Friday, August 6, 2021

Photographing a new sport at the Olympics: Sport Climbing

Last night was an interesting one for me, as I thought I had made reservations to photograph skateboarding, only to arrive to an empty venue. As some of you may have seen on social media, even though I was alone in a big empty parking lot, I was treated to an amazing sunset.

I had all my camera gear with me, but did not want to miss the amazing colors in the sky, so I quickly grabbed my iPhone 12 and took this with the phone. It was really this beautiful. No retouching needed.

After taking this photo, I used my phone to figure out what event I could photograph in the evening. Knowing that I had not put a reservation in for any other sports, I looked to see what might be going on close to my location, hoping I could talk my way in. As it turned out, they were doing the new event, Sport Climbing, at a venue that was not too far away. The weather had cooled down after sunset, and it did not look too far on the map, so I started walking. After about 10 minutes, I realized that this walk was farther than I thought, so I hailed a taxi (one of the approved ones for us) and used that to reach the venue.

Upon arriving at the Sport Climbing venue, they asked me if I had a reservation. When I told them about my mix up, they checked in with the photo manager who was nice enough to approve my entry. So I was in.

It was already after 8pm by the time I entered the venue media room, and I had not eaten dinner. So I grabbed the tried and true peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (hey - they were there and they were free), purchased a Coke Zero and made my way out to the climbing wall. I was literally shooting images with the Canon camera and the Canon 200-400mm lens (which is always mounted on my Gitzo monopod with the Acratech ball head), and then in between climbs I was scarfing the PB&J and swigging my soft drink. Ahhh, the glamorous lifestyle of an Olympic photographer!

This new Olympic sport consists of three rounds, speed climbing (which I missed), bouldering, and the lead climbing to see who could get the highest combined score.. I got there at the start of the bouldering and sat down in a position where I could photograph the climbers with the Olympic rings in the background.

As I sat there and photographed them, and all I could think about was "How can I shoot this creatively?" I knew that I could not motion pan them, and basically decided that the most interesting way to shoot this sport was to shoot a combination of tight shots and wide shots, and to move to different positions as I did so.

After each climber took their time on the wall, these volunteers would come out and sanitize the wall. I found that interesting and took this photo to show you all what I was seeing.

After a little while, I moved farther along the wall to get a shot almost parallel to the climber. 

I made sure that my shutter speed was still around 1/1000 second for those unforeseen moments like this, when the climber falls from the wall. If my shutter speed was much slower, this would be a blurry mess. 

Using the reach of the Canon 200-400mm lens, which has the built-in tele converter, I was able to zoom way in and capture the climbers reactions. 

For the third round, the climbers competed to see who could climb the highest on this wall. It was interesting to watch all them working together to determine the best route up the steep climb. 

Here is Nathaniel Coleman showing amazing strength as he navigated his way up the wall. 

I watched in amazement as the American climber used only his feet to hold himself in position while he tied off the rope. 

As I mentioned earlier, I made sure to shoot right and wide throughout the event. 

Alberto Gines Lopez climbing and eventually winning gold.

Wow, that is some serious arm strength.

Even though there have been no spectators at the events, there have been other team members who come and watch. This was by far the largest crowd I have seen gathered at any sport here in Tokyo. 

Jakob Schubert of Austria had a masterful climb on the wall.

The Austrian was the only man to make it to the top of the course...

...and he came down celebrating that!

Once he got his harness off, he walked back to wait for his score and he was fired up!

He was congratulated by Alberto Gines Lopez.

Nathaniel Coleman had a great night and earned himself a Silver Medal.

I positioned myself to the side of the medal ceremony, making sure that the American would be standing with the Tokyo colors bwhind himself, instead of a white wall.

That planning really worked out for this shot.

As you can see, the Gold Medalist was standing closer to me, and did not have the nice background (at least not from my angle).

This was Nathaniel's reaction to the announcement of his friend winning a Gold Medal. 

He showed his Silver Medal to the TV cameras and then was escorted over to my position so that I could get a straight-on shot of him.

And that I did!


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Unknown said...

Awesome photos really have enjoyed you taking us along on the Olympic Journey.

Anonymous said...

Great series and the colors just added to eye pleasing experience...SUPERB !!

Vera said...

Have really enjoyed your posts and views of the events.. and of Japan under lock down

mcfotosfo said...

Great shots once again. I enjoyed watching this event on TV too. Watching the speed climbing was surreal. They were climbing so quickly it looked as if they were being pulled up the wall - which I know they weren't.