Saturday, August 7, 2021

The crowning moment of these Olympics - Team GOLD!

Let me start this blog post by saying that yesterday was an epic day! The women of USA Water Polo were playing against Spain for the gold medal. I was hoping for this day to happen, and hoping that the women could pull off a third Olympic gold in a row. But this also means a day of stress and anxiety for me, as I worry about shooting positions, medal ceremony access, and so many other things. Heck, even though I have photographed every game to get to this point, I even stress about being in focus, camera settings, and missing key shots. I guess it just comes with the territory. 

The game started out like any other game. I slowed the shutter during the sprint and caught that action. Then seconds later, I cranked my ISO from 100 to 1600 and my aperture from f/8 to f/4. I was ready to capture the action.

The American women took off to an early lead and never let it slip away, cruising to a pretty easy victory over their opponent. 

Offensively and defensively, they were dominant. 

But photographing this game was not about the action, it was about the reaction! I spent as much time focusing on the bench as I did on the athletes in the pool.

Unlike hockey and other sports, water polo players do not show a ton of emotion when scoring. But yesterday they showed a little more than usual. Heck, they were going for gold!

Ashleigh Johnson had a great game and made sure that the Spaniards would not mount a comeback.

Kaleigh Gilchrist scores a goal and points back to the USA bench as if to say "we got this".

I shot enough action shots to deliver to the team, but it was hard because the game was a blow out and the real story was not the action.

These are the key shots, showing the emotion of the moment, when the women know that they are about to wear that gold medal around their necks. As you can see, they pulled Ashleigh Johnson to give Amanda Longan a chance to get in the gold medal game.

I had to get a good shot of her in the game.

And then the buzzer sounded and it was official.

I keyed in on as much emotion as I could, firing the camera at each grouping.

Doesn't this photo just say it all?

The team met in the middle of the pool and had a little celebration.

And then they turned and waved to those people who could be in the stands (like the men from USA Water Polo who were there to support them).

The next part was the stressful part for me. Two and a half weeks ago, when I first arrived here in Tokyo, I asked the venue photo manager about the medal ceremony. He was not sure of the details at the time, but said that access would be severely limited. This stressed me out, because as the team photographer, I HAVE to get these shots for the team. But, at the time, I was not going to stress about it. But now I was!

I was told that there would be nobody allowed at the pool deck (by the team) and that all shooting positions would be at the other side of the pool. Even for the TV broadcast, which is really unusual.  I decided to take a high position, to avoid the nets in the pool, which would have been in the way. I made sure that all the team members knew to look up towards me when they got on the podium.

I shot wide to include the whole team, figuring that I would crop this later.

Because I was using the Canon 200-400 with the built-in tele converter, I would shoot anywhere from 200mm to 560mm. So I used that reach to get photos of the teammates putting the medals on each other.

And waited for these key moments!

Once the ceremony was over, the photo manager said that we would bring the teams over to the side of the pool, where we could shoot closer photos from the stands. So, once this moment was over I ran for the side position.

But before the team was escorted I saw Ashleigh making one of her Tik Tok videos. I quickly framed this shot.  

I was dead center and got what I wanted. Thankfully I brought a Canon R5 with a Canon RF24-105mm lens and a Canon 600 EX-RT flash. I needed that flash to light the women, since the pool was really back lit.

At this point, everything was done, and most photographers went back to the press room. But I decided to try and get back down to the pool deck (as had been previously talked about with the team).

I got down with the team and nobody seemed to have a problem with that, so we took advantage of this time on the podiums.

Here is the team, with Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC (dead center up front).

Then it was time for press interviews. So I stayed on the deck and took portraits as they were coming by.

I photographed some of the interviews...

...and the emotions.

After all the individual interviews, Adam and Maggie came to the press room for a press meeting. I took a couple of photos of this and then arranged with the team to go back up to the pool deck to take portraits of all the team members with their medals.

We have never done this before, but it was great to get these for all of them.

Here is a photo of Ashley being Ashley. She is such a ham! :)

Team captain, Maggie Steffens holding her gold.

I made sure to get team photos as well, with all the staff.

We were up on the pool deck for at least an hour after the game, having fun and taking a ton of photos. I even had time to get creative. 

Isn't that pretty?

They were having so much fun, as they should have!

I suggested a more relaxed photo.

Here is Adam Krikorian (head coach) having a little fun with some of the volunteers (who were all around us and watching the good times).

Maggie wanted a photo of her and Adam and "their pool" behind them. 

I was not left out of the fun either. This group is really amazing and they make me a part of the team which is incredibly special. I even get to wear the gold for a photo!

I even got to be in the team photo.

I can not explain to you all what this day was like. Starting with the nerves, the fear of screwing up, the unknown, and then ending with elation and being a part of this historic moment. It really was a fitting way to end the games. Well...we are not done yet, there is one more game for the men today (going for 5th place which would be awesome for them) and then closing ceremony. But to me, with everything that we have all been through to get here in the first place, this was the crowning moment of these games!

Yeah - I am on a high. So proud of this team and what they have accomplished, and I am honored to be included, even if it is just the guy taking the photos. 


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Carolyn said...

No way are you just the guy taking the photos. You’ve taken us all along for the gold medal ride for weeks now.

Unknown said...

Great photos as always, and glad you were in the team photo. Thanks for sharing with us this adventure.

Lisa said...

Very well said Carolyn. He has allowed us to share his ride and it is his relationship with team and athletes that adds another level to him being a great photographer.

Unknown said...

Dear Jeff,

I am somewhat overcome by an emotional rush of relief and joy having just read your blog and seen the amazing (AMAZING) photographs of the USA women’s team game and celebrations, down to you in the team photo.

How great was that, you are an awesome guy and photographer, that you have the desire to create these magical once in a lifetime photo essays of the team and their ‘GOLD’

You think like a ninja and are several steps ahead of the unfolding reality, quite remarkable and its what defines you as a truly great story teller, you live the story in your head and you somehow manage to make it happen ij the photos because of your empathy and strategy. You honor our profession, you certainly honor CANON and you made the this unique olympics come alive like never before. I truly have loved reading your blog every morning, your very cool reasoning behind every setting change, the results etc and looking at your images on my beautiful XDR display which does them justice!

You single handedly made this Tokyo Olympic event so memorable and for this insight and up close and personal approach, I THANK YOU!

Your explanation and shots of the women’s team gold win was a very emotional experience, seriously brought tears to my eyes as I felt what you were capturing as if I was right there with them. Truly inspired work Jeff.

Thanks to you and Canon and all the stuff you endured prior to going, and then on arrival, and then your daily routines and the bus schedules. You are a MAVERIC Jeff.

Best regards and congratulations to you all…

Love and best wishes,


Arnold Lim said...

Jeff! Sorry, it took so long to read your blog! It was really great to meet you and see the work through your eyes and it was a pleasure working with you. You were always a consummate professional. I hope to get the opportunity to get to work with you again one day, perhaps at the next Olympics!