The Winter Olympics, Sochi
At home! Well, not exactly. After a long day travelling to Sochi and checking in for the Winter Olympic Games the next morning was consumed configuring laptops and cameras. A good few hours were spent alongside AFP technicians – they input new server details to my cameras and laptop; technology rules these days! My cameras were ready, now I need to shoot some photographs and give them a good test! It’s always a little bit worrying whether they are actually going to work when dispatched to my venue, but also because I know I’m going to have to change them all back to my original settings when I return to London. The technicians earn their money when they come to a big event like an Olympic Games.
Off to the Iceberg Skating Palace – the arena where I’ll spend most of my time. Figure and Speed Skating are on my menu at these Olympics… new territory for me! Previously I’ve shot the Snowboard and “Extreme Sports” at the Winter Games… so it’ll be a different experience. On the one hand, I can’t help but be a little disappointed not to be working with sunlight. The upshot is I won’t be covered by snow while freezing on a mountainside!
Friday night found me at the Opening Ceremony. Meandering through the spectators I had a ticket for a high position… although lugging the assorted Canon goodies up several flights of stairs is never fun! Despite being a fan of using the minimal amount of equipment, I chose to take four camera bodies. One I clamped to a rail and triggered with a PocketWizard. The others I juggled around in no particular order. I didn’t see the rehearsal, but I’ve done opening ceremonies before. Anything involving the Olympic Rings or the Olympic torch and flame is pretty important. My position was good, pretty central to the action, although me and two colleagues were located on a stairwell. I couldn’t count how many times I was nudged in the back, but everybody was in good spirit. No frayed tempers yet… even seen a few laughing policemen! So far, so good for me.
Once again into the breach…
With my late night at the Opening Ceremony, then blogging, I didn’t feel the feathers in my pillow until way past 2am. Once again into the breach, but I warn you… I’m beginning to see rings! Dispatched to curling… my fault for getting caught reading e-mail. An amateur mistake – I should’ve known better. But I’m due to shoot curling and now I’m one up on my colleagues… I know how to get in the building! An hour to explore, shoot some frames and, as luck would have it, the British team were practicing. Now, like figure skating, I’ve never shot it before. I bite the bullet and find someone in the know…
On this occasion a fine chap with the Canadian team was on hand to ask a million and one questions. I just start with the basic, “how do you play this game?” and “who’s gonna win?”. If they’re still willing to engage me in conversation, and have stopped laughing, I just continue – until they walk away. Then back to the Iceberg [Skating Palace] for more figure skating. I’m done with the questions, I get it! It’s tough; not so much the shooting, it’s the four minutes you have to scroll through 100 to 300 frames. A split-second decision whether to send the picture… and in the flash of a LAN cable light the picture is on it’s way to an editor and into the system. Thank you and good night!
I was the joker today! Forgive me if I talk in riddles! I may be getting my ch@r@cters mixed up? Anyway, ‘the joker’ is the man who moves about and reinforces other teams. I had an early start with a couple of press conferences. I listened to the usual “stock” answers from athletes while trying to crop out the well-known fizzy drink bottle. Product placement is everywhere! Then it was my first foray into speed skating… it was pretty cool. Imagine an ice rink as long as a rugby field. Or if you don’t play rugby, it’s big. No pressure on me; I went to the quiet bend… only a handful of photographers were there and I wracked my shutter speeds down. You can shoot ridiculously low these days with the image stabilisation built in to the lenses. I started with 1/4th of a second to see what occurred. I liked it, but I worked my way through the range of lenses and settled on panning with a Canon 400mm f/2.8.
Then a mad dash back to the figure skating for another evening “at the office”. To complicate matters the President came too… I’m not joking!
The Dutch are Schmokin!
On paper my Monday wasn’t going to be particularly hard. Speed Skating is on the agenda. But the most important thing to remember is… call my Mum and wish her Happy 85th Birthday. It’s all very well gallivanting around the world covering these sporting events but you do tend to miss out on a few milestones in life!
So, off to Short Track Speed Skating at the Adler Arena to see the Dutch take a clean sweep of the medals with Michel Mulder sprinting to gold in the Men’s 500 metres race. There’s nothing clever about the picture, they only race one lap. And hence once chance as they go by. It’s a classic 1/2000th of a second, wide open on a 400mm f/2.8… and hope it’s sharp.
Now, remind me to wish my wife a Happy Valentine’s Day on Friday will ya!
Now you may raise an eyebrow when you read my ‘day whatever it is’ blog. But I’ll tell it like it is. Another day, another dollar. Spaghetti for breakfast; I’m talking food now – it was actually quite tasty but odd eating dinner in the morning. But, hey, you gotta eat and once you get going at the Olympic Park there’s no stopping. We have to keep concentrating, and be creative, and we eat when we can. Once you’re at a venue the options are nuts! Literally… although there are hotdogs and a bit of chocolate about. While at the Figure Skating, a colleague tips peanuts over the table and throws a packet of M&M’s on top for good measure. In between each skater a few disappear. It gets you through the evening! Oh yeah, I forgot to say, I shot a bit of Curling today, then Figure Skating. Ate a few nuts!
Romance is dead!
Valentine’s Day has arrived, and not one of you reminded me! Well, that’s not entirely true, a French colleague did invite me on a date to help cover the early morning curling session. After a 15-hour day shooting yesterday, I declined his generous offer. Anyway, I’m not looking my best – all unshaven!
I did the triple yesterday. A quick tot up and the conclusion is I shot just over 3,300 frames. I started with Curling to see the British women squeak a victory. Followed by Short Track Speed Skating, where British medal hope Elise Christie crashed and was controversially disqualified. My night finished with the Men’s Figure Skating where Russian skating legend Yevgeny Plushenko called it a night on his career and bid farewell to his adoring public. He injured himself during the warm-up, and later described the pain as “like a knife in my back”. Good job really because Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu would have provided the bladed article when he went on to a world record score of 101.45 to lead after the Short Programme.
From a photography point of view, it wasn’t a very pleasing day at the office. Photographers can torture themselves… today might be the day to shoot an unbelievable frame. Despite being at an amazing event I didn’t come away with anything I felt was particularly good. Maybe I’ll take another look – when I get a few hours spare!
A gift for his country!
After a world record score on Thursday, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu was up against Canadian veteran Patrick Chan in the Men’s Figure Skating. Despite falling twice in his final performance Hanyu, became the youngest skater for 66 years and the the first Japanese man to win Olympic Figure Skating gold.
Semi-hysterical Japanese women rushed to the front to throw flowers onto the ice, standing rink-side last night I scored a couple of assists nodding a few bouquets on their way. FYI: the stems leave a mark! But, you know, women throwing flowers at me on Valentine’s Day… happens all the time!
To justify my existence, I photographed a bit of Short Track Speed Skating training earlier in the day. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to try a multiple-exposure. It’s all the rage these days. It seems everybody is doing them here. I pinched an idea from an AP colleague who was shooting multiple exposures at Figure Skating. “There’s no original photograph you know,” an old photographer friend Joe Walles used to tell me. Always take it as a compliment when another photographer copies your idea. His words echoed in my head as I fiddled with the settings, firing between seven to nine exposures onto the same frame using a low-speed motor drive setting.
I woke early and realised I’ve worn all my socks… I’ve turned them inside out, round and round! It’s official! I need to do laundry! So, from sweaty socks to Women’s Curling. The action is “heating up” at the Ice Cube. The ladies are yelling “harder” just that bit louder. It’s beginning to mean something in the 11th session! The Brits needed a win this morning to ease their nerves and likely progress to the Ladies’ semi-finals. The British team losing would provide column inches in the papers – they would smell blood! Considering the fact that Britain has lavished £5 million of government and lottery funding on its curlers, making them full-time athletes and providing sports psychologists in a bid to secure gold medals.
I started “working” the arena up high, amongst the fans – using the circles on the ice for symmetry. Before moving downstairs for a closer inspection and a few “action” shots of the players throwing a stone. I managed a “trademark” pan shot, considering there’s not a lot of movement in this game I gave myself a pat on the back and a biscuit. I could do with a proper cup of tea, at Figure Skating yesterday we needed caffeine, instant coffee with tepid water was the only option – but welcome.
Room at the Inn?
When asked about my room in Sochi, I said: “I’d like to report the mini bar was empty and the hairdryer was useless.” Now of course, my associates know I don’t drink. 😉
But indeed, I needed a stiff drink after last nights’ Ice Dance final. I was assigned a “special” position, room at the inn for only two… photographers. Positioned at the gate where the skaters leave the ice, hug their coach, before sitting to get their score. Needless to say it was tight! Three TV cameramen trailed by their “cable guy” getting the up-the-nose shot. After years of doing this job, I’m afraid to say, lil’ ‘ol photographers never win a battle against TV. Especially when they’re working for behemoths like NBC who have gobbled up the broadcast rights for $millions. So, I shuffled around picking off the scraps.
I personally danced a samba with my Canon EOS-1D X and 400mm f/2.8 lens, picking the couples off when they skated through a “clean” background. Before I waltzed around with my wide angle in front of the kiss-and-cry bench. No time to edit before the next couple. Imagine that dance 24 times in a row. Ah, yes, I forgot to say, I needed to transmit the pictures – the poor AFP picture editor needed a stiff drink. She received in excess of 1000 frames from me. No kisses for me! Just a bit of crying.
How slow can you go?
Hello blog, I’ve missed you the last couple of days. I’m at the stage of extreme fatigue. I’m in “slow” mode. Not just me, but my shutter speeds too. After Curling, but before Short Track I made it to the Adler Arena for Speed Skating. The heats of the team relays. No medals were at stake, so I had licence to play.
It’s been a learning curve in Sochi! Listening to photographers chat, I’ve picked up a few new techniques. Multiple exposures last week, now I’m using a custom setting on the EOS-1D X that allows me to choose between two exposures at the press of a button. A “normal” exposure to freeze the action at 1/2000th of a second at f/4, ISO 2000. The other set to ¼ of a second at f/14, ISO 200. I can swap between the two at the touch of a button. Very clever these cameras you know.
Stabilizer on, the skaters looped the impressive arena and I had six laps to play with. I panned with them, seeing how slow I could go; firing bursts when the three skaters appeared symmetrical or when they passed a white background. If you’re going have a go… make sure your CCD sensor is clean or you’ll be seeing spots!
Good Games, Good Games
I intended to blog while waiting at Sochi Airport. Alas, I fell asleep in my chair, head falling to my shoulders from time-to-time. I’m home now, laundry bin brimming, after a long day transiting through airports. No sooner had I sat on the plane in Sochi than I was asleep, only to wake two hours later to find we hadn’t taken off. After shooting the closing ceremony and team dinner, I had an hour to pack before leaving. No bed for me! My colleagues took pleasure photographing me semi-unconscious. Oh, they laughed! I didn’t laugh when I realised I had missed my next Frankfurt flight.
Which leads me to my favourite photograph from the Games. I like my picture of Germany’s Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi during the Figure Skating Team Ice Dance. Several colleagues sent me messages and my 10-year-old daughter, Daisy, laughed too. Apparently quite a lot! So, in the heat of the battle of competition, the competitors and photographers, if I can make you smile then that makes me happy too.
One final note; while flying home the Russian air steward served us dinner. Delivered in broken English, in a very deep voice, he asked: “fish or chicken?” A Canadian athlete enquired: “What kind of fish?”… “Fish from the sea,” was the reply. Thank you and good night!