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

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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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