Tears of Gold follow Downpour
What a day–I’m amazed that not only I, but also my cameras and lenses survived. At 6 a.m., after only two hours of sleep, I got a call from Simon Barnett to strategize on the remaining four days of the Olympics. Little did Simon know he was cutting into 1/3 of my bedtime for the night. But it was time to go anyway–even though I would have bet a healthy sum of money that there was absolutely no way that the gold medal match of women’s beach volleyball was going to be played in the conditions I was seeing out of my hotel window. The rain was torrential.
There’s only one thing that a photographer dreads more than going hours early to a game/event that s/he knows will most definitely be rained out–and that’s getting up ridiculously early to do just that! You get there 2-4 hours early and sit and wait forever–never quite getting a chance to make up for that lost sleep. And there’s just nothing more miserable than having to go out to make a “rain feature.” You get wet, cold and if you have them–your glasses completely fog up. Every time you pull out a lens cloth to dry something–you’re never really sure if you’re going to help things or end up making things much worse by smudging goo all over your lenses.
This morning, every bone in my body told me there was absolutely no way they would play beach volleyball in these horrid conditions–let alone a gold medal match. Nonetheless, I called the venue manager for the site–and he insisted that the games would go on. The communication over the phone was far from perfect as usual–but it wasn’t the fear of things lost being lost in translation that caused me to second-guess him and to call a second time–I just didn’t want to believe that they could possibly play in these conditions! “We play in much bigger bigger storm few days ago” he told me–and so I headed onto the early bus–RELUCTANTLY. You just don’t want to be “that guy” that missed the gold medal win because he chose to hit the snooze button and adhere to common sense.
The image above was made with a fisheye lens. It’s a shot I thought of making early in the morning before I left the hotel because I knew how unusual it seemed to me to have such an important contest fought in such adverse conditions. Hey–its’ BEACH volleyball!!! I set the lens to f22 and used the hyperfocal to get the drops in focus as much as possible… one Italian photographer just didn’t understand that I was purposely allowing the waterdrops to fall on my lens… he kept screaming at me to cover the front element of my lens with my towel… that was actually the last thing I wanted to do.
As I arrived at the venue the rain was actually dying down. Suddenly I felt so relieved not to have followed my instincts to bag this assignment and go back to sleep. But as the match was about to start, the sky turned a much darker shade of gray and within minutes we were all absolutely completely and utterly soaked. Two photographers were better prepared than I was: Robert Beck of Sports Illustrated and Erich Schlegel of the Dallas Morning News were smart enough to show up in their swimming trunks–now that’s being prepared!
One of the reasons that photographers hate shooting in the rain is the rain covers we use. I own three brands, and none of them work 100%. In fact, they’re a total nightmare. They’re designed to keep your camera and lens dry, but they make it impossible to quickly change lenses (doing so exponentially increases your change of shorting a contact point or getting the rear lens element of your lens wet anyway) and shooting can be close to impossible at times. If you hold you camera upright for even a second, you now have rain drops on the front of your lens, decreasing image quality to a good degree. Hold it downward and you have raindrops–or in this case, sand–in your rear eye-cup. On more than one occasion I couldn’t even reach the zoom ring on my lenses, as I was fighting the elastics on the rain covers for control. It’s frankly a total disaster to shoot with these things and toward the final point I just ripped everything off. Problem was: most of the covers had the camera straps put through them, so I couldn’t get them off and out of the way, and then the covers got in the way of the lenses etc. Total, total disaster…I’m very lucky that I did not miss more shots than I did today…
Here is the initial reaction of the U.S.A. duo:
The photo above was nice–but didn’t have enough faces. Unfortunately, the next frame was a bit more risqué, if you will. It’s still one of “The Moments.” Tough call…
Then Kerri Walsh ran toward the stands to celebrate. Most of the photographers didn’t even try to get this picture; changing to a wide-angle lens in the downpour was a big risk. You could easily cook a camera and/or lens. I was struggling to see anything to be honest, but was glad to make this frame.
Then came the podium shot. Although I had gotten there very early, I had forgotten to get a sticker that allowed me to shoot the medal ceremony. Had I applied for it when I got to the stadium I would have gotten it without a problem. But I was so set on getting the middle seat to try for the raindrop/fisheye shot that I completely forgot. So when it got time to do the medals, the photo marshals refused to let me go to the position. I pressed on; I think I yelled something to the effect of “Newsweek very important and big magazine in the U.S.–MUST get this picture–I Was here at 8 a.m.–forgot to get sticker” and yes I did speak in that broken English–full sentences tend to muddle things too much. On the third try I saw hesitation or contemplation in the guy’s face and I took that as a yes.
To be honest, I HATE podium pictures. What you don’t see on your broadcasts are the 10-20 minute delays between the athletes winning and the time they step on the podium to receive their medals. Sometimes they go through doping tests or at other times to do a series of television interviews. For the most part, 9 times out of 10 all of the emotion is gone by the time they get up to receive their medals. It’s a total waste of time. But this time, it was not. This was the first TRUE display of Olympic emotion / pride that I’ve seen at these games to far. Misty and Kerri were soaking it up big time… tears streaming down their faces. Beautiful.
Then a very strange thing happened. One of the things I absolutely hate the very most in the Olympics–and most American photographers do as well–is when other photographers start yelling to the athletes: “Kiss the medal!” “Bite the Medal.” It’s nauseating. Most U.S. journalists follow a strict code of never interfering with a news/event–we try to just document what happens in front of us. But European and other photographers don’t follow such a code, and they won’t hesitate for a second to create the moment–telling the athletes where to stand and what to do. The following picture easily wins the prize for the single best reaction I’ve ever seen from any athlete to these ridiculous requests from photographers: Misty held her gold medal against her eye like a pirate eye-patch… just classic. I’ll never forget it–almost as if she was thumbing her nose at the photographers and their ridiculous requests (who bites a medal anyway!!!???), and I appreciated that very much.
Finally–this was my favorite moment of the day. A true moment on the podium.
The next step was to go back to the main press center and dry out every single piece of gear, every lens and camera, and of course take out all batteries to avoid any short circuits (that’s probably the best single tip I have if your camera every gets wet… take the battery out… set it atop a TV that’s on (so the low heat rises from it) and let it sit there for 48 hours… more often that not you’ll save the camera.) We then headed back to hotel–and boy were we all drenched…. the only things on me that was dry was my socks. The last thing I bought before leaving New York city was a pair of waterproof Gore-Tex shoes, and they worked like a charm.
I set 3 alarms and took a two hour cat nap. And then headed to the 10 meter diving competition. Finally, an indoor event.
This was of course a total change of pace. Above is a photograph of the gold medal winner. But given that Donald and I had already shot the event from the surface at both high and slow shutter speeds, and from the window beneath the surface… there was only one place and angle left to go: The catwalk, of course, with a 300mm 2.8.
Here is Emilie Heymans of Canada who won the silver medal and was a big surprise. I’ll admit this has to be the most unflattering photo of a medalist at the Olympics, but hey–that’s what you get for coming in second… just kidding. All of the faces from up there looked pretty surreal They’re pulling a lot of Gs when they jump off of that 10 meter slab of concrete. I’ve jumped off of a 3 meter diving board quite a few times in Fayson Lakes in NJ where my grandparents have a nice little place, but there’s no way I’d go in head first. I can’t image how brave these divers are. After watching Greg Louganis hit his head when I was a kid, I’ll never forget that ever-present threat–nor his performance, for that matter.
The last moment of the night was of Ruolin Chen of China celebrating with her coach as she found out that she won the gold medal in the women’s 10M platform diving competition. Time to get to sleep and start on day 14. Day 13 of these games could have been very unlucky – but turned out be the opposite. The U.S.A’.s win in beach volleyball was definitely one of the highlights of these games for me so far.