Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Gonna Happen

For the second year in a row, the Chicago Cubs are National League central division champions. And unlike last year where the clinched it on the road, they did it at home this year so they could party down won the field in front of the fans!

Even though the Cubs clinched the division crown on Saturday, the more exciting game was the one that happened last Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs made a few miscues early in the game which led to them falling into a 6-2 hole going into the ninth inning....

Then things got exciting. With two outs in the ninth, the Cubs strung together some hits to cut the deficit to three. Up to the plate came catcher Geovany Soto, who promptly hit a three-run home run on the first pitch tie the game.

First baseman Derrek Lee followed a few innings later and hit a game-winning RBI for an improbably 7-6 Cubs win.

The clincher on Saturday was not really all an exciting game. It was a close game, but as far as action photos, it wasn't that exciting because there were not really any plays at the bases and most of the runs came on homers. But man, what a party!

I knew the players would eventually come out onto the field after clinching victory to celebrate with fans, but I didn't expect them to do pretty much the entire celebration out on the field. Normally the players will go into the clubhouse and spray each other down with beer and champagne and then just come back out to wave to the crowd and shake hands, etc. And of course, locker room access was limited so almost nobody was prepared for being right in the middle of the champagne shower. But instead, they pretty much just ran into the clubhouse, grabbed the boxes and boxes of alcohol and started busting all that open out on the field and spraying each other as well as the fans (and media people in the scrum). Luckily our gear is "weather sealed." Still had to wipe my stuff down after I got back home so it wasn't all sticky and gross from all that champagne though. Hey, I guess now I know that in the playoffs to bring some plastic baggies to cover my stuff if they clinch series wins at home!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Football in the Rain

On Saturday, Chicago saw a record downpour of over seven inches of rain that lead to major flooding in basements and streets all across the city. But that doesn't stop football from being played!

As I made the slow drive up to Evanston for the Northwestern game, I was strangely excited for this one. I have shot football in a near blizzard, but never in a near monsoon! Most people hate the rain, but I feel that it is tolerable to shoot in as long as you are prepared for it... and knowing that it should make for some pretty interesting photos! I knew it was going to be pouring all day, so I had towels, rain coat, second change of clothes, and all my camera rain covers ready to go.

It was my first football game of the year, so I felt a little bit rusty, but I think I turned out a decent take from the game. I was a bit disappointed that the rain wasn't as visible in the photos as I had envisioned, (even less so in this low-res blog), but with the game being played at noon, it was just too bright out to offern enough contrast to make the rain stand out. Not really much to say about football.... just action, action, action. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300

What a mouthful! Yes, that was the full name of the race I shot over the weekend... which was the very first motor sports event I have ever covered. But no way was I going to be allowed to use that as an excuse for crappy pictures, because the race, which was held at the Chicagoland Speedway, was going to be the one that decided the 2008 IndyCar Series championship! It was strange do have my first race be a championship deciding race, but I wasn't the only one. Both AP and Reuters sent folks who had never shot racing before either. Why so many first timers for such a big race? Probably because everybody else was covering the first week of NFL football.

Anyways, shooting racing is actually a multi-day event. There are several sessions over the course of the weekend: practices, qualifying, and the actual race. And then there's usually more than one race (for example, this weekend there was an IndyCar Series race, an ARCA race, and an Indy Lights race... don't ask me what any of those mean). Shooting practices and qualifying was kind of ridiculous, as it's just shooting drivers as they get in and out of cars, getting ready to run time trials on the track. Pretty much, all it is good for is shooting features and headshots for the actual race, which is usually held the next day (or so I'm told).

So now we get to the actual race. So racing is a lot like every other sport. It is an easy sport to shoot, but a difficult one to shoot well. Anybody can shoot cars going round and round in circles and of course, the finish line shot, but of course, all that gets boring after a while.

There are a couple ways to spice things up. First, you have to hope for crashes and exploding engines. I got this one car as it went down the track on fire, but missed the moment of impact because I didn't realize the car was in danger of losing control. I had always thought shooting crashes would be easy because you can see the cars wobble, but that's not really the case. Racing veterans often wear headsets that broadcast the communications between the drivers and the crews so they know what's going on in a race. I know for next time to wear a radio so that I can hear the communications chatter so I know who is in trouble and wear so I can better react to who is about to hit a wall or burst into flames.

The second way to spice things up (and this is starting to sound real old coming off of all my Olympics posts), is of course to go out there and look for something different. Work different angles, use signage, or look for some pretty light or patterns. All in all, I think I did a decent job of covering the race... considering that it was my first time out to the track.

At the end of the day, Helio Castroneves edged out Scott Dixon to win the race, but Dixon got the last laugh, as he was able to clinch the 2008 IndyCar Series championship and celebrated in style.... I mean look... there were 100 dollar bills mixed into the confetti! Fake or not, I've never seen that before!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Beijing Olympics: By the Numbers

To officially wrap up my posts about my Beijing Olympic experience, I've got a little "By the Numbers" post for you all:

- Days in Beijing: 20
- Images shot: 23,126+
- Images filed: 1,136+
- Avg hours of sleep/night: 6
- Cab fares paid: 22
- Gigs worth of free memory received: 12
- Press pins exchanged: 4
- USA gold medals shot: 16
- Phelps gold medals shot: 6
- Energy Bars eaten: 33
- Times I ate at Main Press Center (MPC): 24
- Peking ducks eaten: 5
- McDonald's meals eaten: 5
- Times offered to be featured on TODAY show: 1
- Times actually featured on TODAY show: 0
- George W. Bush sightings: 2

I've got to explain some of these numbers for you. There is a plus sign after number of images shot and filed for two reasons, because the number of images shot is probably quite a bit higher than the 23,126 I wrote. I tallied that number by simply counting the number of original files on my portable harddrive. However, this does not take into account the number of pictures I deleted in the camera while at the events, nor does it take into the account that I mistakenly deleted all of my images from Day 7 before backing them up (don't worry, I still was able to retrieve edited files from our website).

And YES, I was actually asked to be on NBC's TODAY Show. So the day Phelps won his 7th gold medal (the 100 butterfly), I was sitting in a photo position that happened to be right in front of Matt Lauer. He thought it was just so fascinating that after big events, photographers would pull out their computers and immediately start filing images. I explained to him that now that Phelps' race is over, it is now my race... my race to get pictures out before the other agencies like AP, Getty, Reuters, etc. Especially since a 10am race in China meant that it was 10pm in the States... getting close to newspaper deadlines!!! So in getting my pictures out as fast as possible, it would be more likely that my pictures get used. I guess they were looking for new story ideas, instead of the boring athlete or parent interviews, so he offered to stick a camera crew with me to follow me around and do a feature. So none of this happened in the end... I suspect that the producers all nixed the idea because there was only one day of swimming left when I met Lauer, and that simply was not enough time to throw this together. If only I met him in Day 3 or 4, I think this might have actually worked out!!!

Well, even without a TODAY show appearance, this was hands down one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life. Although the hours were long and the eating/showering schedule was not exactly ideal, there hasn't been a day in the past week or so that I have not wished that I was still out there and the games are still going on. It will be hard to image any future Olympic Games ever matching not only the achievements of these games (Phelps and Bolt and everyone else just smashing world records), but also the production that the Chinese put on. Many veteran journalists agree that the facilities, volunteers, and just overall operations was the best out of any Olympics they had been to.

In any case, it has been mentioned in passing to me that I need to get ready for the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010. I think the things I learned and experienced in covering my first Olympics in Beijing will no doubt me prepare me for what lies ahead in Canada. Although I know there will be new challenges (sitting in the cold and snow as ski racers blast down a mountain at 70 mph!), and that it will be truly impossible to compare experiences, I am already very much looking forward to this potential great opportunity.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Day 12-Closing

Yeah yeah yeah, I know this is over a week overdue... I will be honest... things got really busy, and because I'm not being paid to do a blog like many newspaper photographers are, I chose sleep over updating this page. And then I went on vacation where I had extremely limited access. But for the sake of closure, here is what happened from Day 12 to the Closing Ceremonies....

So as the Olympics begin winding down, obviously, almost every day of competition is a medal game or a medal round. And with USA doing so well in so many sports, we spent our last few days frantically traveling around from venue to venue, trying to cover as many of our athletes as possible.

My schedule worked out so that I shot the two gold medal beach volley ball matches. When you think about it, it's kind of silly that beach volleyball is played in Beijing. For one thing, there is not really any large body of water (that I know of) in Beijing, and therefore, no beaches. So the Chaoyang Beach Volleyball Ground is pretty much a big pit of sand in the middle of the city that happens to have bleachers and press tribunes surrounding it.

Anyways, back to the actual sport... the first gold medal game feautred beach volleyball legends Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor against a Chinese pair. Walsh and May-Traenor carry some ridiculous winning streak (it's over 100 international matches), so obviously they were going to win. I quickly realized that this was a venue that would not have very good backgrounds. Too many speakers, cameras, and tents from ground level, and therefore the best images as far as clean action goes, would be from up top. Nothing overly special, but I think these two at least illustrate how the match was going for Walsh and May-Treanor.

Although the action from up top was decent, I made the decision that I would go back down to "beach" level and shoot their reaction after they won the match, crappy backdrop be damned. I felt that the reaction photos would be nicer from down low, because I could get closer to them and get a tighter frame. Another reason why I came downstairs was because of the venue's set up. There are only photo positions in the stands on one side of the venue, so if the winners won on the "far" side from me, their entire celebration would get blocked and ruined by the net (as you can see from the above photos, it would not look so pretty to see people celebrating BEHIND a net). Well, they made that nice react, but in my opinion, the background completely ruins it for me.

I think a nicer frame was this one of Walsh, after winning some random point late in the match as the rain is falling all around her.

Another one I liked was one of the pair on the medal stand listening to the national anthem as the silver and bronze medal Chinese pairs look oh so sad!

The next day, I was back out to Chaoyang to shoot the men's beach volleyball gold medal match. What a much nicer day. After yesterday's crappy background jubilation shot, I decided I would do the exact opposite strategy from the previous day... and that was start down low, and then move up higher in the match-clinching sets to shoot some action and react.

I was a bit worried about the winning point being on the side opposite from me, and therefore the net would become a problem, but that ended up being a moot point, because the USA team of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser clinched the match on the side closest to me from up high. It made a nice frame, as both Americans jumped in the air and the two Brazilians started walking off of the court.

Are these guys happy that they won silver, or that they lost gold? No really, I have no idea!

Also going on the same day that the beach volleyball golds were going on was women's soccer and also softball (and also water polo I think). I was kind of bummed I did not get to cover them, and was instead sent out to do synchronized swimming (one of our contract sports, so we had to go), and also taekwondo. I told myself when going to my venues, I should just feel lucky to be here. Besides, I got to photograph Michael Phelps history, so anything else is just gravy.

Well, I guess I should have an open mind, because synchro was pretty neat (and also extremely easy to photograph... just go up higher and wait for cool patterns to develop).

Taekwondo was just as neat. It's just people trying to punch and kick each other in the head. I mean, how can you go wrong? So obviously, the point of taekwondo was to score more points than the opponent, but I could not understand the scoring system (people would fall down and sometimes they would be given a point, sometimes they would lose a point, or there would be no change in points). In any case, it made for nice action, and also some great jube.

The last two major medal events I covered was the two basketball gold-medal games. Both of course, featured heavily favored USA teams. The women came into their game and dominated Australia. The problem with these dominating victories, is that they don't really give great reaction photos... and the best I had to show for this victory was of some of the players jumping up and down on the bench right after the final buzzer sounded.

My last sports assignment in Beijing was the men's gold medal basketball game. Basketball has become so international these days, as the NBA has been extremely successful in creating markets outside of the USA. Therefore, media coverage for this game was expected to be crazy. In order to guarantee a spot on the floor to photograph this game, I arrived for this game at around 10am for a 2pm start. The bronze medal game was actually scheduled ahead of it at noon, so I mean, I'm sitting in the seat.... I might as well shoot something, right?

Surprisingly, the men's gold medal against Spain was a close one. Like the women, every game has been a laugher of a blow out. However, Spain played a really aggressive, physical game against the Americans, and there were tons of diving around for loose balls and hard contact with and away from the ball.

In the end, the latest edition of the Dream Team pulled away, and celebrated their gold.

Not a bad way to finish off my first Olympic Games. It has only been a week or so since the games are wrapped... but I miss Beijing and the Olympics already. Wo Ai Beijing!