Paralympic Photography Requires a Different Approach

Photos that feature a Paralympian overcoming their disability is key, says professional photographer.


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Reported by Ana Rose Walkey and William Crosby

With most athletes, the emotion captured on film is what really makes a photo. When it comes to Paralympians, the depth of emotion runs a lot deeper than viewers realize, which is why some sports photographers who photograph the Paralympic Games focus on emotion and backstory.

Differences in Paralympic photography

Langara alumnus and photographer Rick Etkin said including a Paralympian’s emotional backstory accentuates the human interest in pictures.

“To get to that stage where you can get out there and can come down an alpine course at 90 [kilometres per hour] with one leg, that’s tough – it’s hard enough with two legs for sure. They’ve all gone through something,” said Etkin, before describing a Paralympian he once photographed.

Skier Josh Dueck broke his back trying to land a backflip while preparing for the Olympics.

Now, he is a Paralympian.

“He wasn’t going to give up – he was a top athlete beforehand and he just said ‘Well, I’m just going to come back,’” Etkin said, adding that it’s stories like these that make the Paralympics an amazing experience to photograph.

Photos of athlete overcoming disability is necessary for storytelling

Nick Didlick, who has shot Olympic Games for 13 years, said photographing a Paralympic athlete in a way that features their disability is key to the story.

“From a photographer’s point of view, we try to show that disability and the overcoming of that disability,” Didlick said. “That’s really what the story is of the Paralympics and so that’s always going to come into play. Paralympics is a story about people overcoming disabilities to have world class competition in themselves.”

However, independent photographer Paul Wright works differently than Etkin and Didlick.

“I focus more, personally, on the performance of the athlete rather than the backstory,” he said.

Wright used to work with Paralympians as an orthopedic surgeon.

“They’re not athletes with disabilities and they’re not inspirational people, you might find them that way but after you’ve been hanging around with them, they’re just athletes.”

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