Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Closing ceremony - The final photo shoot of the 2014 Winter Olympics

This morning I got up at 3:45am to get to the Sochi airport. Even though my flight did not leave until 8:30am, we were warned to get to the airport very early. It is a good thing that I did, since I only had 30 minutes between getting through allthe lines and boarding the plane. We just took off from the Sochi airport, as I make my way to Frankfurt, Germany and then ultimately to San Francisco. I am still in the Olympic mode of making use of every waking minute, so here I am writing this blog. This blog will be posted from 38,000 feet, since there is WiFi on the long flight home.

I had this last set of photos, from the closing ceremony, that I wanted to share with you all.

Before we go through the photos, I thought I would tell you a little about the difference between opening and ceremonies for me. For opening ceremony, I had to be in place 3 to 4 hours before the event started. For the closing ceremony, all of the photographers who covered the gold medal hockey game, had a tough time making the closing ceremony. The hockey game started at 4pm and went until 7pm. The closing ceremony started at 8:14pm, so there was very little time to download photos, post, and then get from one location to the other. I ended up leaving the gold medal game early.

The nice thing is, I picked photo position B, which was facing the opposite direction from where I sat in the opening ceremony. I figured that a different location would be refreshing (and I didn't know if they ever repaired all the broken seats in the other position). As it turned out, it was a great pick, because there were handicap seats behind our position that were not being used. Before the show started, myself and a couple other photographers, hopped over the railing and sat there. This way we could have ample room for all our bags, cameras and lenses. are the photos and stories for you.

Before the ceremony started, they had numerous performers to warm up the crowd. Nobody that I had ever heard of, but they were fun nonetheless. This group was the most visually interesting, with their amazing outfits and colors.

I brought a combination of cameras and lenses for this event. For this photo, I used the Canon 1DX with the 200-400mm lens to try and get in close to the subjects. I left the camera in aperture priority mode most of the time, because of the ever changing lighting during the show. For this shot, I was at ISO 3200, f/4, and 1/125 sec.

Then everything stopped for a long time, and we waited 20 minutes for the show to begin. It was really awkward, because unlike other Olympic ceremonies, where the hosts practice the big countdown and get every psyched, they just had silence and a countdown clock on the big screens.

One of the first parts of the show was this large group of people who came out and formed the Olympic rings. But, just like in Vancouver where they mocked there own problems in the ceremonies, the Russians poked fun at themselves, when the rings did not open correctly. This made me laugh.

But after a slight pause, the people did form the Olympic rings correctly and all was good.

All the wide shots in this blog post were taken with another Canon 1DX mounted with a Canon 24-70mm lens.

I saw these drummers coming out from the middle of the stage, and I thought that this would be another great time for a motion blur shot. So, using the long lens, which was mounted on my trusty Gitzo monopod, I slowed the shutter speed and panned slowly with them as the entered the stadium. I lowered the ISO to 2000, changed the aperture to f/8, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/15 sec. Notice the movement in the snare drummers sticks.

And then when they came closer to me, I did the same technique again. The difference here is that they were in much brighter light, so I changed the aperture to f/22 to lower the shutter speed again to 1/15 sec. I thought that this would be a perfect moment for motion blur, with everyone's faces and bodies still, but the arms in motion.

Then they had this whole element of the seasons, similar to the opening ceremony.

Honestly, for those of you who watch this on TV, you probably know much more than I do, since we get no commentary while in the stadium.

I saw this woman suspended in the air, and really liked the composition of her in the white dress against the blue background. Very Mary Poppins esque. :)

Then came this pianist, who I believe is well known in Russia. I shot with the wide lens to show how many others were on the stage with him.

And then I switched to the long lens and slowed the shutter again. Figuring that, with the main pianist not moving, but everyone else moving around him, would make for a cool effect. I shot numerous photos at this time, since I needed the main pianist to keep his head still for one frame.

One of the benefits of using the long lens and getting the 400mm reach, is that I could zoom in and isolate performances.

This is my favorite photo from the closing ceremony. The perfect lighting of the main ballerina, while having muted lighting on the others, makes for a very cool image. To me, it almost looks like a painting. Even the background looks like a painting.

This photo was taken at ISO 3200, f/4, at 1/100 sec and I dialed in -.07 exposure compensation to make sure that the main ballerina was not too bright.

They had these adorable kids throughout the show. I loved it when they had all these papers flying out from the stacks of books.

Mid way through the show, they got down to business and they handed over the Olympic flag to the mayor of PyeongChang, Korea, the site of the next Winter Olympics in 2018.

On the program, it said that they had a whole section on the hall of mirrors. I was hoping for something a little more dynamic than this, but it was still pretty cool.

Have I mentioned how much the Russians love the Olympic mascots? They came out and everyone went crazy.

I switched back to the wide lens to show the whole scene, with all the people in the periphery.

And then, after a performance, the mascot extinguished the Olympic flame.

This famous opera singer came out and sang a song from a suspended boat / blimp. I saw all the fake snow falling around them and though that it would be a cool shot. For this photo, I had to manually focus the lens, since the autofocus would keep focusing on the snowflakes.

At the end of the show, they filled the stage with all of these people. There was supposed to be one more performance, but the fireworks started going off outside the stadium and everyone ran out to watch those.

I ran out to shoot some of the fireworks, but since I was so close to the stadium, with no interesting foreground or background, they were just regular old fireworks shots.

This, folks, is my last Olympic photo taken. I was carrying all of my gear from the Fisht Olympic Stadium back to the main press center, and as I passed the extinguished flame, I put everything down and shot this closing shot. With the flame out, I figured it was the perfect photo to end my journey.

Thanks to all of you for following along, and for posting the hundreds of comments along the way. You all inspired me to keep blogging. When I first started blogging from the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, I think I had 50 readers a day. This time there were more than a quarter million viewers. I feel so fortunate to be able to go to the Olympics, to share the experience with you all, and to get your feedback. Thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bobsleigh - The last sporting event that I covered at the Winter Olympics in Sochi

It is hard to believe it, but after 3 weeks of shooting so many different sporting events, the 2014 Winter Olympics has come to a close. But, as I promised you in the last blog entry, I still have one more sporting event to show you.

There were very few sporting events on the last day of the Games, since everyone has to get to the closing ceremony. I had a choice of a couple of events, but I really wanted to photograph the 4-man bobsleigh competition, and this was my one chance to do so, at least for another 4 years. So, I got up early and headed up to the mountains and shot for an hour and a half, before making the return trip back to the coastal cluster.

Why did I want to photograph this event? Because the track is really cool, and I really liked the luge photographs from this venue. I wanted to add some bobsleigh photos to my portfolio and I also wanted to share something other than hockey with all of you.

And for those of you wondering if I went to the gold medal hockey game, I left the bobsleigh early to catch the second half of the hockey game. This time, I chose to photograph very little of the game, and only took photos of my friends on the Canadian team, for their families to have some memories. I had to leave before the game was over, to get a good position at the closing ceremony, but I was keeping tabs on the score from the Fisht Olympic Stadium. are the photos and some photography techniques from the Sanki Slide Center:

I took two different buses to get to the sliding center, and since I had been there once before, I knew that it would best to catch a third bus to the top of the run. The poor spectators have to walk countless steps if they want to get all the way to the start of the race. This is where the press buses really help out. It is much easier to take the bus to the top and work my way down.

When they dropped me off at the top of the slide, I saw all the sleighs upside down. This is the way that they roll them into position, and it also helps the teams try to keep the blades as warm as possible, to gain more speed on the track. It isn't a very good photo, but I captured it to show all of you what it looks like behind the scenes.

I arrived at the starting point at 1:00pm and looked and the different photo positions. As you can see from the photo above, the railing would show if I looked up to the starting point. Since we were not allowed to lean over the railing (since it would block everyone other photographer's photos), I just figured it was going to be part of the shot. At 1:30pm, the competition started and I took my first photos. I shot this first shot with the Canon 1DX with the 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I was in manual mode with an ISO of 640, 1/1250 shutter speed at f/3.5. This really fast shutter speed allowed me to freeze the action.

It shows the viewer a little of the action, but after shooting numerous photos like this, it was getting boring and repetitive. Yep - time for some motion blur!

I switched to the Canon 16-35mm wide angle lens and changed the camera to shutter priority. I started with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/25 sec. Panning along with these sleighs proved to be really tough. Looking at this photo and some others, I determined that I might want to increase the shutter speed a little.

This photo was taken at 1/40 sec. I like it, but the trailing leg on the runner was a little too blurred for my liking.

For these last two photos, I changed the shutter speed to 1/50 sec and I really like the results. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, it is imperative to pan at the exact same speed at the sleigh to get these photos to work. Not all of them come out, but the end results are worth it.

And then, after photographing 7 or 8 sleighs from the starting point, I decided to walk down the track to turn 5 (where I photographed the luge competition) to get some shots of the bobsleighs riding high on the wall.

I have to say, this is where it is really cool to be an Olympic photographer. I walked down to the best turn on the course, was escorted past all the spectators, let through a gate, and jumped down into the track. So much of taking a great photo is based on the access that we have, and at times like this, I almost feel like I am cheating. Someone asked how close we are to the track. Do you see the black area to the bottom left, I am standing there. We are literally feet from the bobsleigh and can feel the wind as it goes by. It is awesome!

These sleighs are moving really fast, and from what I learned when shooting her the week before, I set the camera to manual mode with an incredibly fast 1/6400 sec shutter speed to freeze the sleds on the ice. Even though it was a bright sunny day, I had my ISO at 1600 to achieve this shutter speed. I chose a setting of f/4 to make sure I had everything in focus.

For this next shot, I got down low to the track. As you can see, I am just about on the track. But, after looking at this photo, I decided that shooting from a standing position was better. Of course, a lot of this has to do with luck, as we have no idea how high or low the sleigh will be as it passes us by.

You might look at these next 3 photos and think that they are a little repetitive. But, I really enjoyed photographing the different colored sleighs as they past by. I also preferred when the driver had a clear visor so that we could see his face.

This particular Romanian sleigh looks really cool, with many of the colors of the Olympic rings and a dramatic graphic element.

Again, another color scheme, but very striking against the white ice surface.

I am really proud of this photo. After each sleigh goes by, we have a couple minutes of down time to wait for the next one. I turned around and saw one of the Olympic volunteers who was sitting behind us. I saw that she was wearing these reflective glasses and thought that it would make for a really unique photo. I asked her if she would turn towards the track and hold still, and she gladly did so. We waited for a sleigh to come by and I fired off a bunch of shots. Why am I so proud of this photo? Because there were a bunch of other photographers in this photo position, and nobody else saw the glasses and thought to make this shot.

After a while, I jumped out of turn 5 and then climbed up onto an unused TV platform. This allowed me to do some motion pans from a distance. Again, I switched back to the 70-200mm lens and I changed the camera to shutter priority and shot this at 1/125 sec. I was surprised that I nailed it on the first try. What does that mean? It means I should try it again with an even slower shutter speed.

This photo was taken at 1/40 sec, and although it is relatively sharp, it is not tack sharp. I was talking to another photographer, who shoots bobsleigh quite often, and he said that this is likely caused by the vibrations of the sleigh. Interesting!

This last photo was taken at 1/60 sec, and I was lucky enough to get this sleigh perfectly in focus while panning along with it. What makes motion pan really work, is when you get the "subject" in perfect clarity and the background with blurred motion.

Here is a closer crop of the same photo, so you can see the sharpness of the sleigh. This would have been an even better photo if the guy with red and white jacket had not walked into the shot. Notice how everyone else was wearing darker or more muted clothing? Since the human eye is drawn to the brightest part of the photo, he is a bit distracting. But, since we are not allowed to modify any Olympic photos, it will have to do.

All in all, it was a great day hour and a half of shooting and I went back down the mountain happy.

Stay tuned for the final photos from this Olympics, the closing ceremony.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The rules and restrictions at the Olympics

Now that the 2014 Winter Olympics are over, I thought I would tell you all about some of the rules and restrictions we had here at the Games. People might think that we have freedom to shoot wherever we want, or that we can set up remote cameras in any position, but this is not the case. For the last 3 weeks, there were a lot of rules that we have to follow, and these are typical for almost all Olympics.

The credentials

As I walk around the Olympic Park, or even outside the park, you see thousands of people wearing their credentials. The credentials are issued to everyone involved in the Games. This includes, editors, photographers, video teams, broadcasters, athletes, coaches, trainers, support staff, medical, operations, IOC, and thousands of volunteers. There must be hundreds of different credentials here. I am issued an EP (Event Photographer) which has the very important "All" printed on the front. This gets me into any venue (but not the Olympic Village where the athletes live). You see the number 4 at the bottom of the credential, this designates which areas I can enter, and through which entrance. Each venue has entrances for spectators, but also designated entrances for athletes, media, family, IOC, workers...

High impact events (HIEs)

In a previous blog post, I talked about "high impact events". These are the events that every photographer would like to go to. But there are just not enough photo positions for 1,000 shooters, so they require us to get media tickets. Each organization gets their allotment. In my case, I go to the USOC to get my ticket. Since I am the official photographer for USA Hockey, I am pretty much guaranteed a ticket into every ticketed hockey game. And this year, for the first time ever, I was able to obtain tickets to everything I wanted, including opening and closing ceremonies. The photo above shows my ticket to the gold medal hockey game. You will notice that it says "Photo B" on the ticket. The "B" designates that my photo position was at ice level.

The sleeves

Many people have written to me, or commented on the blog, asking about the green sleeve I am wearing when I am shooting. Along with my Olympic credentials, this green sleeve is the most important item in my camera bag. Without the sleeve, I am not allowed to shoot in the photo positions in any venue. They require us to wear these, so that the officials can look down from anywhere in the venue and see who belongs and who does not. No sleeve, no photos! In the Summer Olympics, we wear the vests which have numbers, but since at the Winter Olympics we are usually wearing big coats, a vest is not practical, hence the sleeve (which also has a number - I am 193).

Shooting positions

Every venue is different, when it comes to the shooting positions. Some venues, like the curling venue, let us roam around the border area pretty freely, while others are very strict about movement. At some venues, you are assigned a position number and you stay there for the entire event. For hockey, we have to be at the rink 2 hours prior to the puck drop in order to get the best positions. At other venues, it is first come, first serve. Depending on the popularity of the event, you may have to be at the venue 3 or 4 hours early.

If you look closely at the sleeves people are wearing, you might have noticed that there are green sleeves, blue sleeves and grey sleeves. The blue and grey sleeves are issued to the pool photographers (like Getty, AP, AFP...) and they get reserved spots and remote camera locations that us "normal photographers" can not get. I would kill to have a remote camera in the hockey net or in the rafters directly over the goalie, but that would never happen, since the Associated Press pays big money for these luxuries.

Remote cameras

If you have been following the blog for the last couple of weeks, you have seen some photos from my remote camera. I would privileged enough to be one of the few remote cameras allowed behind the nets at the Shayba Arena. I really wanted one mounted up in the rafters in the Bolshoy arena, above the goalie, but there is a limitation of 50 cameras in the rafters, and those were all taken by the big agencies. When we do get remote camera permissions, we have to use special approved hardware to mount the camera, with redundant security cables to make sure they do not fall on anyone. We also get assigned a channel for our Pocketwizard remotes, so we are not firing other people's cameras. I have my own special frequency, so this is not an issue for me.

Where we can go and where we can't go

Like so many of the limitations here, this is different for each venue. But the most common limitation that we have is determined by where the athletes enter or exit, and where the TV cameras are located. They try not to have us photographers in the TV shot if possible.


Just about every venue has large lockers for us to use. Most people get a locker for day use, although some photographers will get a long term locker at our "home venue". For me, I had a long term locker at the Main Press Center and a long term locker at both hockey venues.


This is not true for all venues, but when I arrived at the Iceberg Skating Palace to shoot the ice dancing, I was told that I had to remove my USA jacket since it was too bright. Luckily I was wearing my solid blue Jeff Cable Photography sweat jacket underneath, and the logo is small.

Internet access

The media has to pay for Internet access at the Olympics, and we are not supposed to use any cellular dongles or other devices. They say that this restriction is due to wireless signal interference, but I believe they just want us to pay for their Internet. Here in Sochi, it was pretty reasonable ($140 USD) whereas in London, it was much more expensive ($400 USD). We are supposed to have wireless access in all venues, but it was spotty most of the time.

Entry and exit times

There are numerous venues that restrict entrance and exit. For all the ice hockey games, we have to be out at the ice at least 20 minutes before game time. But to get our position numbers, we are at the rink hours in advance, so I use this time to edit images, backup and write these blogs. For hockey, we do have the ability to sneak out off the floor to go to the restroom during breaks, but some venues restrict that too.

What we can shoot and what we can't

As an EP photographer, I can photograph almost anything inside a venue, including the athletes, the venue, the crowd... But for the first time that I remember, we were asked to sign a contract banning us from shooting any video with our DSLR cameras in any Olympic venues. The only reason I can think for this new restriction is that, the new DSLR cameras take such good video, that it would compete with the all powerful OBS. That is the Olympic Broadcasting Committee. They rules this place!


At every Olympics that I have ever been to, the press has had our own transportation, which makes life really easy. Here is Sochi, they had shared buses for the press and volunteers. Most of the time, this was not a problem, but there were times when buses would fill and we would be delayed, waiting for the next bus. The volunteers were supposed to let press have first priority, but that didn't usually happen. But, with that said, the transportation in Sochi has been excellent.


The security at this Olympics was a lot like London, where we have to scan our credentials and go through screening (like at the airport) to get into the park. Once we are through security, the Olympics calls this "the clean zone". There were certain locations throughout the park where, even though we were in the clean zone, we would have to pass through a scanning system a second time. And this was true for enter and exiting any venue. We would have to scan in and out. That was a first for the Olympics. Also, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, this was the first Olympics where, at certain locations, they would scan everyone on a bus and then tape the doors shut, to show that the bus was not entered between security stops.

That should give you a good idea on how it all works here.

I still have photos to edit from the Bobsleigh event and the Closing Ceremony, and I will do my best to get those posted tomorrow. Today, I am about to go into the town of Sochi for the first time. Believe it or not, I spent the last 3 weeks on the Olympic property. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, with all the security threats, I promised my family that I would stay safe in the clean zone for the Games. And secondly, I had no time to venture out. I will take some photos of Sochi to share with all of you, mostly likely to be posted when I get home. I have a couple more days here, since I could not get a flight out today or tomorrow. Today is for sightseeing, and tomorrow is for packing up and preparing for the long journey home.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The last hockey game for Team USA in Sochi - the last disappointment!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, yesterday was yet ANOTHER major disappointment for the USA hockey team, when the men got stomped by the Finnish team. We all know that the Olympics has people who win medals, and even more people who do not. I am not one of those arrogant Americans who believe that we should win everything, but the way that the Games ended for our team was a little somber for my liking.

And for me, photographically, it was depressing, as most of my photos are of other teams outperforming ours and other teams celebrating their wins. The men got shut out of their last two games, which means that I have no photos of them celebrating anything. That sucks.

But, with that said, here are the photos from the bronze medal game.

Before the game started, I saw this cute little girl in the stands and took her photo for the team web site.

The game started OK with both teams scoreless, although most of the period was dominated by the Finnish team. This meant that there was very little action on my side of the rink. Again, as a photographer who can not easily move positions around the rink, this is frustrating.

There were scoring chances for the Americans, but Tuukka Rask, the Finn goalie was like a wall in front of the net. Oh, and since everyone is asking for my camera settings, by this last game, I had standardized on ISO 1250, 1/1250, sec, and f/3.5.

Zach Parise working hard in the crease.

I was excited to see that I got the puck going in Rask's glove in this photo. I just wish his face was visible in the shot.

I saw Teemu contesting a call on the ice, and I couldn't figure out what was going on. For the first time ever, I saw a player get a penalty shot for pushing someone's stick (that was on the ice) away from a player.

But as good as Patrick Kane is, Rask was better, and the Americans remained scoreless.

When shooting with the Canon 1DX, at 12 photos per second, it is really funny to see some of the facial expressions we capture.

In the second period, Teemu Selanne score his second goal of the game. As bad as this was for the American team, this is the type of shot that us photographers hope for. I have the shooter in the shot, the puck going into the net, and the goalie watching it all happen.

The Finns had the Americans on their heels for the bulk of the game, spending a lot of time in the USA defensive zone.

As amazing as this is, there were TWO penalty shots for Patrick Kane, and he came up empty on both!

As the game progressed, and I could see it slipping away from my team, I started grabbing any action shots that I could get. These are always good for the team and players to have.

My friend, Joe Pavelski, facing off right in front of me.

And look who I spotted in the stands. This is Polina Edmunds, the U.S. figure skater who lives right by me. I took some photos of her so that I could give them to her family when we get back home.

Someone wrote to me last night and said that they saw me shooting on the glass with a fisheye lens. They asked that I posted a couple of the shots, so that they could the results. Honestly, when we shoot with the fisheye, it is a gamble whether we get a good shot or not. I prefocus for a 3 foot distance, set the camera to f/5.6, and then hope that the players come in close (but not so close that all I get is a back of a jersey). Here are a couple of the better fisheye shots from last night.

I love the way that the distortion of the lens makes the hockey stick so prominent in the photo.

I like the criss-crossing of the sticks in this shot.

And the Finnish team just kept scoring and scoring. It was getting embarrassing for the Americans.

This guy behind me actually caught a puck. There were very few that flew into the crowd, and just like in Vancouver, they are worth a lot of money. I turned around and shot this photo of the man, and I thought, "that is the first positive photo I have taken tonight".

Team USA did their best to point at least one puck in the net, but that was not to be.

And the clock wound down to 0 and the Finnish team celebrated. I was zooming in to get a tight shot of the players, when I saw someone throw at the papers in the air. I quickly zoomed the 70-200mm lens out and grabbed some photos of this. I was happy to get Teemu Selanne  (the team captain) in the middle of this shot.

They were very excited to get another medal for hockey.

Big smiles for the team from Finland.

Not so for the Americans.

After the game, there is an area called the "mixed zone" where the media can interview the players. I saw someone interviewing Zach Parise, and grabbed this shot.

And so ends the US hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Mostly on a low note, but hey, we are at the Olympics....

I am now up in the mountains shooting my last sporting event of this Olympics, the four man bobsled. I am then hoping to jam back down the mountain to catch at least one period of the gold medal hockey game, and then photograph the closing ceremonies.