, I’ll also have the 300mm f/4 IS PRO depending on the type of event I am shooting.

My favourite lenses are probably the M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO and the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO, although I enjoy using the fisheye 8mm f/1.8 PRO, because it allows me to get as close to the action as I can, and that makes your adrenaline rise through the clouds! Composing with this lens can be a challenge, as showing ’everything’ is always more complicated, because we have to give it place inside the frame. Therefore, when you compose with this lens, you have to take a 360o look at what is in your environment and how you will use it in your photo.

The tricks

Before doing a session, I like to analyse the spot before; walking around for a little, seeing where the light comes from, which tricks can be done and in what way. This all gives me an idea of where I can place the flashes or the rider. I consider myself a sports freak and I know almost all of the tricks, so I speak the same language as the rider, which when combined with adding in a little creativity, gets the rider motivated for the shoot.

It is very important to know the sport you are going to photograph so that the athlete feels more relaxed and confident. It is also good to know the level of the rider, so that you don’t demand too much from them, but you are also able to teach or propose new things that may be within their reach. That way you keep them motivated and the session will be totally fluid. I like to mix disciplines to increase the possibilities, because often you may get to a spot and the rider focuses on one trick only. I like to see it differently and put new combinations or postures forward.

Fernando Marmolejo using OM-D E-M1X

The technical

I always shoot in manual and even turn off the autofocus. If I’m shooting with flashes, I only shoot a single shot and will pre-focus where the athlete will do the trick so that I have the scene fully controlled – it’s my way of making the perfect shot. On the other hand, there are occasions when I use the 18fps or 60fps of the OM-D E-M1X where I also use the C-TR to control the composition a bit. If the photo has too many elements that I can’t control as it happens, I let the camera help me a little.

For this kind of photography, I consider the power of composition important. Many sports photographers tend to focus a lot on the subject and not too much on the environment. For me, where they are doing the sport is just as important as what they are doing. In urban sports photography, it is common to use elements of the environment to give more information of where it comes from, or how difficult the trick is. That is why I consider how I can put all of those elements in a beautiful composition and ensure the rider feels happy because his trick is still the protagonist of the photo.

The advice

To be an action photographer, it is essential to know the sport you are going to photograph, as well as the location. For example, depending on the direction and movement of the rider, you must be in one place or another to emphasise the action, just as it is important if you’re using flashes to make sure that the set-up doesn’t get in the way of the rider. If the rider is comfortable in the session, then everything will be fine. Most important of all is to observe. I usually look at how the rider moves while he warms up or while I set the flashes, so when we start shooting, I know more about his style, ensuring I catch those action shots.

Image by Fernando Marmolejo

THE OM-D E-M1X TOP 5

1. Deep Learning Focus: In motor sports, it is very important you don’t miss anything and this intelligent tracking makes it so much easier to have the photo perfectly focused.

2. 60fps: Sometimes there are scenes where you might not be sure which exact moment to choose. That’s why I usually use the Pro Capture 60fps in Raw to be able to choose the perfect moment and not have to repeat the photo several times.

3. Image Stabilisation: It is becoming easier to shoot a photo at slow speeds due to the OM-D E-M1X’s image stabilisation. Shooting at night and using speeds less than 1/20sec is not a problem.

4. Dual Joystick: There is no difference if you use the camera horizontally or vertically – the two joysticks are perfectly placed, so you do not have to turn the camera to quickly access the menu, for example.

5. Weather-sealed body: Not having to worry when shooting photos is very important and in this kind of photography, you usually get dirty. Not having to worry about the conditions allows me to fully concentrate on taking pictures. If the camera gets dirty, I can simply clean it with a bottle of water.

Image by Fernando Marmolejo

Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 61 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.