T Minus One
Sometimes, the Olympics throws you a bone. Today the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down on the translucent roof of the Water Cube venue where the 10 meter diving semi-finals were taking place. This made for a beautiful day of shooting, both from overhead and from the side angle. The bone in this case, is not only the nice light but also the fact that the one guys who was favored to win the competition had the longest hair of the group and tended to keep it wet before he dove. Therefore, when he did, water drops would shoot out over an almost perfect black backdrop–a photographer’s dream. There wasn’t a single photographer worth his/her salt who wasn’t looking to take advantage of this convergence of factors and make a nice frame. Here is another version of Liang Huo.
The top frame above was shot with a 300mm 2.8 – at 10 frames per second on an EOS 1D MKIII–a 1/2000th of a second to freeze the water drops and at f 2.8 to blur out the background (and at 1000 ASA.) The second, tighter frame, was shot with a 400mm 2.8 at the same settings–you lose body parts, but can appreciate more details, such as the water coming off of the fingers on right hand at the top of the frame.
So it was a good start to day fifteen of the Olympics for me–there’s never anything better than when the elements line up for you just right. At that point you just have to recognize them, figure out where to shoot the picture from, with what lens and settings and just sit back and “spray and pray” as we say. This happens maybe 1% of the time–most of the time you really need to work much harder at “making” and image as opposed to just sitting back and “taking” one. What I mean by making is that while you in no way help to create what is happening in front of you (i.e. you can’t set things up–you can’t tell someone to go here in this spot of light, do this or that in a certain way that might make a better picture, or do something again–that is forbidden in U.S. photojournalism and any editorial work you’ll see shot for NEWSWEEK.) Therefore the only thing you can do is to get very involved in studying the smallest nuances of every movement in an athlete, backgrounds, lighting and every other details. You have to take them all as they are and work hard at getting that perfect image. If the light sucks, you need to find a way to shoot the image in a way that will not emphasize that. Same goes for the backgrounds, etc. Motion blur and shooting wide open with long lenses to minimize depth of field are two of the tricks photographers use to de-emphasize ugly backgrounds. Shooting from overhead is another common solution as well.
Back to diving. I got a few nice comments about the overhead shots that I made of the female divers yesterday. My wife, who I tend to listen to–she’s a photographer and photo editor and we work very closely together–really took to those images and suggested that I consider making a series of “portraits” if you will (albeit of real action–nothing set up) and try to put a series together. My first instinct was that I had already made one or two nice frames, and I didn’t really look forward to going back up to the catwalk as it’s extremely hot and humid up there and I tend not to like shooting the same thing two days in a row. But, as usual, I think she was right. When you look at these images, it’s like looking at fighter pilots in their G-suits, training to fight the effects of the high velocity moves they perform in their jets, which put incredible gravity forces on their bodies. Or maybe it just looks like those images of people in wind tunnels. Either way, I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be diver doing these routines. While I’ll hopefully never find out what it feels like first hand, these images will give you an idea of what it looks like. Without further ado–here is my series of portraits of the 10 meter divers of this 29th Olympiad.
As far as the T Minus One headline, while we’re all happy and honored to have been here for these two Olympic weeks in Beijing–and I don’t take for granted that many of you would do quite a bit to find your way out here had you been given the chance–it’s been a marathon and everyone is looking forward to some well-deserved rest and time with family and friends back home. As I type, there are 3 photographers passed out around me–their heads buried in their arms with their gear at the ready. An hour ago, people started to take down some of the signage here as mementos. I think I’ve caught my 3rd or 5th wind–and am very lucky to feel good and “not quite dead yet.” Maybe the knowledge that there is only 24 hours to go is helping me feel just a little more rested than I really am–I’m sure I’ll pass out for the entire flight home.