by How Hwee Young
Covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is one of the best assignments I have received so far, but it was not without its usual or unusual hiccups as with any major coverage. It started on the third day of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse with a 12-hour-flight from Singapore to Frankfurt for transit before landing in Sochi after another four hours in the air. Having just been relocated back from China to balmy Singapore, I was rather dreading the drastic difference in temperatures. Ditching the traditional light dresses of Chinese New Year visitations, I donned my heavy Beijing winter clothes again, which I had been hoping to lock away forever, to arrive in a temporary airport terminal on a wintry night with our Southeast Asia Chief Barbara Walton.
The main Sochi airport was not built to handle the hordes of journalists, photographers, athletes and visitors descending on the city. We watched with trepidation as our bags and equipment rolled in slowly on a single conveyor belt surrounded by a huge crowd of cold and tired passengers, all vying for the same limited number of trolleys. Getting our bags was only the first hurdle, we then have to queue with our heavy luggages to get our accreditation passes. The Russian volunteers in their colourful Sochi Olympic-themed jackets and caps directed us with smiles of cheerful exuberance to a table where they handed us our slick press passes fresh through lamination machines. It was however hard for the exhausted and grouchy photographer to return the smiles with the same joviality.
And of course the bus going to our hotel was full and there would not be another one stopping at our terminal. Unfazed, the cheery volunteers led us on foot with the same good spirits to the main terminal about 500 meters away, helping us push and pull our luggage and equipment along the way. They promised that would be a bus there that would take us to our hotel and only a five minute wait for the half hour journey.
Two hours later, we finally arrived at our accommodations. One would assume we could kick back and relax at last with a hot shower. But as usual, that was not to be. Hot water would not come on for us till two days later. By then, pretty much nothing could make our stay any worse or daunt our ‘toughened Olympic’ spirit…though I have heard that another journalist had his hotel room ceiling collapsed on him, but that’s another story.
And so it is that we plunged into the Winter Olympics coverage. The opening ceremony was a wonderful spectacle of Russian largesse featuring key moments of the country’s history and arts. I had the floor position and was rather delighted to find at least three sites fixed with our epa cables during the rehearsal, making it easy for me to send my pictures direct from the camera wherever I was shooting on the floor. Or so I thought.
The last Olympic ring failing to open was not the only glitch in the opening ceremony. None of the cables worked for the first half of the actual show, through no fault of our dedicated epa IT technicians, though. It was a malfunction that affected everyone including all the other agencies. They however had at least two photographers each on the floor and had runners delivering their cards while I was the only one running like a headless chicken from one cable site to the next. I think there was a collective sigh of relief when the cables started working again, but none louder than mine!
The rest of the games was focused on figure skating and short track speed skating which I had been assigned to shoot. Photographing figure skating was a dream come true especially teamed with the tenacious Barbara and talented Tatyana Zenkovich of Belarus. I love the sport, the music and the beauty of skaters’ movements. The Canon 1D X paired with the 200-400mm lens was a perfect combination and I experimented heavily with multiple exposures and slow shutter speeds, often much to the chagrin of our brilliant sports editors led by the magnificent Gernot Hensel. It was however a liberation of creativity – to challenge what had been and what could be and I loved it!
Multiple Exposures: Gracie Gold of the USA
Since I returned to Singapore, I have had many questions from people as to how the multiple exposures were done, some even asking how much time I spent on ‘comping’ the pictures together in post-production. I had to laugh because the time between when the pictures were taken on the camera and sent out on the wire was a matter of seconds! There was no time for any post production. Our editors would go mad if they have to do any of that nonsense!
Here’s how it’s done. The Canon 1D X has an in-camera multiple exposure function that would allow multiple exposures of up to 9 bursts to be exposed on a single frame. Composition, framing, shutter speeds, rhythm of the skaters in frame have to be decided in between 1/1600th to 1/8th of seconds. Cables connected directly to our cameras ensure that the pictures in their raw form are sent at 100 Mbit/s directly to editors hard at work in the main press centre. They make the selection, crop, levels, caption and the pictures are sent out on the wires within seconds. It was a speed game, and getting the best pictures out there in the shortest amount of time possible is paramount in the highly competitive arena of Olympic sports shooting for wire agencies.
Multiple Exposures: Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia
Due to our grueling schedule, I only had time to visit the venues in the mountains on the second last day of the games and it was beautiful. I learnt how difficult and physically demanding it was for our colleagues up in the mountains to work in the snow ladened with heavy equipment yet manage to produce stunning images every day that wins the play for us. I was at once humbled and immensely proud to work alongside such esteemed colleagues.
Overall it was a great experience, one that surpassed my last Olympic coverage in Beijing and I am very glad to be able to meet so many talented and accomplished colleagues to learn from and be inspired by. I will miss all of you. Till next time!
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