Pole Vault Photographs

My daughter transitioned from gymnastics in high school to pole vault in college. I worked a few T/F events for TV but knew little about the sport other than the obvious. Photographing any sporting event is an exciting challenge. Add to that my daughter’s involvement & I was motivated to explore PV with my camera. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a parent is when your children inspire you.


I was fortunate enough to visit my daughter during practice. Even though the gym was not visually inspiring, I got a feel for perspectives & positions. A friend/teammate of hers competed in the ’10 D3 Outdoor Nationals at Baldwin Wallace so we went to watch. The PV pit had a hill to the south so spectators & photographers were near the height of the bar. Afternoon sun was back left & theBG was a stand of pines. Even though this was my first attempt at photographing PV, I realized this position for capturing action around the bar was about as perfect as possible. Sometimes life is like that. The truth of Ansel Adams simple quote “A good photograph is knowing where to stand” was never more accurate.

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Athletes compete to win but in individual events a competitor getting a new personal best is considered a victory. As a photographer my goal is to document athletes & the sport not to capture the winning moment. In the previous shot it can be assumed that the bar was cleared because of her position at the apogee of her vault. In this shot the alignment of the body is still in assent and at a nice diagonal of the frame. Her success is unknown. I especially like the ponytail.

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Each sport has particular moments for compelling shots. In PV I broke it down to 8 components. The concentration at the start, running down the track, planting the pole, take off, assent to the bar, clearing…or not, the fall & reaction are where I try to capture the athletes. This shot is of Jan Shur at SUNY Fredonia moments before she exploded into her approach. At the time of this photo she was the world record holder. While elite athletes provide inspiring physical actions, I find their concentration & reactions to be the images my eyes linger on.

Oh how I wish I took this shot of my daughter. This is the moment right after the plant & the beginning of take off. Most critical to this picture is the position of where her coach/photographer, Patrick Barragan, was standing. I am sure his knowledge of the sport was also an asset. The original shot was wider. I cropped it to emphasize the transfer of the power of the athlete to the pole. THANKS Patrick!

Two frustrating elements of indoor PV are zero control over light (higher ISO/more grain) and cluttered backgrounds/foregrounds. Although I always try to position myself where I can get the best perspective, I sometimes will find a place where the back/foreground provides a pleasing aspect or, in the worst case, the least offensive. In this shot the American Flag, always a compelling element, created a terrific background even though the stripes are not plum to the PV bar.
This shot was taken on the descent. I will leave it up to your eyes to decide if the reaction is of success or failure. Speaking of failure…PV & High Jump are 2 sporting events that almost always end in failure. After an athlete “wins” the event they have the opportunity to continue for an attempt at new personal best or event/track/national or world record. Only when they fail to make the height in 3 consecutive vaults is the event final.

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