IAAF World Athletics Championships, Moscow
Learning Curve – the day before it begins!
The days before the opening of the World Championships in Moscow are about learning. “Where is the hotel breakfast room? What does prune porridge taste like?” To more practical, the bus ride to the stadium takes an hour; there’s got to be a better way! Then more complicated issues, setting up VLAN cables in the stadium, configuring my laptop, positioning remote cameras. I’ve spent all day learning the stadium. Walking the in-field several times, hopefully trying to notice a different angle. The layout of the track is slightly different. The pole vault is on the “finish line” end of the field while the cage at the far end. It’s stressful when there’s one lap to go in the 10,000 metres and I’m not where I should be! I need to be at the finish, hopefully photographing Mo Farah with his arms outstretched. But before that there’s five other events I need to shoot. Working on the athletics in-field you have to manage your time properly. It’s very tempting to keep shooting – you know there’s a good picture coming but often you have to get up and move on to the next event. Once the session starts, it’s non-stop. Hopefully everything will work, I’m in the right place at the right time and not dodging a discus running back to the finish line at the sound of the bell!
Slow Shutters and Fisheyes
The day began with Decathlon and the preliminary rounds of the Men’s 100 metres; good practice ahead of the Men’s Final tomorrow. With my remote cameras in place early, I had time to think about shooting something arty. I took advantage of the CPS service and borrowed a fisheye lens. I’m sure it’ll be over-worked considering the stadium is circular. However, the picture I envisioned didn’t quite work. Decathletes don’t tend to get high enough to be ‘clean’ against the sky and secondly there’s a huge floating space station suspended in the middle of the arena. I’m hoping it’ll disappear after the Opening Ceremony and I’ll try doing the photo again with the Men’s long jumpers. The day pretty much went to plan, I had time to ‘play’ with the 10,000 metres race. Over the years I’ve become quite partial to shooting sport using slow shutter speeds. The 25 laps gave me plenty of opportunities to experiment. But then it was to the finish line for the obligatory flag-waving by Mo Farah, followed by Usain Bolt cruising over the line to win his heat.
The “main” day is over!
The “main” day is over! The day featuring the Men’s 100 metres Final is the day everybody remembers from any athletics meeting. From a photographer’s point of view we’re all competing to make a special image from the day. In the run up to to the main race I worked around the far end of the track. My colleague Franck Fife worked the finish line today. I covered a lot of discus today and, admittedly, it’s not the most glamorous part of shooting athletics but it’s work that needs to be done working for a wire service. I put the fisheye lens to good use once again while sitting beneath the pole vault. Although I paid the price when an athlete knocked the bar off which landed on top of my head. Never good in front of the several thousand people. I kept a stiff upper lip and pretended it didn’t hurt! I had visions, luckily not double visions, of being carted off by Russian medics. Dangerous this athletics you know! On to the Women’s long jump final… a bit of inside knowledge came in handy with Russian jumper Darya Klishina. She always lands in the pit to her right and flicks the sand. It tough to get a “sharp” frame when the sand flies. But after several attempts I made a frame I liked. The evening culminated in pouring rain, ahead of the 100m. Usain Bolt delivered in style again – as usual!
Calm after the Storm
I thought I’d be on the ball and tap out my blog during Monday’s extended lunchtime. I spent most of the morning at the high jump with the Women’s Heptathlon. Most of us are looking for a “clean” background to isolate the athletes. To the non-photographer it’s hard to understand that a matter of one metre in either direction can be the difference between a good shot and an average one. Quite often the in-field photographers will be huddled together because there are so many objects in the background – scoreboards, advertising boards, officials, the list goes on… – that can spoil the picture. Add the restrictions about where you’re physically allowed to sit, then a small patch of ideal ground close to the mat comes at a premium. A combination of fast shutter speeds, wide open apertures and a nice mottled background of spectators is always the best.
Fast & Frenetic
After a calm morning, work exploded into a fast and frenetic pace yesterday evening. The Men’s Hammer and Women’s Shot Put could potentially finish together, but I never predicted all of the events finishing back-to-back. In-field photographers always “do the run around” as the winners take a lap of honour. Briton Christine Ohuruogu came from behind to snatch victory. I followed her, walking backwards, as she took her applause. Normally I’d edit my pictures on the back of my camera, tagging the good and deleting the bad, before ingesting the CF card. The photos are transferred to an editor high in the stadium. No chance to edit on this occasion… the Shot Put was ending. I sent 50 to 60 frames, double what I’d normally pass to the editor.
I rushed back in time for Valerie Adams to celebrate her latest World Title in the Women’s Shot Put. Back to the laptop; no edit; more pictures to the over-worked editors. Within minutes, the hurdlers were in the blocks. Back to the finish line to see David Oliver go crazy for gold in the Men’s 110 metres Hurdles Final. I might have shot over 100 frames on the race and celebrations. The adrenalin was pumping, and that was just me! And guess what? French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie was making his last attempt to snatch victory from Raphael Holzdeppe, all this minutes before the marquee event of the night… the Women’s 100 metres Final. A brilliant night at the track, but spare a thought for the picture editor!
The German and the Pole…… Vaulter
Last night belonged to the veterans of athletics. Germany’s discus thrower Robert Harting picked up his third World Championship gold, to go with his London 2012 Olympic title. And the patriotic crowd roared their approval when the poster girl of Russian athletics Yelena Isinbayeva, the greatest female pole vaulter of all time, took potentially her last victory.
I started with the discus. I predicted the competition was between two arch-rivals: Robert Harting and Piotr Malachowski. You’re limited to only a couple of different angles because of the throwing cage. I used a remote camera with a 16-35mm zoom lens for the “meat and potatoes” picture, while I stood down-field with a Canon 500mm lens. Here you need to stay alert; during the Olympics a discus was misthrown and buried itself in the turf five metres away. No sitting down; a constant crouch is required for a quick get-away. The competition went as predicted, although what Harting decides to do is completely random. Upon winning he roared to the crowd like The Hulk, ran one way then the other, scattering pursuing photographers before the obligatory ripping of his shirt – Incredible! And then I went to train my lens on Isinbayeva, along with every other camera in the stadium.
The Long Jump & Mental Gymnastics
After last night’s hugely anticipated evening it’s Wednesday and the mid-way point of the Championships. I had an easy day at the track this morning. Good job too because I’m short on sleep and clean socks. As much as this job can be glamorous I’ll be washing my “smalls” in the sink shortly. I spent the morning shooting Women’s Hammer qualifying followed by Men’s Long Jump qualifying. The tricky part here is there are two sand pits and hence the athletes jump simultaneously. And if they “nail it” they’ll only jump once. I set up a fisheye lens on a remote camera, once again in an attempt to isolate the athletes against the clear sky.
I stationed myself at the end of the sand pit. There were also a few jumpers I needed to shoot in the other pit but, due to laying in front of the television camera, it wasn’t possible to get up each time. So, guess what? It’s another remote camera. This time with a 16-35mm lens pointing slightly back down the runway. It’s mental gymnastics watching for the long jumper coming your way, deleting out of focus pictures and waving the Pocket Wizard (remote trigger) in the air while another athlete commences his jump. There’s a wizard for each remote, shutter button, deleting button, AF button. It’s like playing the piano. I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order!
Getting to the Pointy End!
The Men’s Javelin is on the menu today. Thirty-five athletes have a maximum of three throws as they compete across two heats. A colleague sometimes refers to working the “factory floor”. Potentially you can qualify for the final with your first throw. Personally I shoot the basic “front on” picture first, ensuring I have every competitor. Then I get a bit more adventurous, either panning on a slow shutter or “going in super tight”.
There were no remotes involved for me this morning; just a simple combination of two Canon EOS-1D X cameras, one wearing a 500mm lens the other a 70-200mm zoom. With the latest cameras the autofocus is even more reliable. I challenge myself to see how tight in I dare go. In days gone by autofocus used to start searching when something distracting came through the frame or got too big in the viewfinder. I experiment with different AF (autofocus) Case settings to see which works best. I tried Case 5 today, which gave me a pretty good hit rate considering the throwers are running straight toward you.
Tonight was an interesting night on the in-field for remote cameras. I’ve counted them all out; I’m hoping they’ll return safely. It always plays in the back of mind when you spread cameras and lenses about the place, quite often out of my view. But I arrived at the stadium two and a half hours before kick-off to place a camera in the throwing cage for the Hammer, and others beside the Shot Put and Long Jump finals. Focus and zooms rings were taped so that nothing could move.
There is a camaraderie amongst most photographers but unfortunately sabotage does happen. Sports photography is a competitive world and occasionally people take it to another level. It’s incredibly frustrating to have “gone the extra mile” for an unusual angle, only to find pictures out-of-focus or the transmitter channel changed. I even had a battery taken from a camera – something I discovered only 10 minutes before a 200 metres final. Luckily, another photographer tossed me a spare and I had the camera up and running just in time. Tonight, luckily everything returned home safely and no funny business to boot!
Crash, Bang Wallop – Oh, what a picture!
A leisurely morning was had by all – photographers that is. Most of them were on the hunt for Russian dolls at the market. I’ve been on assignment in Moscow once before, hence my wife is getting a pair of cashmere socks! She’s one lucky lady! The evening session started easily, the setting sun created a nice highlight on the spectators. I couldn’t resist to “do” the obligatory silhouette of the Women’s High Jump Final. Luckily all of the field events finished on cue and we got in position for the Men’s 200 metres Final. True to form, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt blew past his rivals and won the race in sub-20 seconds. It was my turn tonight to follow the speed-merchant on his victory lap. He even took a few pictures of us before heading off to celebrate with the crowd on the back straight.
Keeping up Appearances!
The last session came and went. Usain Bolt kept up appearances and won yet another gold medal, blasting through the finish line – this time to secure 4x100m Relay gold for Jamaica to conclude the Championships.
I began the day with the Women’s Javelin. Showing my bravado I was shooting the athletes on a straight Canon 500mm lens. If I can I try to shoot differently from my “opposition”. If I have to sit beside another photographer I may go extremely tight or use a completely different exposure. When I can I’ll sit somewhere different, be the odd one out. Luckily I have “free-rein” with Agence France-Presse (AFP); the boss doesn’t tell me what to get. Admittedly sometimes it doesn’t work. But I’m stubborn like that. Midway through I moved to the Triple Jump, crawling beneath the TV camera and cooking my achy knees on the hot surface of the track. Frenchman Teddy Tamgho did the business. I forewent his last jump and positioned myself in front of his coach, wide angle lens at the ready. I spent the next 10 minutes going from pillar-to-post chasing him and his tricolour before he decided to take it easy and take a rest underneath the scoreboard.