Having travelled the world for the last 20 years, and covered almost every type of sporting event, sports photographer Giovanni Auletta specialises in skiing and cycling. But with COVID-19 lockdowns decimating sports around the globe, “it would have been impossible to continue working for these two disciplines,” he says.
“The first week in lockdown, I took as a holiday,” Auletta continues, “and in the second I was cleaning my cameras and adjusting the settings. The third week I went out early in the morning to photograph my deserted city, and without realising it I was practically starting to work again.”
With his regular subjects still on hold, Giovanni used the restrictions to find new inspiration, and settled on a subject that had its own history of resilience and adaptation. “I wanted to work in a place that had a strong identity and a story, so I chose to follow the gymnasts at S.D.G FORZA E CORAGGIO,” he explains. “It was the very first sport association in Milan, created in 1870 and it survived two world wars, so it’s a place that knows what it means to adapt and be resilient.”
And rather than individuals, Giovanni chose to focus on teams coming together after their long isolation. He picked the rhythmic gymnastics team as his subject, adding that he “wanted to emphasise a sport that’s not always in the spotlight, but that is done with the same dedication and passion as other more famous sports.”
Although shooting gymnasts wasn’t new to Giovanni, he had never done it “in such an intimate way,” and naturally, the differences with subjects like skiing were numerous. “Firstly, gymnastics is an indoor sport, so there is a lot less light, but there’s also the physical differences,” he explains, “for instance, in skiing the distances are much greater, and the timing more exact. Skiing is a ‘one shot’ sport, but in this project I was in no hurry, and I could move and choose the right spot for any athlete, adapting to the location and the light.”
A photographer’s tool must also adapt, and as a user of Sony’s flagship Alpha 9 models, Giovanni knows that he can rely on his camera to be as versatile as he needs. “Indoors or out,” he explains, “when you’re shooting action the shutter speed must usually be very fast. And despite its large windows, the gym was still a low-light environment, so it was a good test for my equipment. As usual, the Alpha 9 II passed this test brilliantly, letting me work with very high ISOs without losing quality. Because of this, I could rely on the Auto ISO to adapt with the light – and in a place like this where the light varies, that was vital.”
Other aspects of the Alpha 9 II’s performance contributed to Giovanni’s intimate series of images, too. “I can no longer do without my Sony’s Real-time Eye-AF,” he confesses, “it works brilliantly, keeping the focus where I need it while I concentrate on other aspects of the shot. And it works even with strong backlighting, and with other elements like the gymnasts’ ribbons passing in front - it’s never confused.”
His Alpha 9 II’s electronic viewfinder was instrumental, too, “with the subject’s continuous passage between light and shadow never defeating the camera as the exposure reacted to the lighting conditions. The silent shutter has also given me the opportunity to be completely discreet, working with the athletes as though I wasn’t even there,” he adds.
Of the 20 frames per second shooting, Giovanni said: “it’s always important to know the sport that you’re photographing, so you can anticipate the movements. In this case, not being specialised in gymnastics, the Alpha 9 II’s 20 frames per second burst mode was also very helpful, letting me choose the perfect shot.”
Shooting with the 24-105mm f/4 G OSS for wide shots, but for most part using his workhorse 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS, Giovanni was able to “be at the right distance from the athletes – not intrusive and not too far from the scene,” while the f/2.8 aperture let him work with a shallow depth-of-field to highlight his subjects in the dark gym. “For many of the photos,” he explains, “I wanted to concentrate on the athlete’s gesture, so I set the maximum aperture and isolated their body shapes and poses against the environment.”
“This job,” finishes Giovanni, “has taught me that you never stop learning, from a technical point of view, and about the human aspect, too. As photographers, just like athletes, we need to stay active, physically and mentally, and learning and adapting are a big part of this. I miss the mountains and I can’t wait for the winter season to start again, but I learned that gymnastics is a sport that’s made with immense passion and love, so now it is in my heart, too.”
"Photography is the best way to share a moment, with everyone and anyone, at the same time"