Day of Firsts

A tilt shift view of the first ever BMX Olympic Competition.  Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

A tilt shift view of the first ever BMX Olympic Competition. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

 

 Today, for the first time ever, a gold medal was handed out in BMX at the Olympics. It was also:

    * The first time that I saw a perfectly clear sunset in Beijing.

    * The first time that I was able to sit down for lunch at our hotel.

    * The first time that I took a nice mid-day nap.

    * The first time that I experienced a completely random act of kindness: a volunteer walked up to me out of the blue and gave me two Olympic bracelets.

    * The first time that I’ve made it two weeks without the need of antibiotics to fight off a severe cold or flu at the Olympics.

    * The first time that I did not have to run in a mad dash to catch the bus at the end of the day.

    * The first time that a good friend of mine ate scorpion and centipede.

    * And today was the first time that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.   

Here is the stock shot that has the rings in the back - a photo that clearly places this sport at an Olympic venue. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

Here is the stock shot that has the rings in the back - a photo that clearly places this sport at an Olympic venue. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

 48 hours to go!  

We’re in the home stretch–the key word here being HOME! This Olympics has been wonderful–very likely the one that I’ve enjoyed the most of my career in no small part to this blog and the type of photographs that we’ve been asked to produce for NEWSWEEK. But two weeks away from home is tough on anyone. And I’m starting to count the hours until I get to see my wife and son again.

Here is another tilt-shift shot shot from a side angle. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

Here is another tilt-shift shot shot from a side angle. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

The day started of as most days have these past two weeks–with less than 2 hours of sleep and a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. I headed over to the BMX venue for the first time and despite everything that my body was telling me, I was very excited to photograph the inaugural medal event for the sport in the Olympics. I owe a big thanks to Mike Powell for letting me have a go at this sport–although we were both scheduled to cover BMX together, the rainout yesterday changed our schedules quite a bit and he was very gracious in giving me the nod to go ahead and take a crack at it.

A tight shot on the 3rd jump--full frame with a 500mm f4 lens. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

A tight shot on the 3rd jump--full frame with a 500mm f4 lens. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

 Therefore I felt a bit of pressure to produce today. I showed up two hours prior to the start of the race to place my remotes on the field and to secure a head-on shot with the Olympic rings in the background. The venue is very tough to shoot, as there are very few good shooting positions.  No low angles to shoot from and make the athletes “fly.”  The pool photographers were able to place remotes wherever they wanted–for some reason I was only offered one spot, which did not yield much. I knew this instantly when I was shown the “one” spot I could place a remote by the photo venue manager… and frankly would have called it then. But I was there anyway and you never know–some crash could have gone right toward the camera, and I would have killed myself if I hadn’t gone through the trouble, especially since I knew my two teammates wanted to be here as well. Unfortunately nothing much happened in the one spot we were offered, so the remote did not lead to anything worth showing.

A shot with a 50mm set to f2 at 1/4000th of a second to isolate the busy background.  Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

A shot with a 50mm set to f2 at 1/4000th of a second to isolate the busy background. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

 This is a very dynamic sport. The crashes are amazing and a key part. Unfortunately none of the official non-pool spots had a good clean angle of the crashes. In fact, they happened underneath us–we were completely blocked, so the action ended up being pretty straightforward.

A shot of the second jump with a 500mm f4.  Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

A shot of the second jump with a 500mm f4. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

Given that I didn’t really have a clear shot at the crashes, I decided to shoot with a tilt-shift lens and try for something completely different than what everyone else was shooting. Here is a second version–a little quieter than the first image in the blog. I can’t decide which one I like the most just yet.  But I think the tilt-shift approach works particularly well with this sport: for one it gives a very miniature feel to the images–almost a doll-house effect. The venue looks pretty surreal to start with, and in many ways the bikes are so much smaller than most of the athletes, which adds to the effect that using this type of lens from a slightly elevated angle produces. 

A slightly different moment shot with a tilt-shift lens. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

A slightly different moment shot with a tilt-shift lens. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

Finally, I ended the day at Athletics (Track & Field), and I didn’t really come up with anything that was all that special from within the venue itself.  The one image I did see took place while I walked into the venue, during the first clear-sky sunset I’ve seen over this two week period. I decided to focus on the fans, color and light and shadow, mixed in with a little geometry as I photographed them walking to their seats prior to the start of the evening session.

Fans at the Birds Nest.  Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK

Fans at the Birds Nest. Photograph by Vincent Laforet for NEWSWEEK