Monday, August 15, 2016

Did I photograph Michael Phelps' last individual Olympic event?

It was three nights ago, and I had covered numerous events at the Olympics that day and I was tired. Knowing that I had this schedule, I did not even request a ticket for the late night swimming event. (As a reminder, high demand events require a ticket, even for us press).  It was about 7:30pm when I got my second wind and I also realized that I really wanted to photograph Michael Phelps in what might be his last individual race. I decided to pop into the USOC office to see if they had any tickets left for that night's swimming. As luck would have it, they did have some tickets left, and I even had my choice of photo locations. I usually choose to stay low for swimming, but decided that I wanted to be higher up, to try and get a front-on position.

I grabbed some dinner at the MPC cafeteria before heading over to the swimming venue. I ended up getting there around 9:30pm and figured that all the good spots would be taken.


I looked down and saw all these photographers in the low position. They were all there to capture swimming, but mostly interested in Phelps. I looked at the printed roster and noticed that Michael Phelps was going to be in lane 2. I went to the high position and all the photo positions in front of lane 2 work taken. Hmmm. The shot that I want HAD to be taken straight on. I noticed that there was a spectator seat one row behind the photographers section and it was open. And it was exactly in front of lane 2. I took my chance and grabbed that seat.


As my luck would have it, nobody showed up for that spot and I got what I wanted!


As Phelps got ready, so did I. I knew that I only had one chance to get this shot. I took a deep breathe, put my focus point right on MP and got ready to shoot.


I captured three frames as he dove into the pool, and then tried to predict where he would emerge for his first breath.


Looking at these photos, it is hard to believe that I was 20 rows up. Most people looking at these photos would think that I was on the pool deck. I used the Canon 200-400mm lens and the built-in tele converter to zoom all the way to 560mm.  I was happy to have the Canon 1D X Mark II with the burst rate of 14 frames per second. And trust me, I put that camera and the Lexar 3500x CFast card to the test in those 25 seconds, firing off 82 frames in the times when we came out of the water.


Knowing that this was only a 100m swim, I had only one length of the pool to get my shot.


Right before the race, I set the camera's ISO to 3200, thinking that I would need this to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze my subject. In hinds site, I turned the ISO too high, and ended up with a shutter speed of 1/3200. This is much faster than I needed.


If I could do this over, I would have set the camera to ISO 1250, and ended up with a cleaner image. But, sometimes in life, there are no do overs. But I am still glad that I got the shot.


As Michael Phelps swam closer to my side of the pool, I started zooming out.



And as quick as it started, he had turned and headed back away from me.


The scoreboard was directly above me, and I had no idea what their times were. I kept my lens trained in on him, not knowing the results, because I wanted to get his reaction. I think he was processing it as well at this moment.


And then it was determined that there was a three way tie for Silver, and this was Michael's reaction.


I quickly moved downstairs before the medal ceremony, so that I could get some photos of these guys from the pool deck.


Phelps seemed to be having a great time. I saw him joking with the other two guys about how they were going to step up on the podium together.


 This is a tighter crop of the same photo.

His race started at 10:25pm, and the medal ceremony was about 20 minutes later. As soon as the ceremony was over, I high-tailed it out of the pool and headed back to the main press center. I edited a couple of these photos and posted them on Facebook and Instagram. And wow, these were very well received.

At 12:30am, I caught the press bus back to the hotel, tired but happy to have seen the race and gotten these photos.

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5 comments:

Greg Brennfleck said...

It looks like the Photo Gods were with you for this one.

Peter Marshall said...

Excellent Jeff you were in the right place at the right time shooting with the best camera equipment

leslieslens said...

great work!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. As I was reading I felt as if I were right there with you. The photos are outstanding.

Rosalinda said...

Thanks a million Jeff!! I agree with everybody. I feel like I'm there in Rio when I read your blog. You take awesome pictures!! I'm gonna be sad when the olympics come to an end.