Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 10-11

Part of the charm of coming to the Olympics has been being able to photograph a lot of "minor" sports. While I did continue to go out and shoot some more water polo and gymnastics, the past two days felt more like home to me, as I shot a couple of men's basketball games as well as some soccer.

I've written before in the past, that I don't particularly like covering basketball because I don't think the action is all that great, and there is usually little or no room for creativity and there are rarely any good backgrounds at any basketball venue. However, I was actually pretty excited to go cover the first game on my schedule, which was USA vs Germany. Although I wouldn't say they are quite as formidable as the original Dream Teams of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and company, the latest edition of team USA is pretty solid with Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade.

Needless to say, team USA has been crazy dominant. It was pretty much just like watching the Harlem globetrotters play, as it seemed like every other time they were down on offense, it would finish with a dunk. Although in that particular game, I wouldn't say any of the dunk photos were that spectacular, I'm thinking if one were to shoot every men's team USA game, you could have a portfolio full of dunks by the time the Olympics is over.

As mentioned above, I also covered a little bit of soccer by going out to shoot the Brazil-Argentina semifinal soccer game. Just like basketball, the sport is pretty familiar to me as back home, I've covered enough international friendlies at Soldier Field, as well as a handful of Chicago Fire games.

Even though it was nice to finally get out and shoot some familiar sports for a change, I think I most enjoyed shooting the gymnastics apparatus finals, particularly the balance beam program. For the most part, the backgrounds at the venue are not that great, but there is a big blue wall above where the athletes enter that would make for a good backdrop assuming you could position yourself such that the athletes end up jumping in front of it. For a while, I couldn't really figure out a good place to pull it off, but me and some European photographer found an area in the barrier surrounding the field of play that could open up and asked the photo marshalls if it was ok for us to shoot there. They seemed a bit hesitant, but in the end let us shoot there.

Some nice pretty stuff.... so not surprisingly, it wasn't soon after we started shooting there that a ton of other photographers started lining up in that little opening to shoot through as well!

As there are only 5 more days in the Olympic Games, we are getting to the point where a lot of the team sports are drawing closer to their gold medal matches, and the USA is alive and well in lots of them (basketball, softball, baseball, beach volleyball). So expect a lot of gold medal celebration photos in the next few days!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 9

He did it. Eight gold medals in a single Olympic games. I will admit, Michael Phelps' eighth was a bit anticlimactic, because it was a medley relay and Phelps did not swim the freestyle anchor and it was pretty clear that the team was going to hang on to win. Therefore, although there was pretty decent jubilation, although nothing compared to yesterday's from the 100m butterfly finals.

Although I don't think the initial jubilation is a particularly special image, I think my pre-game plan as to where to sit ended up working out giving the situation. I knew that Phelps would be out of the pool when the Americans finished the race, because he wasn't swimming the anchor, so I had to try to find a spot in the photo positions that would offer the best line of sight to the start/finish line. I had debated for a while whether to shoot it from pool level at the start/finish line, pool level from the turn side of the pool, or to shoot it elevated about midway down the pool. I quickly ruled out the turn side of the pool, because there are a lot of little flags that hang over the pool (it warns the backstrokers that they only have a few meters left before hitting the wall), and it was very likely that they, as well as any of the other random things that hang over the pool, would obstruct my view of the celebration. And while the pool level start/finish line position offers a pretty unobstructed view, I eventually decided against it because I was afraid that it might be too much of a profile view of the celebration. I felt there would be a pretty high chance that a teammate might jump out in front of Phelps and ruin the picture. Therefore, I felt that for this particular event, it would be slightly elevated in the first row of the stands, because not only was it somewhat less likely a teammate would block my shot of Phelps, but I was much less likely to get blocked by the little flags that hang over the pool (the ones that warn the backstrokers that they only have a few meters left until they hit a wall). If I was at pool level for the celebration, I felt like I would run the risk of having those flags, or any of the other random ropes that hang over the pool cut right through the image of Phelps celebrating with his teammates.

All that said, I thought the victory lap around the pool with his teammates holding up large American flags in front of them was a lot more interesting than the act of winning the relay.

I will say that in a week and a half full of special moments, this one is certainly one I will never forget, and I feel fortunate and honored to be able to participate in such a historic moment in all of sport.

After the event finished and I transmitted all my pictures, it was time to head over to the tennis center and catch the tail end of the womens single finals between two Russians, Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina. They played a long, three-set match but Dementieva eventually came through in the end to take the gold. It was actually a Russian medal sweep, as Vera Zvonareva won the bronze.

I was hoping in my time up there, I would be able to stick around for the medal ceremony as well as the men's singles final featuring Rafael Nadal, but I could not because I had to get over to diving, which is one of the USA teams we are contracted to shoot for.

I think I've said it before, but the diving venue is not set up very well for photographs. The options are to go really really high up into the stands, so you can just get blue water as a background, or to shoot really low and do some artistic panned movement shots. For variety's sake, I started low than moved high for the rest of the competition. Since I posted stuff from high last time I did diving, I'll show some a panned shot this time...

Although the work days have all been very long, time has been flying by quickly. Only one week left to go!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 8

Men's 100m butterfly. Take your mark....

So much for subdued jubilation! Michael Phelps tied Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympic Games.... barely. He edged out the second place finisher by a mere one-hundreth of a second (I still have yet to see a replay.... video is blocked in China), and needless to say, upon seeing the result on the scoreboard, he just went bonkers.

Now in a previous post, I mentioned that in swimming, for these close races I normally watch the big board before I spin around to shoot the jubilation because of the delay in time it takes for the swimmers to realize they had won. In this case, I made an exception and just followed Phelps down the final stretch. Because the race was going to be a record-tying one if he had won, he would have been the story no matter who had won so I stayed on him to capture his initial reaction regardless of the situation. After his big water splashing jubilation (which was actually very lucky.... the water could have just as easily blocked his face and completely ruined the frames), teammate Ian Crocker swam over to congratulate him.

But that wasn't it as far as good swimming jubilation was concerned. The men's 50m freestyle winner made some big splashes in his victory as well...

And later in the day, USA water polo goalie Merrill Moses spiked the ball into the water after their victory over an undefeated Croatia team....

I finished off Day 8 with some fencing as the USA's team foil s
quad made a bunch of upsets earlier in the day to make the gold medal game. I did the usual stuff, including the slow shutter stuff, but I decided to mix things up a bit and shoot some fencing tighter.

USA ended up getting crushed in the gold medal game by Russia, and let me tell you something... do the Russians ever know how to party down after a victory. All four members of the team took a few laps around the arena waving Russian stuffed animals and flags, and then jumped into the stands where they were tossed in the air by their fans a few times. Good stuff.

In Day 9, Phelps goes for gold medal number eight in the 4x100 medley relay, which will break Spitz's record.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 6-7

Sorry for the lack of updates, I have not done a whole lot of new or overly interesting events the past few days. As Michael Phelps draws closer and closer to winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics, I have been spending more and more time at the pool. While each medal is obviously a tremendous accomplishment, Phelps is not really very emotional or wild in his celebrations. Usually it has just been a simple fist pump or a raised arm. I guess that's a true professional: act like you've done it before.

Other competitors however, have not been as muted in their victory celebrations.

Since I have been at swimming so long, I am really running out of ideas on things I can do (especially in a venue and a sport that really limits creativity to begin with). I moved positions so I would be closer to the starting blocks on Day 7, just to see if I could shoot something different of the start, and also started messing around some when I saw the Olympic mascots dancing on the pool deck.

Day 8 is shaping up into what should be a pretty eventful and busy day. Of course, I will be starting off at the pool, as Phelps goes for gold medal number seven, tying Mark Spitz's record for most golds in a single Olympic Games. Then it's off to some water polo, and then finally some track cycling, weight lifting, or both depending on events and who's competing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 5

Day 5 ended up being one of the busiest days I have had since I got here. I started the day off with some wrestling to shoot the two Americans in the Greco-Roman style events. I have shot Greco-Roman wrestling once before, and thought it was kinda interesting. It's not WWF wrestling, but the fact that competitors will sometimes pick each other up and slam them to the mat sure reminds me of it! I didn't get any shots of that happening, because I wasn't at the wrestling gymnasium long enough.... the Americans lost their first two matches and were thus elminiated from competition! Anyways, for this event, I quickly realized that the background from ground level was pretty bad, with judges and stairs, and fans in the way, so I went up so I could get a good view of the many colors of the mat.

So I was at the wrestling gym for about 10 minutes and called in to see what to do, since we didn't expect the Americans to lose so fast! I suggested I go double up our photographer at the women's gymnastics team finals and shoot from high, so off to the National Indoor Stadium I went. I thought shooting from high up would help clean up the images for gymnastics, but it did not really except for a small portion of the floor exercise.

The problem was that in the gym, the ushers and officials would not let us go high enough in the arena to clean things up. As a result, I did not really shoot that much there. I pretty much just followed the action around on the different events until I either saw a competitor tumble into an area with nice signage/clean background, or if they fell - which is exactly what American captain Alicia Sacramone did on the beam (and again on the floor), which effectively cost the USA the team gold. That's got to be an awful feeling....

Once that was over, I finally made it up to the Olympic Green Tennis Center and shoot what has become one of my favorite sports. I think I've said before, I don't quite know why.... it's just as repetitive as many other sports, if not even more so. I think I just like how there are nice "lines" in tennis, and just enough variety in the pictures you can get from it depending on where you sit or what players are doing. Like many other venues, it was pretty apparent that it would be difficult to move around, so it was best to just pick a spot and stay there. Of course, since it was my first shoot at the tennis center, I went up high for most of my time there in order to get a good view of all the Beijing and Olympics signage.

I finished off the long day with two basketball games... nothing that special... just your standard basketball action.

Onto Day 6 and beyond...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 4

I will admit.... for as much crap as I have given regarding how boring and repetitive shooting swimming at the Water Cube has been the past few days... it has started to grow on me. Then again, three American gold medals in one morning session had probably had something to do with it!

I learned from my very first day of swimming here that shooting the jubilation is not as easy as simply following the leader, because in most races (basically any race Michael Phelps isn't in), is decided by a few tenths of a second. So in these cases, I rely on the big board. As the competitors go down the final length of the pool, I will take a look up at the scoreboard, because the finish order is displayed the moment the first swimmer touches the wall. Once that #1 shows up by the swimmer's name and lane number, I immediately swing my sights onto them and fire away. I'm not ever too worried that I will miss the jube this way, because that the swimmer will won't typically celebrate the moment they hit the finish line. Their initial reaction to the race is usually slightly delayed because the heats are so close, they have to look up, find, and read the results on the scoreboard as well.

After that, it's on to the medal stand....

Northwestern represent! Matt Grevers won silver in the 100m backstroke!

In the evening, I made it out to the men's individual sabre semifinals and gold/bronze medal matches. Like water polo and field hockey yesterday, this shoot was a completely different experience from any previous fencing shoots I have ever had. For one, the light was FANTASTIC. They dim the lights in the crowd, and spotlight the competitors so all you see is black and white. It really makes for some very clean, and very dramatic images.

I was very lucky to have the gold medal winner turn and celebrate in my direction after he won the final match.... this shot instantly became one of my favorite jubilation shots that I have ever shot.

Onto day five... got some wrestling, tennis, and basketball on the schedule of events!

Beijing Olympics: Day 3

Today, I shot two sports that I have only ever shot once before, and never before on a professional level. They were field hockey and water polo. Oddly enough, field hockey was one of the first sports that I had ever shot, as it was one of my first sports assignments I was ever given when I shot for the Daily Northwestern. And water polo I had only shot once before for a prep sports company in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Needless to say, the level of play was much better. The passing was far cleaner, and thus, scrambles for loose balls were far more infrequent. But the biggest difference of all... especially in water polo, is that they are MUCH harder hitting and violent.

You can see it in field hockey, but it's not as apparent in water polo.... supposedly there is a lot of grabbing, scratching, and kicking that goes on under water as players fight for positioning in front of the net. Some photographers there were trying to rank the sports in terms of physicality and violence, and this is what they came up with: water polo/handball (tie), wrestling, boxing. Yeah... boxing is only the third most violent and physical sport.... crazy, huh? Maybe I will try to shoot part of a future game in one of those underwater viewing holes to see what exactly goes on. In any case, because I was above water, so like any other sport here at the Olympics, the name of the game is not only to shoot the action, but to try to clean up your backgrounds or include Olympic signage.

Tomorrow, I am back to the Water Cube for some swimming finals as Phelps goes for gold medal number three, as well as some more water polo and diving.