Sports photographer Samo Vidic talks about photographing high-achieving disabled athletes, including Paralympic swimmer Darko Đurić

As a professional sports photographer, Canon Ambassador Samo Vidic photographs the world’s top athletes for leading brands and publications. But in his latest project Samo wanted to shine a light on a sometimes-overlooked group of sporting heroes: disabled athletes who have overcome the odds to achieve great things in the sports they love.

Born with one arm and no legs, Darko Ðuric is a Paralympian
Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 16-35mm, 1/200sec at f/5, ISO 200. ©Samo Vidic/Canon Ambassador

‘Disabled athletes are rarely seen in the media in comparison with non-disabled ones,’ Samo says. ‘I wanted to show different kinds of sports people and tell their life stories.’ In this project, he wanted to emphasise the athletes’ sporting prowess and the considerable obstacles they had to overcome.

Slovenian photographer Samo has focused on sport throughout a busy career, which began in 1999.

A keen sportsman in his youth who enjoyed ski-jumping, football and tennis, he initially qualified as a mechanical engineer before discovering photography. He considered a career in reportage before attending a sports-photography workshop, and he realised that he could combine his two passions. ‘I loved photography and everything connected with sports and the outdoors, so I was immediately hooked,’ Samo says.

His two camera bodies for these shoots were the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, fitted with Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens.

Libby is registered blind
Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 24-70mm, 1/80sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600. ©Samo Vidic/Canon Ambassador

The combination of bodies and lenses enabled Samo to explore a range of creative approaches – each shoot allowed him to execute a different challenging technical approach, from light trails to underwater action shots. Samo photographed his subjects in two contrasting ways. One was a portrait, showing their personalities and the physical challenges they faced and the other was a dynamic action shot focusing on their world-class achievements.

Samo’s images celebrate the personalities, skills and sheer determination of some truly inspirational people.

Paralympic sprinter Libby Clegg
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, 24-70mm, 0.3sec at f/3.5, ISO 400. ©Samo Vidic/Canon Ambassador

Case Study

Photographing Darko

Slovenian swimmer Darko Đurić. Despite being born with only one arm and no legs, he has become a Paralympian, a double world champion and broken the world record in the 50m Butterfly S4 class. When shooting Darko’s portrait and action shot, Samo wanted to convey his story. ‘Darko only has one arm, but the water gives him wings, somehow. That’s what I wanted to show,’ he says.

The sports shoot took place at a pool in Ljubljana, Slovenia. With Darko posing on a diving board for the portrait, Samo got two assistants to throw buckets of water at him from left and right, creating wing-like shapes with the water. Samo froze the movement of the water with his studio flashes, having placed the main light 3m in front of the swimmer and a backlight 5m above him.

For the action shot, Samo set up two studio flashes beside the pool, lighting the subject from above, and one behind a porthole in the pool, pointing at the subject from below the water’s surface. Then he went underwater in his scuba-diving gear to photograph Darko in action. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM wideangle lens attached, communicated with the lights via cables connected to a transmitter set up beside the pool.

Water creates the illusion of wings. Canon EOS 6D Mark II, 24-70mm, 1/200sec at f/4.5, ISO 200. ©Samo Vidic/Canon Ambassador

Samo used the camera’s AI Servo setting to get pin-sharp images, and he made use of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV’s fast, continuous shooting mode to get 6.5 frames per second. ‘If you photograph a swimmer with two arms, you have more chances of a good shot, but because Darko only has one arm, I needed to make sure I maximised my opportunities to capture him in a striking position [with his right arm reaching forwards and face visible],’ he explains.

‘It was my first time shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV underwater and everything worked perfectly. The AF was great, and the images are sharp, which is the most important thing.’

To see videos and read more about Samo Vidic created the in-camera effects in his ‘Defying the Odds’ series, visit the Canon website.