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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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July 15, 2008 7:05 PM

Olympics: Lull Before the Storm.

Posted by Rod Mar

Nope, this ain't a post about the Seattle Storm. If you're looking for news about your favorite local WNBA team, look no further than our Storm blog.

But I am back from vacation and getting ready to go to Beijing for the Olympics.

Obviously, covering a 17-day event half-way around the world isn't an easy undertaking, but I had no idea just how much preparation I'd be doing before boarding the plane for China.

Over the next week I'll try to detail my preparation, since I won't be shooting very many assignments until I leave (so, if you're here for the pictures, come back in August).

When I'm covering the Seahawks, Sonics, Mariners or Huskies, I have decades of built-in knowledge I can rely upon when I'm deciding what to shoot, who or what is important, and what is significant about the event.

With the Olympics, I'm at a lot more of a loss. It's as if these things only occur every four years or something.

I'm fairly well-acquainted with the "big-names" -- Michael Phelps, Tyson Gay, Dara Torres, Natalie Coughlin, Jennie Finch, Kobe Bryant, etc.

But I'm still learning about the local stars in other events I'll likely be covering -- Bernard Lagat, Hope Solo, Megan Jendrick, Brad Walker and others.

Each day I check a multitude of sites, among them:

The Official Beijing Olympics site can be found here.

The media page from the official site is a valuable stop for all visiting journalists.

For information about the sports and athletes, you can't beat the New York Times site.

Their "Rings" blog is updated frequently.

Deciding what equipment I'll be bringing is a subject of a future post, but Dan Powers of the Appleton Post-Crescent wrote about his choices on

Elsewhere on Sportsshooter is an informative article by David McIntyre, a former Arizona Republic photographer now living in China.

Frank Folwell, a former deputy managing editor for USA Today, shares his thoughts about navigating China, though not necessarily the Olympics.

On non-photographic equipment, this story by George Bridges of McClatchy provides some good information.

The final link I'll leave you with for now is a blog by Zach Honig, from

As we get closer to the Opening Ceremonies, there will be more and more on the web, and once I get to China, I'll be posting as often as I can.

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July 6, 2008 11:38 AM

Olympic Trials: Flower Power.

Posted by Rod Mar

Access has been pretty good here at the Olympic track and field trials, and there are lots of opportunities to set up remote cameras.

The steeplechase is a great event in which to use a remote, because the runners have to navigate a wall and splash into a pool of water on each of the laps except for the first.

Wide-angle lenses are a good choice because they emphasize the splash and allow the camera to be down low to show the height of the runners as they leap.

At the women's steeplechase, I used a remote camera from the inside of the track. That day, I debated, along with Getty photographer Jonathan Ferrey, the value of shooting the remote from the outside of the track facing in. This would capture the distinctive stands of Hayward Field, and would show the flowers in the planting strip next to the water feature.

I didn't have a tall enough post for my remote camera to clear the flowers, but Jon did, and made some nice frames. I made sure to bring a tall post and a 15mm lens for the men's race and spent 10 minutes before the start of the day's events setting up the remote.

Here you can see me composing and focusing the remote.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec.,f8.0)

I used a couple different exposures, trying to decide whether or not to expose for the sky or the flowers. As the sky was changing all day, I set the exposure on shutter priority at 1/1000th second and overexposed a bit for the sky fooling the meter.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec.,f8.0)

I fired the remote from the infield while shooting another camera with a wide-angle lens. From the inside of the track, there are posts and things that mess up the backgrounds.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec.,f6.3)

In between laps, photographers leapt over short fence to dry off cameras and lenses.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec.,f6.3)

One unlucky racer, Steve Slattery, landed badly in the water and had to be helped off the course.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

As the race wound down, I concentrated on the lead runner, Anthony Famiglietti, and worked with some panning motion.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/30th sec.,f22)

After the race, I retrieved the remote camera and like what I saw. The exposures weren't perfect, and I had to open the exposures a bit. The editors liked the photo and planned it for the sports cover, but a world record at the swimming trials bumped the photo to the inside of the section where it ran in black and white.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1000th sec., f11.0)

I doubt I'll have the access to do remotes like this in Beijing, but it worked out well here in Eugene.

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July 5, 2008 10:37 AM

Olympic Trials: A Walk in the Parking Lot.

Posted by Rod Mar

Got up early and dragged my buddy Jim out to see the 20k men's race walk at the Olympic Trials.

These poor guys. Everyone else gets to compete in historic Hayward Field, site of so many memorable races from Prefontaine to Salazar. These guys walk laps in the parking lot of Autzen Stadium, site of so many vomits and outdoor urinations before Oregon Duck football games.

But finishing in the top three means you've punched your ticket to the Beijing Olympics, so they come and they walk.

Racewalking is at first blush an easy sport to make fun of. It looks kind of silly and your first thought is, "well, if you want to go fast, why not just run?"

Then you watch them and realize they're walking fast (and further) than you can run.

For a better account of racewalking read Jim's column over at

The rules of race walking naturally say, that you can't run. One's lead leg must be straight -- don't even try to bend those knees (!) and one foot must be in contact with the ground at all time. You get three infractions and then you're disqualified.

In other words, this is an illegal racewalking stride:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/320th sec., f2.8)

While the backgrounds at Hayward Field are either Nike signs or bleachers full of fans, the backgrounds at the racewalking often included parked cars, dilapidated bleachers facing the wrong way, or portable toilets.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 140mm, ISO 400, 1/20th sec., f14)

That said, the photo restrictions were just as tight. Despite there only being three or four credentialed photographers at the event, meet officials forbade most of us from shooting in the open space between the race lanes, telling us, "if we let all the photographers in here, there will be CHAOS!".

You decide....

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/320th sec., f2.8)

Racewalkers come from all walks of life, including math teacher Theron Kissinger, a 37-year-old high school math teacher who competes while sucking on a lollipop and doing math problems in his head. Still, if you were on your daily run, he'd be sucking his lollipop as he blew by you racewalking.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/500th sec., f5.0)

Not many spectators showed up for the racewalk, but this well-behaved dog had a front row seat.

(Nikon D3, VR 14-24mm/f2.8 lens at 17mm, ISO 400, 1/640th sec., f7.1)

I actually was interested in the race because a high-school classmate of mine, Allen James, two-time Olympian ('92 and '96) was competing in the trials again at age 44.

Despite having only trained for six weeks or so, James finished sixth and while he didn't earn a medal or a trip to Beijing, he did have massive blisters on his feet for the final five kilometers.

(Nikon D3, VR 14-24mm/f2.8 lens at 24mm, ISO 400, 1/640th sec., f4.0)

See you at the 2012 trials, Allen?

He laughed and rubbed his aching feet.

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July 4, 2008 10:40 PM

Olympic Trials: Track and Fourth.

Posted by Rod Mar

Happy Fourth of July.

I'm back in Eugene for more of the US Olympic track and field trials at Hayward Field

This is a trial of sorts for me, too. I'm not "trying out" per se for a chance to go to Beijing (I'm already credentialed), but it is a great chance for me to learn to shoot track and field, to get used to the logistics of a meet (albeit in on a mini scale -- Eugene is certainly not Beijing), and also to evaluate what equipment I'll bring with me.

Tonight had a brief schedule, with only four finals being contested as most of the deciding races will be held on the weekend.

Men's javelin was contested, and Breaux Greer, who holds the record at Hayward Field, the Olympic Trials and the American record, failed to make it out of the prelims. Oh, you might also know him from the television show "American Gladiator", where the two-time Olympian is known as "Hurricane". He's recognizable by his distinctive locks:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1600th sec, f3.5)

The weather was perfect again, and with the events being held in the evening, the light was gorgeous as it was last week. Torri Edwards, right, competes in the a preliminary heat of the women's 200 meters, and finished second to Shalonda Solomon (next lane) and both advanced to the semifinals.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 160, 1/2000th sec.,f4.0)

The women's high jump was one of the finals tonight. There were no local jumpers for me to cover, so I worked on looking for good emotion and clean backgrounds. Found a nice moment when Adriane Stone smiled after a successful high jump.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 800, 1/1000th sec, f2.8)

When high jumper Sheena Gordon celebrated after clearing 1.89 meters,the background was a little jacked up. I'm sure in Beijing I won't have the luxury of wandering anywhere I want to go in order to find the best position, so I'd better get used to it.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 800, 1/1000th sec, f2.8)

The most exciting event of the night was the women's 1500 meters. Sixteen-year old Jordan Hasay, a high school junior from California, set a national high school record in the 1500 meters in 4:14:50, and in the process qualified for the finals in the event. At left is Morgan Uceny, who also qualified for the finals. Hasay came from behind on the final lap to set her record. It's striking the difference between her teenage build and that of Uceny, who is 23.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800th sec, f2.8)

The top six finishers in each semifinal heat advanced to the finals, and when Mary Jayne Reeves stumbled as she approached the finish line she ended up missing the finals by .18 second.

(Nikon D3, VR 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/100th sec, f2.8)

I have two similar angles on the celebration by Kara Goucher. The first was shot with a full-frame Nikon D3 with a 300mm/f2.8 lens, and the second is on a Canon Mark III with a 70-200mm/f2.8 lens. While I am evaulating both sets of equipment right now, these frames are not a fair comparison. The Nikon image is shot at 1/640th sec., f2.8, and the Canon was shot at 1/1000 because of my failure to adjust the remote settings before the race (remote was in the same position all night and I was adjusting the settings as the sun went down). Still, you can see that the Nikon colors are pretty nice.

(Nikon D3, VR 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

Messed around with the 15mm again at the start of the men's 10,000 meters.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

Sometimes when you're locked into a shooting spot, you find the emotion but the background sucks. Such was the case when Abdi Abdirahman "flew" through the finish line as he won the men's 10,000 meter.

(Nikon D3, VR 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

Tomorrow I've got to wake up early for the men's 20k race walk, which begins at (gasp) 7am.

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July 3, 2008 12:55 PM

Sonics: The Final Shot.

Posted by Rod Mar

So, Seattle has lost its pro basketball franchise.

Ironcially, Seattle's WNBA team is using "The Perfect Storm" as their marketing theme this season.

What happened to the Sonics was a perfect storm.

Rich-guy bizillionaire tired of losing money and disappointed his NBA stars didn't act like his baristas? Check.

Another rich-guy bizillionaire looking to pump up his ego and wallet by moving a team to his hometown? Check.

Caught-with-their-pants down politicians trying to spin their apathy only to do too little, too late? Check.

Fans who didn't think they'd actually lose the team? A team of players so poorly put together there was no way they'd succeed on the court? A long history of ignorning a problem arena?

Check, check and check.

And so they go, shoes, basketballs and jockstraps making the covered wagon journey to Oklahoma.

When I covered their final home game of last season, I brainstormed for days, trying to envision all the images I'd need not only for that next day's coverage, but on down the line as the lawsuits, trials and dealings continued over the summer.

I wrote about that night and all the images I'd made, planned and unplanned.

I was nearly the last one to leave the media workroom, and took one last look out at the arena just to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Lo and behold, workers were already dismantling the basketball floor, so I raced back and grabbed a camera and made some frames. I had to wait awhile for the court to get taken apart just enough to tell a future story.

I didn't file it into our photo system, not wanting it to run as a companion to a story about the trial, the lawsuits, or anything else unless the team was gone for sure.

When I heard the news about the settlement between the city and the new ownership group, I immediately contacted the office and told them to look in the DVD from April 13, 2008, Sonics vs. Dallas.

I explained to my editor what I had shot and said it might be a pretty storytelling image.

I didn't hear back, but when I saw the newspaper this morning, I was glad I'd shot the image, because it fit our coverage and told the story about the end of a basketball franchise after four decades.

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Recent entries

Jul 15, 08 - 07:05 PM
Olympics: Lull Before the Storm.

Jul 6, 08 - 11:38 AM
Olympic Trials: Flower Power.

Jul 5, 08 - 10:37 AM
Olympic Trials: A Walk in the Parking Lot.

Jul 4, 08 - 10:40 PM
Olympic Trials: Track and Fourth.

Jul 3, 08 - 12:55 PM
Sonics: The Final Shot.







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