The fisheye secrets behind Helsinki Transitions

Learn how Pasi Salminen captured Eero Ettala’s stunning snowboarding clip from the water at night.
Helsinki Transitions Eero Ettala & Pasi Salminen
Pasi has worked with Eero for over 10 years © Ville Vappula / Red Bull Content Pool
By Samuli Pehkonen

The quiet and wintry streets of Helsinki were turned into a scene of frenetic snowboarding activity when Finnish snowboarder Eero Ettala shot his impressive Helsinki Transitions clip.

But as he hurtled down a trail of snow across the city’s Market Square and towards the edge of the pier, photographer Pasi Salminen was lurking under the icy-cold waters of the Cholera Basin waiting to capture the perfect shot.

Salminen caught that blink-of-an-eye moment using a fisheye lens with his Canon EOS-1D X Mark II as Ettaknla soared through the air at speeds of up to 60kph. It might have been hard to see the Finnish photographer giving a celebratory thumbs-up gesture from the water because he was wearing a camouflaged neoprene survival suit, but it was a sign of all that hard work paying off. Boom – what a buzz.

Continue reading to find out how this meticulously arranged shot was made.

The schooner in the background and the icicles hanging on the water’s edge helped create an ambiance for the image, but those things were there anyway. Ettala was the star of the show, and he was cool, calm and collected when the time came for action, a quality for which he’s known.

Shot from the water, this jump from the always stylish Ettala looks huge, and that’s because it is – he covered 15m! Jumping that kind of distance from a ramp that’s only about a metre high is something that’s best left to the pros – and the same thing goes for photographers floating in ice-cold water with high-tech camera equipment.

Eero Ettala and Pasi Salminen have been working as a team in urban snowboarding since 2005. In fact, they've been in the same spot before – they shot an ollie here a few years back. This time around, though, the trick was a more difficult Backside 180 and the shooting angle was more challenging.

This particular spot is one of the most spectacular street gaps pulled off by Eero, and the setting in the heart of Helsinki has a lot to do with it. According to Salminen, the presence of water is unique for a snowboarding spot, and that makes this place even more interesting visually. The idea came when Eero saw a stunt of a motorbike rider jumping across the Cholera basin and he immediately wondered if the same could be done by a snowboarder.

When the power of Salminen’s custom-made winch was cranked to the max, there was just enough speed to reach across the gap.

Salminen had already thought about the possibility of shooting from the water on their first session at the Cholera basin. “In the end, there aren’t that many really good different angles to shoot this spot from,” he says, “but because the tele-angle works well too, I ended up using that last time.”

This time Salminen borrowed a suit and got to shoot from the water with a fisheye lens. “It was surprisingly challenging,” he says. “I’ve never worn a suit like that before, so working and moving was difficult. The water in the basin kept moving all the time and I had to make sure I stayed in the right place for the camera angle. There was steam rising from the water, which frosted the lens at times, and amid all the action I also had to make sure that the camera was kept above the water. The lighting of the shot is a combination of flash light and ambient light."

Salminen used Profoto HSS technology that enables faster-than-normal shutter speeds and enables for synching the flash with the ambient light. That way, he was able to use the video crew’s lights as part of the photoshoot lighting, so the lights of the city were captured in the shot in a natural way.

Eero Ettala riding at the Helsinki's market square
Don't get wet! © Pasi Salminen/Red Bull Content Pool

Photography and visuals play a big role in urban riding. “The aim is to document what’s happening, but the documenting can be done with style,” says Salminen. “We can do the performance justice with good lighting, by focusing also on the surroundings and by highlighting the climax of the trick with a great camera angle."

“In the end, the most important thing for me is to see the whole story told in one single shot: what’s happening and where.”

Want to know how to capture a similar shot in more hospitable conditions? Here are the camera settings Salminen used: ISO set at 3200; shutter speed at 1/640; and an aperture of 2.8. 

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