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.

So...here 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.


Tim Engle said...

Great post Jeff!! Love the images.

Unknown said...

And the Gold Medal goes to Jeff Cable. Once again Jeff beautiful photos. Your truly an inspiration. When I don't feel like shooting I just look at your shots and I'm out the door.
Thanks for doing what you do

Brian B said...

Jeff, Thanks again for sharing the Olympics. It is inspirational to see what you had to do to accomplish your goals.

Geoff R said...

I liked the bobsled photos, the one of the volunteer, you do not notice the sled at first and wonder just what you were taking a photo of. The others are great also, as you commented the colors and designs are great. Again thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Awesome pictures of the bobsled competition. Love the one of the woman with reflective sunglasses. Sounds like you're having fun.

Jo Eland said...

Just wanted to thank you again for sharing your work. It is beyond terrific and I've looked at every single image and read every single word. It's like I was there the entire time and I'm sad to see the Olympics end it's been a great ride so to speak. Thanks for taking the time to do this and for teaching me a whole lot about motion photography.

Anonymous said...

Nice shots Jeff. I enjoyed following you throughout the olympics. Gave me a very different perspective of the games. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I love the panning shots. I need to work on that technique. Thanks so much for your stories from the Olympics.

antonfamilyblogspot said...

How do you embed your name on the bottom of each photo?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jeff for your inspiring blog. It has been an inspiration but at the same time a useful course in sports photography. Thanks for your energy!

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing an insiders look at the Olympics. I enjoyed the posts and the pictures.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting about your settings and lens preferences! I hope to one day be where you are in photography and be at the Olympics!

rcortinas said...

Great pictures jeff. The ones really close to the track where you can see the sleighs really close,and the guys face are really nice. I also like that you got the olimpic's rins and the Sochi name on the picture.
Great job as always.
Have a good trip back home and be safe
Thank you.

Roberto C.