Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 US Open - Week 1

I am the first to admit, that I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to have gone to so many different sporting events in my career.  However, attending a tennis major is something I have not been able to do... until last week when I was asked to cover the US Open in New York City.  Although I was never very good at playing it, I really enjoy the game of tennis and was extremely excited at the opportunity to do not just go out and edit the final major of the season, but put in 11-12 hours of photography per day.

Now on the surface, you would think that tennis is an extremely easy sport to shoot.  Pick a player, focus, shoot.  Well yes and no, and this is a huge point of frustration for me as an editor when other photographers shoot it.  The fact of the matter is, I would say a vast majority of photographers pay absolutely no attention to backgrounds.  And as you know, backgrounds are a huge point of emphasis in my photography.  In my opinion, that attention to clean details is what separates the average joe from the elite.  It's those that put in the extra thought into developing their photos that makes them the best in the world.  Getty Images is famous for this style of photography, and to me it's not surprising that their photographers are some of the most well known in the world, and their agency has the most commercial licenses for the most leagues in our industry.

As this was my first time to the US Open, I knew it would take a day or two to get acclimated to the grounds, and really get to know how to move about the multiple courts over the sprawling tennis park.  So I shot a bit conservatively the first day, utilizing the courtside photo positions to get a lot of "standard" action photos from down low.  Shooting from down in those photo positions is pretty simple... pick a player, wait til' they swing, and hope they are doing it with no ball boys or umpires in the background.

In the evening session, there was the opening ceremonies so I ran upstairs to get a nice overall view of the fireworks display.

For the night cap, I also decided to start getting a bit more creative, and shot a wide angle view from down on court level.  It makes for a pretty dramatic scene with the large stadium in the background.

Now that I got my bearings and really learned my way around the multiple courts, and learned when the sun sets on each stadium, where the best angles were and ant what time of day, it was time to get creative.  Climbing high into the stands of each of the three main stadiums (Ashe, Armstrong, and Grandstand) could lead to some very dramatic images from unique angles:

I'm back home now for Labor Day weekend, but I will be returning to New York next week to finish off this two-week tournament.  I was working solo most of the first week, but in week two I will be joined by a USA Today staff photographer.  He'll most likely be working in Arthur Ashe Stadium (the main court) most of the time, which is fine by me because it will give me the opportunity to work new angles that I wasn't able to get to in my first few days there.  Check back then for some more images!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

2012 London Olympic Games: Day 11

On day 11, I was able to get out of the office again and cover gymnastics again.  However this time around, it would be much more difficult as I would be solo and thus the primary photographer.  There were many Americans competing in this round, and I knew that the start time of the event was very close to the USA Today's international edition "closing" time so that speed of transmitting images of Americans would be critical.

The first apparatus of the day was the men's parallel beam.  There were actually no Americans in there, so while there was no real obligation to get photos of it for our direct clients, I did see a couple of my co-workers get chewed out for skipping events we didn't have competitors in so I didn't want to suffer the same fate.  I made sure I photographed the top scoring athletes...

... then hurried up and run over to the balance beam and secure a good photo positions.  I decided I wanted to get the more head on position while shooting solo because I feel like it yields not only better results, but more photos.  It quickly paid off as all-around individual winner Gabby Douglas felled off the beam and held on like a koala bear, while ruining her day, made mine with a nice frame.

The other American competitor Aly Raisman was next, so I shot her performing and waited for her score.  If she placed in the top three, I knew I would have to hurry and get photos in before photographing the victory ceremony.  But if she wasn't in the top three, I could sort of take my time and work through the victory ceremony.  She placed fourth initially so I went back to the photo room and got to work.  However, as I was downloading and working up images, I heard lots of cheering from the crowd and curious to see what was going on, I stuck my head out and saw a picture of Raisman celebrating on the jumbotron because her fourth place score jumped into a third place score.  I missed that reaction because pushing photos out was a higher priority, but had some decent action of her on the beam.

The apparatus after the beam was the men's horizontal bar but the Americans were a bit of a flop on it so I'll skip on over the final event of the day... the women's floor exercise.  Let me just say, shooting the floor exercise at the North Greenwich Arena is the biggest piece of garbage ever.  For those of you who have been reading this blog, and also followed my Beijing blog.... you know that clean backgrounds are a huge deal for me.  Well, that would be impossible on the floor exercise because the designated photo position is directly opposite the judging table and media tribune.  So this is what you end up with as your lovely backdrop:

On top of this problem, because I had editors on me about trying to get as many Aly Raisman pics on the beam in as possible, I was late arriving to the photographer position so I had a far from ideal photo position.  The spot I ended up with was angled such that I had a scoreboard right in the middle of the floor in my line of sight.  So this pretty much screwed any opportunity for me to get any unobstructed tumbling passes.

So the only trick I have left in my arsenal to combat all this is to shoot super tight.  I put my 70-200 away and shot the floor with just the 400.  By shooting with longer glass, you compress your backgrounds so that it isolates clean sections of wall behind the athletes, and when it's not clean, they might get blurred out due to depth of field.

It doesn't make for the most exciting photos, but it gets the job done. Now Raisman had an excellent routine and had a first place score.  She was only the third athlete to go, so I didn't think it would hold up, but it did and so I was able to get some nice reaction of her hugging her coach and teammates afterwards.  The top photo ended up being the lead art in the sports section of the paper the next day.

So while there were certainly challenges in shooting this event solo: super tight deadlines, score flopping, and less than ideal photography set up, I think it went out all right.  Just a few more days of the Olympic games remaining.  Even though we have a large staff here, with it getting down to the very end and with us having many American medal hopefuls, I think there will be plenty more opportunity for me to get out of the office and make some more pretty pictures.  Stay tuned!

Friday, August 03, 2012

2012 London Olympics: Day Six

After spending four days in a row without leaving the USA Today offices at the main press center, I was finally able to get out and check out some of the venues around London.  I was tasked with assisting one of the staff photographers at the men and women's individual all-around final.

What that role involves is simple.  Grab memory cards from the photographer in each rotation, and edit them and transmit them back to the office and our various clients as quickly as possible.  Now admittedly, for the first day of gymnastics I went to, I didn't bother bringing a camera.  I didn't think I would have enough time between rotations to edit and then shoot some.  Plus I was working with a staff member who I have never worked with, and I didn't want him to think that I wasn't being a team player and doing my job.  That said, all that ended up not being an issue so when the ladies event rolled around, I came with a D4 and a 70-200 and ready to shoot some.

With two Americans considered medal contenders, photo positions following Team USA would be pretty scarce.  So in addition to my role of editing photos on site, I also "squatted" on the prime photo positions for the next rotation and shot some of the athletes on those events.  I started off at the uneven bars but only got time for one athlete before moving along...

Then shifted over to the beam and got as head on as I could.  I was really hoping that one of the athletes would lay down on the beam facing and look up... one of the Chinese competitors sort of did that but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. 

After the Americans finished up on the uneven bars, my colleague took my spot on the beam so that I could go back and edit his cards.  I toned those up and sent them away quickly so that I could make my way over to shoot the Americans on the beam from the side.  It's pretty impressive from this angle as well, as you can see how high these athletes get as well as how ridiculously flexible they are.

After editing all the pictures on the beam, there was one more apparatus to go before the winners were announced.  So I made my way back out to the field of play and found my colleague, and made sure I was on the opposite side of him with a view of the American team and coaches.  Gabrielle Douglas was named the winner and gold medalist, and the spot I ended up turned out to be great for the reaction and celebration.

Day seven brings another day in the office.... but I might be going out to judo in the late morning/early afternoon.  We'll see!