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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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August 31, 2008 12:29 AM

Olympics: Closing Ceremonies, A Look Back.

Posted by Rod Mar

Has it only been a week since the Closing Ceremonies?

It seems like months ago.

The Closing was no match for the Opening Ceremonies. It wasn't designed to be -- the closing ceremonies are supposed to have more of a party feel than a ceremony feel. The entire event took just longer than two hours, and the weather was nicely bearable.

For the Opening Ceremonies, I shot from position "K", which was in the front row of seats on the second deck of the Bird's Nest. For the Closing, I was shooting from a specially designed riser at the end of the track that while used mostly for the track events, was ideal for the Closing Ceremonies. As the athletes would be mingling on the infield, the slightly lower and closer vantage point made it easier to pick out faces.

The Closing Ceremonies began with drums, echoing the start of the Opening Ceremonies.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.f2.8)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 78mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f2.8)

Elaborately costumed and lighted dancers flitted around the infield:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec.,f4.0)

When the costume wasn't enough, some performers were spray-painted:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec.,f4.0)

Cyclists on bikes with oversized wheels spun through the throng. Changing to a slower shutter speed in the dark was challeging, and I didn't execute this very well at all as you can see "jittery" movement. Of course, panning with a 600mm lens while shooting in the dark is a pretty good challenge:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/6th sec.,f20)

As in the Opening Ceremonies, performers "flew" around the Bird's Nest on tethers, adding height and depth to the visuals:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

Unlike the Opening ceremonies, at the Closing, athletes don't enter by country, they enter en masse, and are encouraged to mingle with each other in a party atmosphere. Of course the USA contingent was on the opposite end of the stadium from most of the photographers, but when I saw a tall blonde frolicking on the shoulders of a Australian teammate, I knew it was Seattle Storm player Lauren Jackson. She looked MUCH happier than she had the day before after losing in the gold medal basketball game. There was very little light falling on the athletes, so I had to jack up the ISO, lower the shutter speed and then be very steady as I released the shutter. At 840mm, shooting at 1/160th second is a recipe for movement or shakiness in the image:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 3200, 1/160th sec.,f5.6)

No shrinking Violet, Jackson found her way to Chinese superstar Yao Ming, and asked him to take a photo with her:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 3200, 1/160th sec.,f5.6)

During the handover part of the ceremony, London's 2012 Games made its first appearance, via a double-decker bus:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.f2.8)

The bus "unpeeled", revealing a stage where singer Leona Lewis performed with Led Zepplin guitarist Jimmy Page. On the opposite side of the bus, legendary soccer player David Beckham "sang" and kicked a soccer ball (I couldn't see it so you'll have to take my word for it -- I am told it's fortunate I couldn't hear him sing either -- you'll have to take my word for that, too).

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/100th sec, f4.0)

As the ceremonies came to a close, the Olympic torch was extinguished and replaced by a "memory torch" comprised of hundreds of human figures, took its place on the floor of the stadium. I exposed for maximum depth of field, but it doesn't make much of a difference, at least looking at the image on the web:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 75mm, ISO 2000, 1/40th sec.f16)

Banners were unvelied and raised from the center of the memory torch towards the roof of the Bird's Nest as acrobats danced along the banners:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 105mm, ISO 2000, 1/200th sec.f2.8)

Following tradition, fireworks brought the proceedings to an end in a stunning finale that combined the athletes in the infield, the human torch, the banners rising towards the roof and the fireworks lighting the sky. (As some of you have noticed, some frames I've shot on Canon equipment -- the short answer is that while I predominantly shot Nikon, I did use Canon equipment for some remotes -- more on that in a future post, I promise):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 100, 2 sec.,f16)

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August 30, 2008 10:40 PM

Olympics: Hoop Dreams

Posted by Rod Mar

Basketball took a front seat as the Olympics wound to a close, and the USA was part of both gold medal games.

For me, the women's game was an important contest to cover, since we had two "locals" in the finals. It's funny how papers decide who is a "local". Sue Bird is from New York, and Lauren Jackson is from Australia, but both play professionally in Seattle, so we consider them locals.

Meanwhile, a friend shooting for a paper in Chicago told me that they weren't considering Dwayne Wade to be a real local, even though he grew up in the Chicago area, because he plays for Miami in the NBA.

Kenya's Bernard Lagat was a local for us, his connection being that he went to Washington State University.

I wonder -- if Kevin Durant would have made the men's basketball team, would he be considered a local for us? He grew up in D.C., went to college in Texas, played one season for the Sonics who moved to Oklahoma City before the Olympics began.

Or, more interesting yet -- would the Oklahoma papers cover Durant as a local? He is on their team, but they have yet to play a game.

As if any of it really matters anyway, right? But it is fun to debate the possibilities.

In the women's gold medal game, Sue Bird played for the USA while Lauren Jackson played for Australia.

Despite being teammates in Seattle, they live together while playing for different teams in Russia, and were opponents in the Olympics.

Once the ball is in play, friends and roommates become instant opponents if they're wearing different jerseys.

Early in the game, Jackson had no problem at all setting a hard pick on Bird:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Bird got to celebrate as the USA won the gold medal easily:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

What was surprising was the reaction of Jackson on the medals stand. She was crying and couldn't help but look wistfully over at the Americans receiving their gold medals. It's not surprising that after all the hard work, it would be a great disappointment to fall short in the final game. But Jackson's reaction was curious to me because she had to have known her team was a long shot against a group of Americans whom she's played with and against for years. Australia just didn't the depth nor talent to hang with the US squad:


(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Meanwhile, Bird won her second gold medal, and she and her teammates lustily sang the "Star Spangled Banner" as the flag was raised:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 390mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f5.6)

The following night, the USA men faced Spain in the gold medal game. Really, there shouldn't have been much doubt about the outcome of this one, either. Spain was pesky and hung around enough to make it close in the fourth quarter, until Kobe and Co. took over for a double-digit win.

While the USA's defense keyed much of their success, there was little argument that their superior talent and athleticism carried them to the gold:

LeBron James fought through this double-team and a hard foul to score and earn a three-point play:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 280mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Chris Bosh took off over Spain's Felipe Reyes to score later:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

Spain scrapped for everything they could get their hand on, including Alex Mumbru battling for a ball on the ground and finding himself between the legs of USA's Kobe Bryant.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

The Spanish fans eschewed the USA tradition of wearing game jerseys of their favorite players, instead apparently donning the discarded costumes from a Spanish staging of "Grease, The Musical":

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4)

It's nice photographically when you can get the winners and losers in the same frame. While far from perfect, this image does sum up the gold medal contest:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 240mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

As the USA has proven in recent memory, talent and athleticism don't guarantee gold. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski got all his players to buy into a "team-first" concept, and they were rewarded with gold. Jason Kidd, the oldest player on the team, was first to place his medal around Coach K's neck, and the other players quickly followed:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4)

While Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson fulfilled the "local" quotient for the women's basketball team, the closest we could claim in the men's side is former Sonics player and coach Nate McMillan, who was an assistant for the men's team. He's a great guy and is very deserving of a gold medal in my book.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4)

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August 24, 2008 11:26 PM

Olympics: Ending With a Bang, and Off I Go.

Posted by Rod Mar

I'm in Tokyo waiting for my connection to Seattle.

Yesterday was very busy (gold medal men's basketball, closing ceremonies, packing -- where did all this stuff come from?), so I didn't have a chance to post.

I'll be taking some time off, but will find time to post some from the last days of the Games, as well as answer your questions.

Fireworks ring the top of the Bird's Nest:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 15mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 100, 2 sec.,f16)

And I'm flying out-of-here!

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 2000, 1/8th sec.,f22)

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August 23, 2008 12:22 PM

Olympics: Some enchanted evening

Posted by Rod Mar

As the Beijing Olympics draw to a close, most media outlets are doing stories reviewing the past 17 days, trying to make sense of it all.

I decided to go out to the Olympic Green (the area around the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube and National Indoor Stadium) to try and visually capture the mood of the people. The weather was beautiful, there were events all around, and everyone, Chinese citizens and visiting tourists seemed entranced by the Games.

The issues surrounding the relative successes and failures of these Games are large and complicated; it's my guess that there can be no definitive awarding of a gold medal to China until we see how the country and its citizens fare now that they are the center of the world's attention.

Certainly, an evening of shooting photos cannot tell the complete story. But, these photos do capture the mood of a Beijing as it celebrates its coming-out party to the rest of the world.

People were happily milling around the area around the stadiums as the sun began setting through the ambient haze that seems to always fill the air. This made for some nice glowy light that I could play with.

It seemed like everyone wanted to take photos in front of the stadiums. You couldn't walk four feet without being in the way of someone's photos. By having these photos, it was proof that one was indeed, part of the Olympics.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 350mm, ISO 200, 1/250th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 200, 1/250th sec.,f2.8)

(Nikon D3, 14-24mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 400, 1/320th sec.,f4.5)

As the sun set, the glow got even stronger, allowing me to shoot backlit through flags people were posing with. The Olympic flag made a nice addition to this image:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 290mm, ISO 200, 1/000th sec.,f4.0)

Patriotism is not only high in China, it's also very visible, as it seems like every fan entering a venue to watch the games has a flag on their person somewhere, be it a handheld flag or atemporary tattoo.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/100th sec.,f4.0)

The military is a constant presence in China, and one that has to be acknowledged all the time:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 90mm, ISO 800, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

China quickly became a nation of boisterous sports fans, particularly when cheering for their countrymen and women. Chants of "CHI-NA!" echoed throughout every venue, no matter what the result of the action on the field. Discuses accidently thrown into the net were applauded, as were foul balls in baseball and softball when hit by Chinese players. Toward the end of the Games, fans had become more knowledgeable and not only recognized, but applauded great efforts by athletes of all countries.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, 14-24mm/f2.8 lens @ 18mm, ISO 1600, 1/100th sec.,f2.8)

Outside of the Bird's Nest, I was quickly reminded about the tens of thousands of Chinese people who made these Games go. They not only performed in the opening ceremony, they also drove buses and helped out the venues, they also squeegeed the counters of the bathrooms every five minutes and picked up every last speck of garbage.

(Nikon D3, 14-24mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/50th sec.,f3.5)

Walking back to the Main Press Center, I was again struck by the beauty of the Water Cube at night, and waited until someone walked by so that a human figure could provide scale.

(Nikon D3, 14-24mm/f2.8 lens @ 14mm, ISO 1600, 1/125th sec.,f5.0)


*I would like to thank all of you who have read my ramblings over the past few weeks (some of you, for longer than that). Many have emailed and commented, and I appreciate your feedback. As the Games come to a close, I'll be answering your questions in a post, so feel free to place them in the comments field. What would you like to know about the Beijing Olympics? Ask away.

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August 22, 2008 12:22 PM

Olympics: Open wide and say awesome

Posted by Rod Mar

Went to the USA men's indoor (not to be confused with "beach") volleyball semifinal match against Russia today. Our columnist Steve Kelley was revisiting the team after head coach Hugh McCutcheon returned from a leave after his father-in-law was brutally murdered here in Beijing at the beginning of the Games.

I'm not expert on volleyball photography, but I'm a pretty quick learner. Okay, I might not be that quick, as it took me three sets of shooting to figure out where the heck I should be shooting from (*hint* -- if you're shooting the head coach, don't shoot from above, especially if he is bald).

Once I decided to join all the cool kids shooting from courtside, things came into focus, so to speak (ah, that photographer humor, huh? I'll be here through Thursday -- try the veal).

Made a nice simple frame of the coach, and the player and the Olympic logos on the wall put in in a time and place.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 340mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f4.0)

From there, it was a challenge to capture volleyball action at its peak -- any experienced volleyball players will look at these and likely giggle, but that's okay -- I'm a lifelong learner, right?

USA's big Clayton Stanley spikes a ball during the fourth set. He hammers his serves as well, but struggled to keep them in play:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 98mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

After making a basically average spiking photo (those must be better from head-on, right?), I moved on to trying to shoot digs and saves. I know that returns of serve don't really count, but beggars can't be choosers, right?

USA'S Richard Lambourne, left and Riley Salmon both attempt to return a hard serve during the fifth set:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 200mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Riley Salmon (10) and Richard Lambourne (5) can't reach this spike by a Russian player that was partially blocked at the net in the fourth set of USA's five set victory:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 200mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Russia came back from an 0-2 deficit to win the next two sets and force the deciding fifth set. It was loud and frantic and exciting, and I felt so fortunate to be witnessing my third thrilling event in a row (preceded by the USA softball loss and the USA women's soccer victory).

As the USA rallied in that decisive fifth set, the emotion ramped way up on the court, and there were pictures all over the place.

It was only later, while editing on the shuttle bus that I saw something unusual and funny and cool, all at the same time.

USA player Ryan Millar is not only really excitable and photograph-able, he also apparently has one way to express his excitement. Check out these frames and tell me what's the same in each of them (and there are all taken at different points in the match):

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 110mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 210mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 210mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 86mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

After the match, I was able to make another, better, more emotional photo of the coach, as he hugged one of his players:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 110mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

And similarly to Brazil's women after their loss to the USA in gold medal soccer, the Russian men were inconsolable, as well.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 280mm, ISO 2500, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

We're almost to the end of the Olympics -- some basketball finals, some closing ceremony and a whole heckofalotta packing loom ahead.

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August 21, 2008 1:26 PM

Olympics: That's why they play the games

Posted by Rod Mar

If sportswriters, sports fans and broadcast pundits had their way, games would never have to be played.

That's because of statements like:

"No one is going to beat the New England Patriots this year."


"Big Brown will easily win the Triple Crown."

Two such already-decided-by-the-court-of-public-opinion contests were held tonight in Beijing.

The USA softball team hadn't lost in Olympic play since 2000, winning 22 straight. They'd run through this Olympic tournament, outscoring their opponents 57-2 on their way to the gold medal game against Japan.

USA's women's soccer team lost their best player before the Olympics even started. They lost their first game of the tournament, getting shut-out by Norway, 2-0. That they'd scrapped their way to the gold medal game was supposed to be a victory in itself.

But cliche' as it may sound, that's why we play the games.

Because we don't know how the ball will bounce, how the players will react, and ultimately, who will win on any given day.

My night started at the USA vs. Japan softball game. Japan had lost a semifinal (!) game, but due to the complicated tournament format, they'd earned their way back for a chance at gold.

And you know what happened. Japan played nearly flawlessly, and the USA played uncharacteristically flat. They committed two errors, employed questionable strategy, and their big bats failed them when they needed them most.

Japan 3, USA 1.

Japan scored in the third inning when Ayumi Karino's RBI single scored Masumi Mishina giving Japan a 1-0 lead. USA first baseman Tairia Flowers waits for play to resume as Japan celebrates their first run of the game:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

In the next inning, Japan's Eri Yamada led off with a solo home run, making the score 2-0. I'd chosen to shoot from the outfield with a long lens (600mm). Because a softball field is smaller than baseball field, 600mm allows you to shoot fairly tight on home plate, as well as the dugouts and bases.

I tracked Yamada as she rounded the bases, but knew that a 2-0 lead had put the USA in real danger so I looked to tie in USA reaction with the Japanese elation.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

As Yamada rounded second base, I was able to focus on USA shortstop Natasha Whately. What helps make this photo is Yamada looking back.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

With one team holding a lead, I was able to shoot less to conserve space. Because I was shooting two events in one night, I knew I'd be downloading and editing images on a cab ride from one end of Beijing (softball) to the other (soccer). If the USA put the tying run at the plate, I would have been shooting like a madman again.

At the end of the game, the Japanese huddled and celebrated again, this time as USA's Caitin Lowe (26) walks back to the dugout after making the final out of the game.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

I wanted to stay for the medals ceremony and capture some better USA reaction, but I had to get to soccer so I packed up and hailed a cab for the ride across town. There's nothing like the Olympics to give you the opportunity to edit photos from a taxi speeding past Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.

When I arrived at soccer, the score was still 0-0. This was good, since USA goalkeeper Hope Solo is a local athlete for us and would be the focus of my coverage.

She did not disappoint. In hockey, the term for a goaltender playing extremely well is "standing on your head". Don't know what they call it in soccer, but Solo did it tonight. Maybe they call it, "playing worthy of a gold medal".

Solo stopped a point-blank shot by Brazil's Marta in the second half, preserving the tie:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

The scoreless contest went into extra time, and USA's Carli Lloyd scored in the 93rd minute to give the USA a lead. She celebrates by hugging teammate Shannon Boxx. At left are Brazil's Maycon and USA's Heather O'Reilly:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Once the USA got a lead, Brazil went on an all-out attack. For the last 10 minutes of the match, it seemed as if there were 17 yellow jerseys against 11 white ones.

Solo made a diving save and punched the ball away from the goal on a corner kick with only precious few moments left in the match:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

After the final whistle, the celebration was on as Solo erupted out of the goal:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Colorful (understatement?) teammate Natasha Kai whipped off her jersey ala Brandi Chastain, revealing a torso more reminiscent of Dennis Rodman:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Solo had stored some decorative "medals" with her towel in the goal mouth -- how's that for confidence -- and proudly displayed them after the game:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Meanwhile, Brazil's players took the lost hard. Many of them just sat on the field, stunned:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Hope Solo, virtually banished from the team last year over an incident at the World Cup, was not only back in the good graces of her teammates, she was a proud gold medal winner as well.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2500, 1/640th sec.,f5.6)

No one knows what will happen in sports on any given day.

That's the thrill, it's what draws me to sports, and in the past two weeks I've seen a lifetime of incredible moments.

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August 20, 2008 12:13 PM

Olympics: The Usain asylum

Posted by Rod Mar

The world's fastest man, Jamaica's Usain Bolt, proved it again as he won the 200 meters in world-record time, adding to his gold medal and world record in the 100 meters.

Gotta love this guy.

A photographer's dream.

Poses before he races.

Poses while he races.

Poses after he races.

Heck, in the prelims, I think he did more posing than racing.

Really. Dude is ridiculous fast, and photogenic to boot.

I was at the Bird's Nest, mostly shooting a couple of local athletes, middle-distance runner Bernard Lagat and gold medal hopeful in the pole vault, Brad Walker.

The men's 200 was the highlight of the night, and everyone in the Nest was there to see it. Walker was passing height after height in the pole vault, so I sauntered over to the end of the track to catch some Lightning Bolt in a camera.

Most of the track shooters spend most of the day preparing for a race such as this.

Multiple remotes, carefully staked out positions, cameras already angled at the likely place the winner will look based on research from prior races ("This guy looks outside the track, this other guy always looks inside," they will say).

These masters of the track will have the 200 meters documented from start to finish, and they will have multiple great images.

I don't have the luxury of time to do that preparation (and let's face it, even if I did, I'd likely get it wrong anyway), so I had to trust what little I knew about Bolt and his racing style (gathered from watching him run one race -- the 100 meters).

Actually, because I was at the other end of the track, I didn't even have the luxury of time of thinking about a good spot, or even time to get to it had I thought of it in the first place.

I found myself at the apex of the horseshoe on the end of the 200-meter race, and thought, well, they'll be going pretty fast so maybe the celebration will last this long. After all, Bolt is a bit of a showman, and it will be his second gold of the Games.

I figured the 200-400mm zoom for the end of the race, and had the 70-200mm ready in case he ran closer to me.

From where I was, I couldn't see the start, nor the turn, nor the straightaway, nor the finish of the race.

But I was watching the race on the big video screen and knew he was pulling away.

I managed to pick him up just after the finish line as he celebrated:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

He kept running toward me, and I ditched the long glass for the shorter 70-200mm and got very lucky.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 80mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

Bolt stopped right in front of me and put on a show.

He fell to his knees.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He laid on the ground.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 110mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He got back to his knees and kissed the track.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

He posed again.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 86mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600th sec.,f2.8)

Heck, by this time, if I didn't have a good shot, I should have just turned in my cameras.

I certainly don't advise this method of shooting huge Olympic races.

It will not work, nine times out of 10.

But I had no choice, really. My job here is to shoot our local athletes, and whatever else comes my way when I'm not shooting the locals.

Tonight, the timing worked out, and so did the photos. I caught some luck.

As for those locals, Bernard Lagat won his heat. I shot him at the start, then did some pans, as the race goes about 13 minutes long.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2500, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 102mm, ISO 400, 1/15th sec.,f14)

Brad Walker had a tough night, missing all three of his attempts and being eliminated from the competition -- a shock, really, as he was a medal hopeful. He was hampered a bit by a faulty mechanism in his pole vault pit that got stuck when trying to raise the pole vault bar. He appeared to go on tilt, and didn't seem to enjoy his experience at all.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4.0)

For all you Washington readers, for your information, Lagat is a Cougar, Walker a Husky.

Make of that what you will.

My day began at 7 a.m. on a bus for BMX qualifying (hopefully I'll post about that soon), and ended when I got back to my housing at 2 a.m.

It's the Olympics, though, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My friend Jim calls our credentials, "the Golden Ticket", like in the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory story.

It's true -- my credential lets me into a visual feast every day for 17 days, and I don't want to miss any of it.

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August 19, 2008 10:25 AM

Olympics: Seeing more than medals

Posted by Rod Mar

After a week of being laser-locked in the medal pursuits of Michael Phelps, the rhythm and pace of the Olympics has definitely changed.

Sure, there are many medals yet to be decided, but in reality, many of the marquee events have come and gone.

These would include Phelps, the men's and women's gymnastics and the men's 100 meter dash.

That's not to say that basketball, volleyball, track, and the remainder of the events aren't important. They're all important (OK -- maybe all of them but trampoline -- seriously? Let me get this straight -- if you bounce up and down on your parent's bed, it's go straight to your room without any dessert. But if you do it on a trampoline you can get a gold medal?)

My point is this: Entire countries (like the USA with Phelps and China with gymnastics) won't be hanging on every result this week.

Given that, I've really tried to take a good look around at the events I'm covering. What is there besides the winners and the losers? What can I see beyond the peak action?

Here's some of what I found:

At water polo, there is an underwater viewing window. Chinese players swimming near the surface are reflected in the water above them:

(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

There are countless staff and volunteers at these Games. This poor young man had to sit in the dark and dank basement of the water polo venue waiting for curious photographers to show up. He's lit by the glow of the pool as he reads a book in his subterranean workspace:

(Nikon D3, 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 110mm, ISO 2000, 1/25th sec.,f4.0)

In the mixed zone (where reporters and athletes "mix" for interviews) at the rowing venue, a member of the media staff holds up a sign asking for the end of interviews so that the medal ceremonies can begin:

(Nikon D3, 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/800th sec.,f5.6)

During the USA gold-medal ceremony, members of the women's eight are reflected in the waters of the Shunyi Olympic Rowing park as they stand at attention for the playing of the national anthem and the raising of the American flag:

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

At the Bird's Nest, a custom painted radio-controlled car is one of two being used to transport the discuses (again, is it "discii"?) from the landing area back to the discus cage:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4.0)

On the pitch well after the USA women defeated Japan in the semifinals, USA midfielder Shannon Box plays with Riley Rampone, daughter of teammate Christie Rampone:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 3200, 1/800th sec.,f5.6)

Finally, a rose, floating in the pool at the Water Cube (left over from Michael Phelps' final medals ceremony) is gracefully picked up by a member of the Canadian synchronized swimming team that had just entered the water for practice:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 1000, 1/320th sec.,f4.0)

Hope you enjoy these images. I have to fight not to get so locked into action images that I forget that balance is everything, even in silly pursuits like sports photography.

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August 18, 2008 12:09 PM

Olympics: Remote possibilities

Posted by Rod Mar

Former University of Washington star Aretha Thurmond made the women's discus finals here in Beijing, and because she's a local athlete (and all-around great person), we were there to document her quest for gold.

Unfortunately, Thurmond, like many of the members of the USA Track and Field team so far, had a tough night.

She finished 10th, and one of the women she beat at the USA track trials, Stephanie Brown Trafton, actually won the gold medal.

Like I said, a tough night for Thurmond.

At the trials last month in Eugene, I used a remote in the discus cage to photograph the athletes. Sure it'd be cool to shoot from inside, but rules are rules, and it's all in fun until someone gets hit in the head with an iron frisbee.

Access to the infield at the Olympics is, as you guessed it, difficult. Big photo agencies get what are known as "pool" vests -- because they are serving numerous outlets, they get better access. The people in charge are sensitive to those photographing athletes with local ties to their publication areas, and they do make provisions.

I had to apply 24 hours in advance to acquire a pool vest that let me photograph ONE of Thurmond's throws from the infield. Again, for safety reasons, we're quite out of the way, and as you can see, it's not the greatest shot at all.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 360mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

A remote camera, on the other hand, gives a more dramatic view. Typically, shooters place remotes right behind the thrower, looking straight out to the landing area. Here's an example from the Trials in Euegue:

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

I arrived at the Bird's Nest at 4 p.m. (session started at 7 p.m.) to place my remote. The afternoon session was over, and we were allowed onto the track and infield to prepare. All remotes have to be placed 30 minutes before the beginning of a particular session.

My remote setup consisted of a Canon Mark III body, a 15mm lens, a remote plate (flat metal plate with screw holes) a mini ball head with which to link camera to plate, two remote tranceivers and a prerelease cable to help with triggering.

When I got down to the discus cage, only two cameras had been set up, so I had my choice of positions.

This being the Olympic Games, after all, I really wanted the Olympic flame and cauldron in my shot.

As I lined it up, I knew it was going to be a stretch. The netting of the cage extended quite a ways into the landing field, and it was very tall. In order to include both the discus thrower and the flame, I'd have a great deal of dead space in the middle of the frame.

I debated only for a second. The dead space would have to be there. Placing the remote directly behind the thrower would cause the flame and cauldron to be mostly hidden by the netting. Placing the remote to the side made it hard to see the thrower's face well (a minus), created dead space in the composition (another minus) but added the Olympic flame and cauldron to the left (HUGE PLUS).

Easy decision. Discuses ("discii", anyone?) are thrown at meets anywhere and everywhere. The Bird's Nest during the Olympics ain't just anywhere.

Another challenge -- the cage at the Bird's Nest is wider than the one was at the track trials. A 15mm set against the net was too wide. I fetched a 16-35mm lens and it looked better. I set everything up, then planned to return at 6 p.m. to do the final preparations.

At 6, the cage was abuzz with photographers setting up remotes. Still, only one or two were as wide as mine. A couple were inside of mine to the back, giving them the flame in their images, and also maybe reducing the dead space. I considered moving mine back, but liked the flame being away and by itself.

Paul Kitagaki, Jr., a good friend of mine who now works in Sacramento, and I helped each other focus and compose.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 18mm, ISO 1250, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

Because I don't have a pool vest and access to the infield (except for the one throw), I was firing the remote from the "moat" on the outside of the track. It's about 70' or so from my spot to the cage. In this frame from the throw I shot from the infield, you can see where the camera is placed:

Here's the final result:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm lens @ 18mm, 1/500th sec., f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm lens @ 18mm, 1/500th sec., f2.8)

It's not the greatest shot in the world, but it does give a sense of place.

If there's a time to focus on a sense of place, the Olympics in Beijing, China seems a good place to start.

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August 17, 2008 10:24 AM

Olympics: Planning for Phelps

Posted by Rod Mar

Be Prepared.

That's the Boy Scout motto, isn't it?

(I know it isn't "Be the Ball." That was the great Ty Webb's motto).

I was never a Boy Scout, but it sounds like good advice, and advice I took when planning to shoot Michael Phelps' assault on his eighth gold medal of these Olympic Games.

I'd shot each of his first seven golds -- two of them made great reaction photos, and I tried to mix in action for the others.

But eight was THE medal, and this was THE race of the Games. No longer was the men's 100-meter dash the feature event of the Olympics. Everything was coming down to one race -- the men's 400 medley relay.

The planning started the day before (Saturday), after the swimming program was done for the day. Erich Schlegal, a photographer for the Dallas Morning News, and I went back out to the pool to scout locations.

We both remembered the great reaction by Phelps after they won that dramatic 400 freestyle relay, and the upper position on the far end of the pool sounded like a good location. But we also had to keep in mind that one complication is that this race was a medley relay -- two laps of each of four strokes (breast, back, butterfly and free).

Why is that a big deal? Backstroke flags. In case you don't know, for backstroke races, the officials place a row of small pennants near each end of the pool to help swimmers know they're near the end. The flags are not up during races not involving the backstroke, and it was causing us and the few other photographers making plans a great deal of consternation.

The thinking was this: Phelps would be out of the pool by the time Jason Lezak finished his freestyle leg. Although he might be crouching low as Lezak touched, if they won, he'd go straight up with his arms in triumph. The big question -- would the backstroke pennants be at least distracting, or at worst, blocking his face at "the moment?"

We looked at other spots, both approved and, well, unapproved -- places where supposedly we're not allowed to shoot.

Of course, while we were scouting, the backstroke flags weren't up, so we couldn't really tell.

So I went to my computer and tracked back through all the backstroke races I've covered this week, trying to ascertain the relative height of the banners as to where the swimmers would be standing.

After searching through thousands of images, I decided that the high spot at the end of the pool would be fine.

Upon arriving early at the pool, I found many photographers already in place in their chosen spots. My preferred spot, at the end, up high and toward one side of the pool, was still relatively empty. Most of the shooters who chose high and opposite had chosen spots more in the center of the pool. It was a slightly better for Phelps' face because he'd be looking at the scoreboard right above them.

However, I chose to be over in the corner a bit because NBC had erected these bothersome poles with cameras in them, and they were messing with the prospect of a clean background. I did not want to make a photo with a big pole appearing to come out of the back of Phelps' head.

The women's 400 medley relay was set to go off before the men, which gave us a chance to see the position of the pennants. It was easy to see that they wouldn't be too much of a problem, unless Phelps was crouched way down at the end.

I shot some test frames, then decided that I would add a 1.4x extender to the 600mm/f4 lens I was using. With good luck, Phelps' would be celebrating in a spot where the background would be the water of the diving pool behind the starting blocks.

The race was to go off at 10:58 a.m. (Beijing time), and my deadline was a hard and fast 11:35 a.m. (that's 8:35pm in Seattle).

It'd be easy to get the race in by deadline, but we were planning on having Phelps on both the newspaper's front page and the sports cover if he won. That meant two different pictures that hopefully didn't look too similar. For example, one of his reacting at race end might lead one cover, but would we use a swim photo on the other?

The occasion seemed too special for that. The medals ceremony would be the other photo.

My thought was, the medals for A1, the race reaction for the sports cover.

One of the challenges is that the medals ceremony doesn't occur until at least 15 minutes after the race. Assuming a 10:58 a.m. start, that would put the medals at 11:20 or so, leaving precious time to edit and transmit.

It was doable, at least, as I had wireless internet poolside.

Then, a complication. The photo desk emailed, requesting horizontal photos. The deadlines were being pushed so late that they had to design the pages first, then drop the photos in.

I panicked. Another editor had asked me days ago about a shape for Phelps' big race. I'd said "vertical." Because I remembered his celebration after the other relay, and just didn't see how I was going to make a clean photo of a tall and lean swimmer raising his arms straight up in the air.

Sorry, I was told. We're locked in.

Okay. Locked in is locked in.

Then another complication. The racing program was running behind, and the relay didn't start until 11:03 a.m.

That's only a five-minute delay, but for what we were trying to accomplish, it was a huge chunk of time.

The race went off, and I chose to shoot Phelps' leg with a looser lens. I'd shot a zillion frames of him doing the butterfly all week, so I thought I'd show a wider perspective from the race:

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 150mm, ISO 1600, 1/2000th sec.,f2.8)

He was behind in his first 50, but turned on the afterburners and had the lead after the second 50. It was pretty obvious that Jason Lezak wasn't going to give up the lead, so I took a deep breath and locked in on Phelps. Downloading takes a couple of minutes, as does taking a quick spin through an edit.

As we'd guessed, those worrisome backstroke flags were low enough not to be a problem from our high angle. But for some of the poolside photographers, the flags came into play.

Luck came into play when I realized the place he was standing gave a clean background of water from the diving pool. No posts, no TV cameras, no racing officals dressed like game show hosts (or cruise ship officers? Which is more apropos?)

Here's some of the frames at the end (they are uncropped).

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

I had to move a horizontal, so I moved this one first. It was frustrating jamming the image into a horizontal when it didn't feel right, but that's how it goes sometimes. I left them full frame for the editors to crop since they knew the exact dimensions needed:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

Followed by this one, which I later debated whether or not was a better frame than the one previous:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 840mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec., f5.6)

I grabbed all my stuff and made my way down to poolside so I could be there for the medals.

While the bronze and silver medals were being awarded, I saw a frame I liked. It was a vertical. Again, on second look, would I have chosen this one first, or the frame following it? I do like the intensity in his eyes, however. What am I talking about? I didn't even see the other frame. I was moving pretty quickly at the time.

I cropped and moved it and planned to put it up on this blog as soon after deadline as I could.

But photos I transmit for my blog also are seen by the editors in the stream of incoming photos.

They emailed and said they saw the vertical, loved it and were going with it.

What? Yes! Okay!

I was elated.

As the gold medals were being awarded I made a quick couple of frames, then downloaded, edited and transmitted those during the playing of the national anthem.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 330mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)
After that, I used a wide-angle as Phelps and the rest of the team came over for a photo pass and he threw a T-shirt into the crowd.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 1000, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

He wandered into the crowd to see his mom, causing a near-riot of photographers as he had to wade through the photo vests to get to her.

I was too busy transmitting the last photos to shoot the scrum -- it was 11:35 a.m., 8:35 p.m. in Seattle.

We'd made our deadlines just in the nick of time.

Actually, I think Phelps redefined "nick of time" with that dramatic touch to win the seventh gold, so let's just say we made our deadlines, no sweat, just a little planning and a little luck.

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August 16, 2008 8:49 PM

Olympics: EIGHT !!!!!!!

Posted by Rod Mar

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec,f5.6)

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August 16, 2008 6:49 AM

Olympics: No joy for Gay

Posted by Rod Mar

Tonight was supposed to be a huge night of track ("Athletics", according to the Olympics) at the Bird's Nest.

The men's 100 meters was tonight, featuring three of the fastest men ever vying to become known as the "Fastest Man on Earth".

USA's Tyson Gay was one of the three, along with Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

Gay strained a hamstring at the U.S.Track Trials in Eugene, costing him valuable training time.

Even though he claims the hamstring is 100%, he didn't look like the same guy who ran a wind-aided 9.68 in Eugene before his injury. Wind-aided or not, that time is still the fastest any man has ever run.

Today, however, was not Gay's day. He finished fifth in his semifinal heat.

When I can, I am trying to shoot from somewhere not very many people are shooting from. For the 100 meters, most photographers are shooting from a huge riser at the finish line, looking back up the track. For a more unusual angle, I thought I'd go high, especially after seeing the Olympic rings painted on the track.

Here's what it looked like from the very top of the stands in the first semifinal.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Assuming Gay advanced, I'd shoot from here for the finals and hope he was in a middle lane.

However, it became apparent (and easy to see from my vantage point) that he was struggling, so I stayed with him as he ran down lane nine (furthest outside).

At the finish, a fourth-place finish looked close, if not in doubt.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

After the race, you could tell that he did not think he'd qualified by finishing in the top four of the heat. Standing off to the side by himself, he looked at the scoreboard, and his face and posture said it all.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Jamaica's Usain Bolt continued his unreal dominance of the event, winning easily in 9.69, and he appeared to ease slightly at the finish line.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/4 @ 260mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f4.0)

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August 16, 2008 1:11 AM

Olympics: Phelps' Seventh Heaven

Posted by Rod Mar

Every morning when I drag myself out of bed and head to the Water Cube, I struggle just a little.

The days can be wearying, and it's a bit harder to get psyched every day.

Then I think to myself, "Don't be such a weenie. You think Michael Phelps is dragging out of bed today?"

Of course, Michael Phelps has untold millions riding on the outcome of his days in Beijing.

I have untold...millions of...I don't know what. But it sure is fun.

Anyway, I'm blessed to be here and it's not long every morning before I'm fired up to go see history.

Today was certainly no different.

As you already know, Phelps, in pursuit of his seventh gold medal (which would tie the legendary record set by American Mark Spitz), won the 100 meter butterfly by the slightest of margins.

Basically, he won by the click of my camera.

I was shooting from the other end of the pool, and wanted to make a photo of his start. After all these races and photos of him, I'm trying to mix up angles. Of course, there are really only four angles for most photographers at the pool.

Some agencies and Sports Illustrated are allowed to have cameras underwater. The photos have become a bit cliche' -- they tend to all look the same.

But Sports Illustrated photographer Heinz Kleutmeier's shot of "the Touch Heard 'Round the World", is sports photography at its best. Not satisfied with just an underwater photo, he placed his camera near the wall, anticipating just such a race.

I can't find a direct link, but you can see the photo for now at Sports Illustrated.

Looking for a direct look at his concentration, I made a tight shot of Phelps' face at the start.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Followed him down the pool, again shooting tight.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

It's a quick race -- down and back -- and as I glanced at the scoreboard at the turn, I could see he was losing. I couldn't figure out quickly who was beating him -- was it his teammate Ian Crocker?

Most photographers go through these scenarios over and over in their minds -- if he loses, where am I going? What am I shooting?

By this time in the Olympics, it was easy to know that the photo would be Phelps, win or lose. When he touched, the crowd in the Cube went wild.

I was looking through my viewfinder and shooting and trying to decipher the crowd at the same time. No time to look up for myself.

Phelps turned, faced the scoreboard and looked up. I still had no idea about the outcome.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Was the streak over?

He then turned and pointed at his USA teammates sitting poolside.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

Then, he pumped his left fist, stared back at the scoreboard for a second before splashing the water with both fists and letting out a guttural yell.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f5.6)

We were again on deadline, so I moved the photo of his fists hitting the water with the spray all around him. I was trying to pick a frame that conveyed the all the emotion of the moment -- the coming from behind, the final touch, the uncertainty of the final result, the relief of winning.

The race was exciting and exhilarating and chaotic. We tried to choose a photo that reflected all of that.

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August 15, 2008 8:52 AM

Olympics: In the pink of things

Posted by Rod Mar

The women's individual all-around was this morning, and I bounced back and forth between National Indoor Stadium and the Water Cube to catch both Michael Phelps and the two American hopefuls in the gymnastics.

USA's Shawn Johnson and Nastia Luikin duked it out for the gold, with Luikin winning to become America's new Golden Girl.

It's late, and I have swimming early in the morning, so I don't have time for a super-detailed post, but wanted to share some images with you. All the top gymnasts were in the same rotation group, which made it good for them, but hard for photographers. Everyone was crowded around the leaders, much like it is at a golf tournament. No one cares who's coming in seventh (well, except their families).

I didn't get to the venue until the third of four rotations, so I had to shoot quickly.

I first reached them on the balance beam, and moved a quick photo. I was hustling because the way things were set up, I was going to have to protect a spot from which to shoot the final event, the floor exercise.

By the time I got back, the area around the mat for the floor exercise was packed. I didn't have an unobstructed view (with television, no still shooters really do), but I decided to shoot very tight and to see what happened. If I didn't get anything I liked, I still had the chance to shoot them when the final scores were posted, as well as during medals.

Luikin's routine had her first tumbling run going away from me, but she shot her head back far enough that it made a nice frame, with a fairly clean background:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400/f4 lens @ 360mm, ISO 1000, 1/640th sec.,f4)

Next, she flew back the other way:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400/f4 lens @ 360mm, ISO 2000, 1/100th sec.,f4)

After all the routines were completed (Shawn Johnson went last), the wait for the judges scores began.

Because I'm not a "pool" photographer -- special access for wire services -- I didn't get to be close to the gymnasts, so I was elbowing for a spot with everyone else.

When it was announced that Luikin was the winner, Johnson was very classy and came up to give her a hug:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400/f4 lens @ 360mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f4)

Nastia is coached by her father, Valeri Luikin, himself a two-time gold medal winner in the 1988 Games. When she came to hug him, the camera shutters sounded like a swarm of locusts (photographers are often referred to as locusts -- why?).

Even though the colors and background isn't as strong as the photo with Johnson, the photo of daughter and father, her hands gripping his shirt tight, is one of the images of these games.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400/f4 lens @ 360mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f4)

I have many more images from the event, including other gymnasts, and the medal ceremonies.

I'm posting these for now because they're the photos I edited and transmitted earlier, and I have yet to go back and make a complete edit.

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August 14, 2008 7:44 PM

Olympics: Groundhog Day.

Posted by Rod Mar

Remember the old Bill Murray movie, "Groundhog Day"? The one where he wakes up and relives the same day over and over?

Believe it or not, even a visual feast like the Olympics can get repetitive. Certainly not the photos, but the routine of going to the bus, riding to the press center, walking to the pool, watching Michael Phelps win another gold medal...

Wait. That's not the point of my "Groundhog Day" reference. I KNOW how lucky I am to be witnessing this history. I know because many of you are referring to Phelps and the Olympics in your Facebook statuses (statii?)

Even the Great Firewall of China can't keep Facebook down.

My reference is to the weather. After a week of clouds, haze and rain, the sun broke through today. Were the Chinese right about their ability to control the weather? After all, the track and field events begin today, and the weather is beautiful.

I was walking to the Water Cube this morning and saw my own shadow. That could only mean one thing -- ten more days of Olympics!

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August 14, 2008 8:09 AM

Olympics: It's all Greco to me

Posted by Rod Mar

It's been a little busy around here and I find myself behind on posts.

Took a little side trip to Greco-Roman wrestling on Thursday (that's Wednesday to you statesiders).

Great sport -- great pictures.

Check that -- great sport, great POTENTIAL for great pictures. I made good ones.

Greco-Roman is a discipline that forbids attacks at the legs. Wrestlers slap and grab each other (okay, they're not supposed to slap, but some do) in an effort to get a hold on their opponent. If neither does in the first minute, the referee draws a color and one wrestler gets the offensive position and the other the defensive.

Etc., etc..

For photographers, the sport is cool because it features lots of body throws. Yup. Pick up your opponent and toss him down.

Also, when they celebrate, some do complete backflips.

I wasn't there covering a specific athlete or country, so I chose an upper position near the top of the arena. This is to be respectful of those really needing photos of a specific athlete (one hopes they'd extend the same courtesy back), and also because I wanted a different angle. Floor spots were all taken, so I chose to play with the clean backgrounds of the mat.

Don't get me wrong -- I'd love to get some photos of big dudes throwing each other around, today just wasn't the day.

This was one of the best from my angle, but the backgrounds are terrible if you're not careful. Really, should there by a guy in a white T-shirt sitting matside?

Italy's Andrea Minguzzi (blue) throws Zoltan Fodor of Hungary in the 84-kg Greco Roman wrestling:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Medals rounds bring out jubilation and dejection, and this was no different.

Cuba's Mijain Lopez flexes in celebration after defeating Russia's Khasen Baroev in the 120-kg gold medal match in Greco Roman wrestling. Again, tough background -- I needed to be a bit higher (I was already at the top of the gym), or they needed to be more forward on the mat. I know, picky, picky.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Italy's Andrea Minguzzi celebrating after his bronze medal match.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 330mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Kazakhstan's Asset Mambetov points at his coach in victory after defeating Marek Svec of the Czech Republic in Greco Roman wrestling.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 360mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

American Adam Wheeler celebrates his bronze medal over Korea's Tae-Young Han.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 350mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

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August 13, 2008 9:18 AM

Olympics: Phelps doubles, so do we

Posted by Rod Mar

As most of you know by now, last night (this morning, in Beijing), Michael Phelps earned two gold medals in swimming.

He wasn't the only one to double-dip -- here at the Times we were planning to cover two simultaneous events, at different venues, all on tight deadlines.

The events were swimming (Phelps going for two more golds) and the women's team competition in gymnastics.

Fortunately, the venues are next to each other. Understand that at the Olympics, to have two big events going on at the same time while across the street from each other is nothing short of amazing. Understand also, that just because they're across the street from each other doesn't mean it's a quick trip. With specific entrances and exits, as well as security to pass, what might normally be a five-minute walk becomes 15, easily.

Phelps' first race was the 200-meter butterfly final, going off at 7:21 p.m. (converting to Seattle time). His next race was the 200-meter freestyle relay, scheduled for 8:22 p.m. Women's gymnastics would start at 7:30 p.m.

Here were the deadlines: 8:30 p.m. for a Phelps' teaser photo for the newspaper's front page, 8:45 p.m. for a Phelps photo for the Sports section cover, 9 p.m. for gymnastics -- then re-editing for later editions as we went on.

We thought long and hard about it and made the following plan. (Still converting to Seattle time here)

5 p.m. -- Catch shuttle from media housing to Main Press Center

5:30 p.m. -- Race into MPC, buy double-shot of espresso and almond cookies for breakfast, meet crew for logisitics meeting. Our crew consists of me, a photo editor, two assistants (one for each venue), and a runner who will have scooter at our disposal.

6 p.m. -- Head to National Indoor Stadium, site of gymnastics.

6:20 p.m. -- Photo editor sets up shop in photo workroom. Assistant and I head over to Water Cube. Driver traces route he will take with the mini-scooter.

6:45 p.m. -- I am in my spot for Michael Phelps' first race, the 200m butterfly.

7:21 p.m. -- Phelps wins his race handily, his fourth gold of the games, first of the day. I hand the compact flash card to my assistant, who runs it outside to the driver. He then rides the scooter over to the gymnastics venue, where an editor is waiting to transmit an image back to Seattle.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 310mm, ISO 2000, 1/640th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/800th sec.,f4.0)

7:30 p.m. -- Leave Water Cube. Scooter dude drives me over to gymnastics, the assistant stays to guard my photo position.

7:45 p.m. -- Shoot a quick photo of USA first rotation -- the vault. Find out it's the final gymnast on this apparatus. Switch from 200-400mm telephoto lens to a shorter 70-200mm lens. Can't miss the shot with only one chance. I compose loose, trying to set the scene and fire away. Hand card to second assistant who takes it to editor for shipping. Because of the planning, we're way ahead of our deadlines.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/2.8 lens @ 75mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

8 p.m. -- Scooter back to Water Cube, find a position for Phelps' second race, the 200m freestyle relay.

8:15 p.m. .-- See Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Jason Kidd with Dara Torres. Shoot them for feature.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

8:22 p.m. -- Shoot Phelps' easy win in the relay. Don't want to shoot from same spot as the relay from Monday, so I choose a different angle.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Keeping in mind that the photo might run small on the sports cover, I also shoot a photo that can be read at a smaller size.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

Repeat steps as before -- card to assistant, who scooters it to other venue. Gather equipment, wait for driver to return.

8:45 p.m. -- Get e-mail from office, subject line, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" They'd like another gymnastics photo by midnight. Luckily, we have a great system in place. I grab a both the 600mm and 200-400mm lenses as I will have to fast and flexible as I head back to the field of play. Spot USA on the balance beam on opposite end of arena. The background is strong, and I shoot no more than a dozen frames before sending the card back.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm. ISO 3200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 lens @ 400mm. ISO 3200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

9: 45 p.m. -- Find out we made deadlines and Seattle is happy. Deadline for the second edition is 10:15 p.m. The event should be just ending. While I'd love to be making tons of photos right now, I have to respect my on-location photo editor -- on deadline, the last thing he needs is to sort through hundreds of photos that won't make the paper.

9:20 p.m. -- It's over. China wins and I shoot a bit of the celebration.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

They are followed by USA and Romania. Wait for medal ceremony.

9:40 p.m. -- Medal ceremony begins. I learn that USA mistakes have cost them. While everyone gathers in front of the podium, I take the 600mm lens and go where no one else is shooting from. I know the shot I want -- I want something with both the USA and Chinese teams in it. I spot where the nations' flags will be raised and head in that direction. I want their faces facing me. Security has blocked off the area I need to be in, so in Mandarin, I ask the crew running the boom camera for television if I can stand beneath the boom. They agree, and I find the photo I want of the U.S. team looking at the Chinese team with their gold medals.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 2000, 1/500th sec.,f5.6)

10 p.m. -- Photos are being edited and sent. Things have gone, well, swimmingly (Have I used that cliche this week? I feel like I have. Hmmm.)

10:30 p.m. -- All the gear is packed away. Seattle is happy, the photo editor battled for good play and the designers back home kept cool under pressure. Our Beijing crew did a great job, so it's off for Peking Duck for lunch! (Yes, in Beijing time, it's 1:30 p.m.)

We've crammed a day's work into about four hours in two different venues, going back and fourth four times.

That's some Olympic fun, and our version of the "double."

And now, the real story:

*Postscript* -- Actually, I'm kidding. We didn't have an on-site photo editor. Actually, neither did we have the assistants, the scooter, the parking pass, the necessary credentials. I just did a lot of walking and hauling gear between venues, and shot and edited quickly. Our great staff at the paper always provides me support and makes my photos look good in the paper.

*Post-postscript* -- I don't speak any Mandarin.

*Post-post-postscript* -- I did have the double espresso and almond cookies for breakfast.

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August 12, 2008 10:30 AM

Olympics: Don't get mad, get better

Posted by Rod Mar

Thanks so much for the votes of support after I showed you that "woulda been, coulda been, shoulda been" photo from Michael Phelps' swim earlier.

(I just got spanked and the previous post edited for my course language, btw -- don't tell anyone I faux-swore on the blog. Serious. Promise?)

A few of you mentioned shooting RAW (uncompressed) files, but when you're on a tight deadline like I am (downloading up to 500 images, editing selects, captioning and sending five to six photos with in 15 minutes), RAW gets to be too much.

Yes, I can edit and caption RAW files that quickly. Downloading them and getting a contact sheet to draw would take too long.

Bottom line, if I get the danged exposure right in the first place, it's not a problem.

So, after the morning's swimming and self-flagellation, I set out to redeem myself.

What better way to forget a "miss" than by making some hits?

I decided to spend the rest of my day trying to make killer images. I wanted to go out, explore, take chances, and see what would come of it.

First, I went across the street from the Water Cube to the National Indoor Stadium, where gymnastics are being held. The men's team competition was nearly over when I got there (5 1/2 of 6 rotations completed), but I grabbed the longest lens I had (600mm, sometimes with a 1.4 extender) and went to work.

Chinese gymnast Xiaopeng Li performs his turn on the horizontal bar and scored 15.75 and China went on to take the gold medal. This is shot so tight (600mm + 1.4 extender = 850mm) that I couldn't keep his face sharp as he spun around the bar. I liked the texture of his hands, the tape and the bar, so I focused on that and let his face go softer in the background:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 1600, 1/800th sec, f5.6)

I used the same lens to shoot one of the Chinese team clapping his hands as chalk flew:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens + 1.4x extender = 850mm, ISO 3200, 1/800th sec, f5.6)

The Chinese were winning the meet going away, and all the photographers covering the story were a ravenous pack trying to get shots of them celebrating. This gave me plenty of room to find a good angle with which to show France's Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues on the rings:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 3200, 1/500th sec, f4.0)

Chinese gymnasts hold their hands aloft in unity as they are announced as winners of the gold medal in the men's team competition. Their arms remind me of my own. Except theirs have muscles:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 3200, 1/640th sec, f4.0)

Not satisfied, I walked back to the Water Cube in time for the women's 10-meter synchronized diving. Like many indoor pools, the backgrounds in the Water Cube are terrible, so I tried some pans.

This one of Great Britain's team is only okay:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm /f4 zoom lens @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/15th sec, f10)

This one I really like as China's gold medal-winning team hits the water as one:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm /f4 zoom lens @ 400mm, ISO 1000, 1/40th sec, f11)

I'm feeling a bit better about my day. After a quick meal (I think it was lunch -- that is, if a double shot of espresso and some almond cookies qualifies as breakfast), I decided to go to the medal matches at the judo venue. Ran into my friends Robert Beck and Kohjiro Kinno from Sports Illustrated, and we hit the shuttle bus together.

I know as much about judo as I do about fencing, and I could hear the snickering as I shot with a 600mm lens, trying to find something cool and tight. The "real" judo photographers are looking for throws and such. I was just looking for clean backgrounds until I felt I should look for reaction photos in the bronze and gold medal matches.

From up high, Brazil's Mario Valles (blue) and Great Britain's Euan Burton look like their performing a pas-de-deux, except in judo gi's.

Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4 zoom lens @ 380mm, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f4.0)

On the women's side, Austria's Claudia Heill lies prone as Korea's Ok Im Won celebrates her victory in one of two bronze-medal matches.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

And in the men's, Brazil's Tiago Camilo, while not literally on top of the world, is at least on top of his opponent Guillame Elmont of the Netherlands.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

Off to bed. Need to charge batteries -- both the camera's and my own.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your comments and emails.

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August 11, 2008 8:49 PM

Olympics: Michael Phelps wins gold, is overexposed

Posted by Rod Mar

Thanks for all the comments about Michael Phelps needing to either a) hike up his speed suit or b) lower it slightly more when he's standing on the deck with half of it around his waist. Make that hips. He's got the body to show off, and darn if he won't do it in front of the world.

But that's not the overexposed I'm talking about.

The 200 freestyle figured to be Phelps' easiest race. I knew that. And still, I wasn't prepared enough.

I shot him tight off at the start, did some slow shutter-speed stuff for the first 100, then figured I'd bounce the shutter speed and ISO back up for the second half of the race.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 200, 1/60th sec., f5.6)

Entering the final 50, he had an open water lead. I looked up and saw my picture. Reached down between the shooters squished in with me and grabbed the 70-200 lens and shot away, trying to show his lead.

After the race, I looked at the images. Overexposed.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 130mm, ISO 1600, 1/500th sec.,f2.8)

When you mess up in the business, you quickly try to make some safe pictures to cover yourself.

I worked the medal ceremony, but this was a pretty routine race for Phelps, and lacked the emotion of yesterday's "instant classic" relay.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec.,f4.0)

The overexposed frame is distressing. Need to move ahead.

Time to pack up and get some breakfast before the afternoon's assignment.

Should I choose boxing, white water kayak (good pix, long ways away), or something else? Men's gymnastics would have been good, but the finals were this morning during the swimming.

How do you say, "Double-shot of espresso, please", in Mandarin?

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August 11, 2008 9:25 AM

Olympics: Foiled Again.

Posted by Rod Mar

Some parents try to identify in their children what sports they might excel at (gawd that's some bad sentence junior high English teacher Ms. Mikolasy would be horrified) when at a young age (it just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?).

China and other countries select youngsters and put them on fast tracks in specialized sports at ages as young as five years old.

The Olympic are only in their third day of competition and I've found the sport for my kids:


I know this, because when I was packing before I left, I found them "swordfighting" with barbeque skewers. The metal kind with the sharp tip used for roasting marshmallows (please don't call CPS on me -- and you geeky photogs, that's a reference to "Child Protective Services", not "Canon Professional Services").

With a relatively "slow" day after the busy morning's swimming session, I took the opportunity to do some of the more arcane activities one has to accomplish when on a 21 day assignment.

Things such as, archiving, burning dvd's, going over and over the schedule for the next few days, figuring out what can make the paper (15 hours behind) and what can't.

Also, I'm trying to strike a balance between covering our locals for the paper, and also exploring and sampling some of the other sports here at the Olympics.

I shot a quick bit of fencing the other day, and vowed to come back when I had some time. The light is dramatic, the visuals enticing, the athletes aren't afraid of emotion, and if it's raining as hard as it was yesterday, it's only a quick block-long walk from the Main Press Center to the fencing venue.

Today's competition was women's foil. As there are no "locals" (athletes from around our readership area) involved in fencing, I was kind of free to experiment. The medal matches were tonight, so I got to shoot the battle for both the bronze, and then the gold.

First, I went high and did some shots featuring the logo, which gives it a sense of place.

Got wild and wacky (I'm kidding) and did some pans and blurs.

(Nikon VR 200-400mm/f4.0 zoom lens @ 240mm, ISO 200, 1/5th second, f11.0)

The bronze medal match featured two Italians, Margherita Granbassi (facing) and Giovanna Trillini. As I'd already found photos with a sense of place, I then chose to shooter tighter with a 400mm from next to the "strip" (the area where they compete).

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1600th sec., f2.8)

I wanted to shoot as tightly as possible, hoping for a photo with a lot of immediate impact, so I added a 1.4 extender, resulting in 550mm. Seeing the eyeball here really helps, doesn't it?

(Nikon VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4x extender = 550mm, ISO 3200, 1/1600th sec.,f4.0)

Fencers show a lot of emotion, as I found out.

Italy's Giovanna Trillini lost the bronze medal match in individual foil to countrywoman Margherita Granbassi.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1000th sec., f2.8)

Margherita Granbassi (facing) celebrates after defeating countrywoman Giovanna Trillini to earn a bronze medal in individual foil.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1000th sec., f2.8)

Here's the thing about my covering fencing. I don't know the rules. Heck, I don't even know how they keep score, and every instruction from the referee is in French. Doesn't matter if the judge is American, Egyptian, Ethiopian or Thai -- French is the language spoken. So I was pretty clueless about the sport. Only the scoreboard kept me informed. I knew that each match went to 15.

The gold medal match between Italy's Maria Valentina Vezzali and Korea's Nam Hyunhee was dramatic. As early as the fourth point, each athlete was pumping her fist and yelling. The next ten or so points would make for great photos.

When Vezzali earned her sixth point of the match, she ripped off her mask, turned, dropped to her knees screaming. The match was...over? Reminded me of the first time I shot volleyball after they changed from side-out scoring. Each set went to 25 points, I was told. Then in the deciding fifth game, the place exploded in celebration...because the fifth game only goes to 15 points. Is that what happened here?

Apparently. Hyunhee turned away in defeat. I was shooting, but bewildered. Later, I found two fellow American photographers who also were caught unaware. My fault for not learning the rules. Still, made for good pictures.


(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1600th sec., f2.8)

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1600th sec., f2.8)

On the medal stand, Vezzali let out another yell.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/1000th sec., f2.8)

And when the Italian national anthem ended, both Vezalli and her bronze-medal winning countrywoman Granbassi leapt in the air.

(Nikon VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 140mm, ISO 1600, 1/400th sec.,f2.8)

I've already told my kids about fencing. Not sure if that was a good idea or not. When I tell them to stop trying to stab each other with barbeque skewers, I'm sure one of them will reply, "but we're training for the Olympics!"

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August 10, 2008 11:57 PM

Olympics: Phelps Wasn't the Only One in the Pool

Posted by Rod Mar

Here's a couple of shots from this morning's swim session that was dominated by Michael Phelps and the incredible come-from-behind swim he and the relay team used to win the gold medal and set a world record.

Kozuki Kitajima of Japan celebrates after he defended his gold from Athens, swimming 58.9 In the men's 100 breaststroke and setting a world record:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4x teleconverter = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Megan Jendrick, who won gold in Sydney at the age of 16 but narrowly missed making the team in 2004, qualified for the finals in the 100 meter breast stroke. Columnist Steve Kelley writes about Jendrick today.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4x teleconverter = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

American Katie Hoff shows her disappointment at being out-touched at the wall by Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain in the women's 400 free, just missing out on a gold medal.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4x teleconverter = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

American Cullen Jones heads for the water in the third leg of USA's historic 4x100 freestyle relay swim. You can see photos of that incredible swim (I didn't say the incredible pictures, notice), here.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4x teleconverter = 550mm, ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

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August 10, 2008 9:00 PM

Olympics: Phelps Goes Gold Again

Posted by Rod Mar

USA's Michael Phelps just won his second gold medal as he and the rest of the 4x100 freestyle squad smashed a world record in a dramatic come-from-behind win.

I just finished transmitting on deadline from the Water Cube, and thought I'd do a quick little post of photos from the event (if these photos aren't toned very well, I moved them quickly back to the paper -- in fact, they had them 10 minutes after the race).

Jason Lezak had the swim of a lifetime as he erased a lead in the final 50 meters to seal the gold medal.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Up on the pool deck, Phelps and teammate Garrett Weber-Gale celebrated wildly.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

The judges in the backgrounds are always a challenge:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

A group hug after Lezak exited the pool made a nice frame, but the judge kinda messes with the background again.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

My first assignment before the Phelps race was to shoot local swimmer Megan Jendrick in the breast stroke.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Yesterday, I'd shot from low to the pool deck, so today I'd chosen a high position looking down the lanes. I was in a good position to see her come out of the water on each stroke. It's hard, but I try to keep in mind shooting from different angles, even if I have to choose an angle that might not be "the best."

In this case, it worked out. Jendrick finished fourth in her heat to advance to the medal finals. I liked the angle and decided it would be good for the relay since I'd shot Phelps from low yesterday.

Now, where's breakfast?

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August 10, 2008 8:40 AM

Olympics: Dunk You Very Much

Posted by Rod Mar

Went out with 500 or so other photographers to shoot the USA vs. China men's basketball team.

Even though it was a preliminary game, it drew a huge amount of interest because of Yao Ming.

And Kobe.

And LeBron.

And D-Wade.

You get the point.

I'm pretty busy today, but thought I'd share some frames with you. It's a format I'll do now and again while I'm here. Want to post photos, but don't have the necessary time or energy to always write a lot to support them.

I hope you understand.

The opening tip did not feature Yao, but instead Yi Jianlian faced off against the USA's Dwight Howard. It was important to me to make at least one photo that gave the game a sense of place. I shot from a riser between superstud photographers Scott Strazzante from the Chicago Tribune and Sean Haffey from the San Diego Union-Tribune, who were nice enough to squeeze me in after my two hours of buses from covering weightlifting.

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec.,f2.8)

China rode the crowd's partisan support and kept the game close early.

China's Chen Jianghua (4) drove through the lane and scored in the first quarter past flatfooted USA defenders Kobe Bryant (10), Dwayne Wade (9) and LeBron James (6).

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

Things got a little physical as the US took it straight to Yao, once causing him to fall in to a crowd of photographers.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

The USA went to work in the second quarter. In quick succession, Kobe and LeBron had dunks, and Dwayne Wade scored on a layup. China's Sun Yue (9) was helpless as the USA's Kobe Bryant dunked on him:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

China's Sun Yue got up but can't stop a dunk by the USA's Chris Bosh:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

In the second half, China was struggling as the US turned up the defensive pressure and then used their superior athleticism to start the rout.

Kobe dunked as Yao watched:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

I was checking my watch because I had an early wake-call the next morning to cover swimming and LeBron had me headed for the shuttle bus back to the Media Village when he pounded this one home:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f2.8)

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August 10, 2008 7:41 AM

Olympics: Opening ceremony slideshow

Posted by Rod Mar

Finally had a bit of time and made a little slideshow of stuff from the opening ceremony.

I'd love to write an extended post, but the days are long and I've got to get rest since it's only Day 2.

So much I want to share with you all. For instance, today I shot road racing (that's bicycling), fencing and swimming. With all my requirements to shoot our local athletes, I also will find time to shoot the more "exotic" (for lack of a better term) sports like fencing, judo, etc.

Anyway, hope this looks okay (the audio was taken from my seat in the stadium -- you can hear camera shutters going off...):

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August 9, 2008 11:36 PM

Olympics: Flagging support

Posted by Rod Mar

Many famous people showed up at the Water Cube this morning to watch Michael Phelps try to earn his first gold medal of these games.

Bill Gates was probably the richest person in the venue, but President Bush was likely the most famous, even though he had to share the "top politician at the pool" honors with his father, George H.W. Bush, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Former Seattle Times' sports editor Bob Silver was there as well, since his daughter Emily was part of the medal winning 400-meter freestyle relay team for the United States. I mention Bob because he once awarded me a Snickers bar for a good photo I took way back when (a Snickers bar is as good as a gold, check that, BRONZE, medal for me -- I'd still take a gold but it doesn't have that rich chocolate caramel goodness).

I digress. Can't help it. Haven't had lunch yet and I'm "weighting" for Melanie Roach to compete in the 53kg weightlifting competition.

Back to our President.

After he slipped slightly coming down the stairs (Secret Service guy caught him), he sat down and after a bit someone handed him an American flag.

He studied it for a minute before proudly displaying it for the U.S. fans on the other side of the pool.

The First Lady had to gently remind him that he was holding the flag, well, backwards.


Easy mistake to make.

Mr. President quickly flip-flopped, and all was right for the leader of the free world.

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August 9, 2008 10:49 PM

Olympics: Michael Phelps' first gold medal of the Games

Posted by Rod Mar

Michael Phelps left no doubt at the Aqua Cube this morning as to who is the man to beat at the these Olympic Games.

After setting the Olympic record during his preliminary swim in the 400 individual medley last night, he came back in the morning and bettered his own world record in a time of 4:03:84.

I was shooting from a set of bleachers along the pool deck, about three rows up. Low enough for some drama, high enough to see his face when he took breaths.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

Phelps hit the wall and turned to see his world-record time:

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

After the gold-medal ceremony, Phelps smiled up at family and friends in the stands.

(Nikon D3, VR 400mm/f2.8 lens + 1.4 extender = 550mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

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August 8, 2008 6:55 AM

Olympics: What in the blazers were they thinking?

Posted by Rod Mar

By all accounts, the navy blue blazer is an indicator of success, especially in American culture.

The blazer is a staple of men's professional attire, and women find them smart when paired with slacks for a true business look.

So it's no wonder that Ralph Lauren, perhaps America's signature designer, chose navy blazers as the anchor of the uniform for the United States Olympic team to wear during the opening ceremony.

The blazers were accompanied by white shirts, white pants, white shoes, a navy tie with red stripe, topped off jauntily by white pageboy caps.

Very American. So American, in fact, that USA Today called them "right on the button" and the USOC's Chief Operating Officer Norman Bellingham, said the outfits were "exactly what we were looking for."

However, the uniforms couldn't have been comfortable, nor a smart choice. The temperature during the ceremony was above 90 degrees, and the humidity was oppressive.

How oppressive? Check out this athlete's suit as he hugged a friend during the Parade of Nations.


The athletes had to spend at least an hour queuing up for the athletes' parade and then spent another hour standing body-to-body in the stadium waiting for the torch lighting and the end of the ceremony.

I looked closely at the blazers. They weren't made of Dri-Fit, nor did they look cooling. But I guess they did look pretty cool, in the sartorial sense of the word.

Of course, this was the Olympics, and the athletes were having a great time, anyway.

You'd think there might be a detrimental effect of wearing all those clothes in all that heat.

When in Eugene, Oregon, last month for the US track and field trials, Nike experts told us about the concerns they and the USOC had over the oppressive heat and humidity of Beijing in August. They showed us vests designed to cool the body's core. New materials were being designed to let the body cool. It was important to keep the body's core from extremes in the days leading up to competition, they said.

I have no scientific data (I flunked science in kindergarten) to back anything up, but I did find it interesting that the U.S. chose to be fashion conscious instead of keeping their elite athletes comfortable.

By the time the ceremony finally ended near midnight, the Americans straggled out of the stadium mostly sans jackets and caps.

And, you just can't overheat some superstars.

Kobe Bryant looked resplendent in his outfit, which looks like he had tailored. Notice the perfect amount of shirtsleeve peeking out from his jacket cuff.

I thought it was curious that the in-house video showed a close-up of Bryant smiling and waving. The guy has a checkered past, to say the least. Why not show LeBron James?

Of course, leave it to the Europeans to keep things cool. Roger Federer led the Swiss delegation in a thin athletic T-shirt coupled with long shorts.

Wait. Are those Man-Capris?

That's a lot of words about fashion from a photographer who will have to wear a Kodak-issued khaki photo vest for the next 16 days. Maybe I'm just jealous.

Then again, showing up to photograph the BMX races in a blue blazer probably wouldn't cut it, either.

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August 8, 2008 3:46 AM

Olympics: Clamping down

Posted by Rod Mar

The most important piece of equipment I brought to the opening ceremony is called, appropriately, a Super Clamp.

These handy little gadgets will put a lock tight grab on practically everything, assuring a tripod-like base for long exposures without the motion blur often caused by handholding a camera on an exposure of one second or more.

One of the biggest features of the opening ceremony was the fireworks, which would be visible through the donut-hole roof of the Bird's Nest.

We were fortunate that our photo positions were along the front row of the second level of seats. This mean there was a safety railing right in front of us, allowing me to clamp to the railing.

Add a mini-ball head, a camera with a super-wide angle lens (in this case, the Nikon 14-24mm/f.8 lens on the full-frame sensor Nikon D3) and you have a simple recipe for making a pretty nice photo.

With the camera right in front of me, whenever fireworks erupted, I'd just reach over and hit the shutter.

Easy, breezy. Even I could do it.

(Nikon D3, EF 14-24mm/f2.8 lens @ 14mm, ISO 100, 2 seconds @ f22)

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August 6, 2008 10:07 AM

Olympics: Village Night Surfing.

Posted by Rod Mar

For journalists here at the Olympics, the hottest topic isn't the hot weather, the smog/fog, or even the food (which by the way, has been great).

Rather, it's the internet.

How much it costs to order through BOCOG (the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee), whether to order the wired (faster, guaranteed) or the wireless (same price, slower, subject to slowdowns in crowded venues), and the lack of it where you need it (in your housing, especially when most outlets are asking their reporters blog all through the day).

No one wants to make the 20-minute shuttle ride from the Media Village at the Main Press Center just to check email, and there are only five (!) hardwired internet spots for the entire media village.

So at the end of each long day, after all the stories, photos and blogs have been filed, people still yearn to be connected.

Journalists, intrepid by nature, have found the one free (!) wireless hotspot in the entire media village.

And so every night you can walk by this one certain corner of the Media Village and find folks from around the world reveling in the joy of an unprotected wireless signal.

They sit on benches, or on the ground under the streetlights, surfing and checking email. But at the end of the day, most people are using Skype to call folks back home. It's fun to hear all the different languages and to watch people making faces and waving into webcams at their families around the world.

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August 6, 2008 6:29 AM

Olympics: Quick Peek into the Olympic Village

Posted by Rod Mar

The Olympic Village is what used to be called the "Athletes' Village," and it's home to many of the competitors in the upcoming Summer Games.

I say "many" because although nearly all athletes stay there, many are staying out of Beijing until they compete because of the smog.

We visited the Olympic Village for a short while today for an interview. I ambled around a bit (the area in the village that is open to media and guests is very small compared to the entire complex of housing for the thousands of athletes).

Wandering around, you can find athletes of all different shapes and sizes, most wearing something identifying their country. It's fun to try to figure out what sports each plays. He's tall and lean -- must be a pole vaulter? A rower? A team handball player? She's tiny -- gymnast? Middle distance runner? Coxswain?
The village is really an entire little city. It has its own post office, bank, hair salon, dining area, internet cafes and also a daily newspaper and a mjayor.

This flag plaza is near the concert shell where there are shows and concerts daily.

As we were leaving, this group turned heads all around with their colorful native dress. Turns out they're from Bhutan. I know this because they couldn't walk 10 meters without someone asking them.

It's cool to see athletes who are famous in their own countries get wide-eyed when in the presence of others. NBA star Carmelo Anthony told the New York Times he looked up swimmer Michael Phelps when he arrived at the village, and added that he and other NBA stars on the U.S. basketball team were swarmed by other athletes when they arrived.

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August 6, 2008 1:02 AM

Olympics: Torched by the Flame.

Posted by Rod Mar

The Olympic Torch relay is usually a celebration of the human spirit and a positive precursor to the start of the Games.

This year's relay has been different -- marked by protests and tension, re-routes and controversy.

We went out this morning to photograph the torch as it passed through Dongcheng, a district not far from the city center.

Beijing is alive with Olympic fever as the opening ceremony is only days away.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f8.0)

Citizens who have only been told about the excitement the Games bring are getting their first taste as the torch traveled through Beijing.

Everyone in the city was well aware that Chinese heroes such as Yao Ming would be carrying the torch today.

If the route passed anywhere near their neighborhood, they were determined to see it.

We knew we were in for a spectacle the moment we emerged from the subway tunnel to a sea of people and the nervous buzz that only a big street event can bring. Our journalistic "Spidey-sense" kicked in and we waded into the fray, keeping a close eye on each other and arranging a meeting place in case we got separated.

The torch was close by, and the crowds were pressed tightly to the road as security forces did their best to keep people from flooding the streets and obstructing the torch. Crowds surged, the security forces linked arms to keep them back. Elderly women and small children, thinking they would catch a glimpse of Yao Ming or gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang, were being pressed too tightly by the throng:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f7.1)

(Nikon D3, VR 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Young men fought their way through to the front for a look:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 220mm, ISO 200, 1/500th sec.,f8.0)

Safely above the fray, this woman and these children got a birds-eye view:

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens @ 26mm, ISO 200, 1/500th sec.,f4.0)

A roar came from the crowd as the first vehicles of the convoy emerged from beneath an overpass and into sight. What the anxious crowd was treated to was basically a truck turned into a parade float -- and an advertisement for Coca-Cola.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f4.5)

They cheered lustily anyway, as faux-cheerleaders amped up the crowd. Samsung's truck followed, trailed by one from Lenovo.

To my twisted American mind, it seemed like that scene from the movie "A Christmas Story" where little Ralphie is introduced to consumerism when the secret code from the Lil' Orphan Annie radio show revealed an advertisement for Ovaltine.

Finally the torch arrived. The runners, one of whom I was there to photograph, were surrounded on all sides by a security phalanx of young men who pushed back hard as the crowd surged to see. I was caught in the middle and found myself made into an American photojournalist sandwich. I joke, but it was more than a little bit scary. It truly felt like the edge of out-of-control.

Pressed back against the crowd, I half-jokingly raised my camera for some Hail-Mary shots. Checking them out later I found a frame of a security person apparently being knocked in the head by a citizen's camera:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @62mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.2)

I did not get a photo of the my subject, but I did get a face full of some overzealous security kid's forearm along with this bad/funny/pathetic image of the torch as it passed me:

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @62mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.5)

There was a palpable disappointment from the crowd after the torched passed.

Each runner ran less than 50 meters, and *poof* it was over and the procession made its way down the road.

Some stopped to have their photos taken by the signs marking the station of each torch-bearer. It seemed they weren't sure why, but still needed confirmation they'd been there.

(Nikon D3, VR 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @38mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec.,f3.2)

None of them had any idea what famous person they'd seen. They knew it wasn't Liu Xiang or Yao Ming.

One woman tapped me on the arm and spoke to me in Mandarin. I don't speak the language, but her question was clear. When I tried to explain to her the torch bearer she'd seen was a "businessman,'' she shook her head, turned on a heel and made off down the street.

They'd gotten their first taste of the Olympics. One didn't get the feeling many would want another bite.

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August 4, 2008 11:23 PM

Olympics: Pretty at Night.

Posted by Rod Mar

There have been dress rehearsals going on for the Opening Ceremonies here over the past couple of weeks, and the one last Saturday was reported to have featured a grand fireworks exhibit that will not only include the National Stadium (where the ceremony is being held) but also much of the surrounding parts of the city.

Like many other photographers, I was armed with a camera hoping to make a nice fireworks feature in advance of the big night.

Of course, there's no way the Planners-That-Be were going to share any more visuals (doing so would seriously dilute the effect on Friday night), so there were no fireworks.

There were a couple of upsides to the night however. I did get to take a peaceful walking tour of the nearby venues.

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August 4, 2008 6:53 PM

Olympics: Lucked Out Looking for Locke.

Posted by Rod Mar

After our harrowing escape from the village thugs, Times reporter Kristi Heim and I were passing through the Main Press Center back at the Olympic Green.

As we passed an internet cafe, we saw the Olympic Torch relay being shown on live television. "Hey!", remarked Kristi, "I think Gary Locke is carrying the torch today in Chengdu -- that would have been cool to see! I wonder what time he runs?"

Busy as we were, I laughed and jokingly said, "What are the odds we'd see him?".

And I swear, not more than 10 seconds later, we both gasped and laughed because indeed, former Washington governor Gary Locke was carrying the torch for his 200 meter share as the flame passed through Chengdu, China. And it was LIVE.

I fussed to grab a camera and made a couple of quick frames.

We can't get our internet connections arranged (hey, it's always fun spending two hours sitting in a bank at the Olympics) or my Times-issued cellphone to work (it's locked, it's unlocked, it's not working I know that for sure), but we did see the one person we knew out of 300 torch runners today in Chengdu.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

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August 4, 2008 6:26 PM

Olympics: Thugs, Not Hugs.

Posted by Rod Mar

Kristi Heim, one of our business writers, and myself were in a remote part of Beijing working on a story all day. The story has yet to run so I won't share any more about it. But as we were visiting some of our subjects, a group of three men found us. One of our group, a local Mandarin speaker, intercepted them and tried to explain our presence in their neighborhood, but it didn't seem to satisfy them as they used their mere presence to try to make us nervous.

Neither Kristi nor I are easily intimidated, but for the safety of our subjects, who would still live there after our assignment was completed, we did leave.

These men, apparently the neighborhood "protectors" (not sure if they were self-appointed or not), followed us as we walked the six or so blocks back to the main road.

While I'm sure these toughs could make life miserable for farming peasants, you have to agree they don't strike too much fear. Especially with that whole bare midriff thing going on.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to rock that look when I get back stateside, so ya'll have been warned.

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August 3, 2008 9:11 AM

Olympics: Smog and Blog.

Posted by Rod Mar

Arrived in Beijing tonight, and went straight to the hotel to rest. Tried hard to combat jet-lag by not sleeping too much on the flight and working out when I got here. Went to bed at about 11pm local time, which I thought would help my body clock reset.

Yeah, right. The only benefit to my strategy is that now I'm not sure if the extreme fatigue I'm feeling is jet-lag or just pure lack of sleep.

That's not complaining, but yet another example of me out-smarting (or, is it "out-dumbing"?) myself yet again.

Spent the day working on an assignment, and can't share any photos yet, since the story hasn't run.

The weather was smoggy today, which apparently followed three glorious days of sunshine that left with my arrival.

Obviously, the blog is a bit slow getting off-the-ground, but I still don't have internet access (you mean we could have planned for that?), and I'm only able to file now because I'm poaching off of someone else's unprotected signal in the media village.

With the high cost of internet at these Olympics, either someone is being very kind with a wireless signal (in which case I give it 48 hours to be shut down), or there's a business without a protected router.

I have assignments to day in the morning and afternoon, but my goal is to provide you a quick tour of the Main Press Center, the Media Village (where we live) and more specifically, our little home here in Beijing.

Thanks for your patience -- things will pick up soon.

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August 2, 2008 1:38 AM

Olympics: Planning, Packing, And Panicking.

Posted by Rod Mar

Time to get back to work as I'm finally headed to the Olympics.

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, but as well as preparing for these upcoming couple of weeks I've also been spending some good quality time away with my family.

Thanks for all of you who have emailed with questions -- I'll try to answer some of them here.

What's up with the Nikon gear? You shoot with Canon.

Many of you noticed that I was shooting some Nikon equipment at the U.S. Track and Field Trials in June. The Times has used Canon for a number of years. Nikon recently released their new flagship camera, the D3, and they have allowed me to spend a good period of time evaluating the new body and an assortment of lenses.

Nikon is being aggressive in marketing their new camera and has spent the summer getting the camera into the hands of lots of photographers. They'll also be sending some test stuff for other shooters on our staff to use.

The D3, quite frankly, is a wonderful camera. It features a full-frame sensor, which has been kind of a Holy Grail in digital cameras. Canon has it in its very high-resolution Canon Mark III DS camera, but that's been prohibitively expensive and has a slower shooting rate than most journalists prefer. It's mostly been marketed to commercial shooters.

But with the D3, Nikon has made a camera that is full-frame, shoots nine frames-per-second, is amazing in low-light situations (ISO 3200 looks like ISO 800 on most other cameras). Most importantly, the files are gorgeous with true colors and skin tones in all sorts of lighting situations.

Anyway, Nikon is being aggressive in trying to regain its share of the professional market after Canon dominated it since the release of the original EOS 1D body over a decade ago.

Canon had fumbled with its most recent flagship, the EOS 1D Mark III. Many have complained about the terrible autofocus capabilities and noted photo guru Rob Galbraith's website just released a pretty damning 17,000 word reevaluation of the camera after Canon has publicly said it has fixed the problems.

As you might remember, I wrote about focus problems I had with the Mark III last fall. After sending it in for one of the first fixes offered by Canon, I didn't detect any further problems, at least in my cameras.

Bottom line, Nikon and Canon are the two big dogs in professional SLR cameras. Nikon was king for decades, Canon overthrew them as photography entered the digital era, and now Nikon is hitting back HARD now that Canon has shown a weakness with the Mark III and Nikon has winner with the D3.

There is a great deal of suspicion that Nikon is hoping to see a large percentage of "black" lenses at the Olympics this year in order to stymie Canon's ubiquitous ads showing large numbers of "white" lenses as every major sporting event.

As for me, I'm all about whatever helps me make good pictures. I don't get paid by either company, and their battles will advance technology for all photographers in the future.

What equipment will you be taking?

Photo positions at the Olympics can be few and far-between. Even having a credential does not guarantee a spot at the most popular events, which are "ticketed" (you sign up the day before and hope you get a ticket which allows you a shooting position).

Even having access to an event doesn't allow full access. The biggest agencies and publications (think A.P., Getty, Sports Illustrated) will get unfettered access. At an event with the scope of the Olympics, a single shooter from a relatively small paper in the United States is not guaranteed very good positions.

With that in mind, I'll bring a full complement of lenses from 14mm to 600mm. I'll also have four camera bodies and the ability to set up and fire remotes should the opportunity arise. It's a mixture of both Nikon and Canon gear.

No, what EXACT equipment are you taking?

Really? Okay, here's the list:

Nikon D3 bodies (3)
Nikon 600mm f4
Nikon 400mm f2.8
Nikon 200-400mm f4 zoom
Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon 24-70 mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 zoom
Nikon TC14 1.4x extender
Nikon SB 800 flash

Canon EOS 1D Mark III
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 24-70mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom
Canon 15mm f.8 fisheye
Canon 1.4x extender
Canon 550 ex flash

Gitzo monopod (2)

To anchor remotes, I've packed:

Bogen Magic Arm
Bogen Super-clamps
Slik pro ball head
Bogen mini-ball head
Gorilla pod (this is a little tripod that has flexible legs that can be used as a traditional tripod but can also be used to "wrap" the legs around something for support.
Pocket Wizard MuliMax remotes (4)
Pocket Wizard pre-trigger cords (2)

Lastly, I've also packed some gear for multimedia:

Canon HV-20 video camera
Olympus pocket audio recorder
Canon G9 point-and-shoot (great for wandering around, also shoots video!)

I've checked three bags (yeah, that's an extra bag charge) -- two cases of equipment, and one bag with some clothes and more equipment. I've packed my trusty Think Tank rolling bag (aptly named the Airport Security) into a Pelican case which also is carrying a Think Tank belt bag and some rain covers.

I'm carrying on a North Face Surge backpack, and I've got my laptop and some camera gear in Think Tank Photo's incredible Urban Disguise bag. This bag looks like a laptop briefcase. It carries a laptop in the rear compartment and is also capable of holding two full-sized DSLR bodies (currently two Nikon D3's) and three lenses along with assorted cables, batteries, card readers and a rain jacket.

One added feature of the bag is that it slips over the handle of my Think Tank rolling bag, freeing an arm!

My friends who are veterans of shooting the Olympics tell me that it's one thing to bring a lot of equipment -- it's entirely another thing to haul what you need from venue to venue for 17 days straight.

So, I can bring my roller with the Urban Disguise bag over the handles, and also carry my backpack if I need more space. This will should allow me to move pretty freely without A) killing my back and B) killing another journalist by trying to load and unload too many heavy bags off of buses.

That's the plan anyway. We'll see that happens once the Games start.

You're going to the Olympics. Why are you panicking?

I'm a little panicked because the Olympics are an enormous event. I am only one photographer so I won't be able to cover everything. That much, I know.

But everyone who gets to cover an event such as this wants to make incredible images every day, and that's a lot of pressure.

I'm fortunate that I have strong support and clear instructions from my Directory of Photography Barry Fitzsimmons, Sports Editor Cathy Henkel and our great photo editing team.

Many shooters from newspapers come to the Olympics and try to compete directly with large agencies like the AP, Reuters, and Getty. My paper has made it clear that's not what they want from me. I agree. What good is it for me to have the EXACT same image as every agency there? No reader would know or care if it's my name under it or someone from Getty. Why even send me if I'm going to shoot the same angle as someone already there?

My assignment is to cover our local athletes when they have medal chances, but also to take risks, find my own angles when I can, but mostly to show readers what I'm seeing every day.

In some ways, that's even more pressure. I'm totally psyched and looking forward to the next three weeks. I'll try to update whenever I can. Because events are spread through out the day and throughout the city, the updates might be brief, but I'll do what I can.

Let's light that cauldron and get going!

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Recent entries

Aug 31, 08 - 12:29 AM
Olympics: Closing Ceremonies, A Look Back.

Aug 30, 08 - 10:40 PM
Olympics: Hoop Dreams

Aug 24, 08 - 11:26 PM
Olympics: Ending With a Bang, and Off I Go.

Aug 23, 08 - 12:22 PM
Olympics: Some enchanted evening

Aug 22, 08 - 12:22 PM
Olympics: Open wide and say awesome







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