Back to the birds

This week I am going to return temporarily to a bit of wildlife photography with a visit to The Isle of Sheppey  RSPB reserve at Elmley Marshes, with my friend David. There is a 2 mile drive into the reserve proper that is managed by the Elmley Conservation Trust so the photo opportunities regularly start long before you get to the reserve proper, and this was exactly the case on this trip. If ever you go here on a photography trip make sure the camera is right beside you before you enter the reserve road.

Only a few hundred yards into the reserve I got some great shots of a kestrel perched on a post, just a few yards from the road. Unfortunately David was not quite as ready as I was and missed a golden opportunity as the bird took off just as he got the lens out of the window!

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) female, perched on a post, Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) female, perched on a post, Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm f4G ED lens, 1/1000 at f6.7, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic, lens supported on window ledge of car.

Birds are unpredictable, particularly in their sudden and very rapid movements so even though a bird is perched on a fence post and is relatively still I will still try and keep the shutter speed high enough to accommodate these sudden bursts of energy. With today’s cameras capable of producing such high quality images I am not afraid of pushing the ISO a little higher  to ensure the shutter speed is at least 500th/sec and preferably 1000th or better. This doesn’t mean you simply push the ISO to the highest value your camera goes to, it’s still a balancing act between quality of file and the settings you need.

Curlew (Numenius arquata), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Curlew (Numenius arquata), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm f4G ED lens + TC14 converter, 1/800th at f8, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic, lens supported on window ledge of car.

You cannot get out of your car on the entrance road but this really does not present an issue. The birdlife is so used to seeing vehicles that your car makes an ideal mobile hide. Make sure that on stopping you turn off the car engine. The vibrations from an idling car are still enough to affect your images.

I always recommend that you use a sturdy tripod and proper tripod head when shooting wildlife images, but here in London I don’t have my tripod with me.  As I am shooting predominantly sport and tripods are usually banned (in fact throughout the Olympics tripods are not allowed due to the extremely limited space in the photo positions), and there is only so much I have been able to bring to London, I am mostly using a monopod. However, if you ensure you keep the shutter speed high enough, and use good technique, it is possible to handhold for short periods of time, which I do often with the 500mm f4 for flight images. (I wouldn’t attempt this with the 600mm, just too heavy!)

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) in flight, Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) in flight, Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn

 Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm f4G ED lens + TC14 converter, 1/2000th at f8, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic set to -2/3 stop to retain detail in white feathers, hand held.

Ethics

Finally a word on the ethics of photo manipulation. I am often asked what I think it is reasonable to do to a photo in our digital world and what it is not. The answer is not entirely straightforward as it depends so much on what the subject material is and what you are trying to portray. For example in my sports photography it is essential that I do not materially alter the content of an image. In other words I am restricted to simple colour correction, cropping and removing any sensor dust – and that is about it. I cannot for example, clone out a distracting spectator from the background of an image as I would be materially altering reality, even though the image would be more pleasing if I did so. However in the natural history photo it is perfectly acceptable, in my opinion, to remove a distracting branch, for example, as I have not altered the reality of that particular image.

So long as I am not attempting to fool the viewer of an image into believing that something happened that was not really there – for example combining an image of a sparrow and a parrot sitting on the same branch and then portraying it as reality. If I do it as an exercise in digital manipulation and inform everyone that that is what I am doing it is fine. The classic example is when National Geographic Magazine moved the Pyramids to make an image fit the front cover – not cool!

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, Original image: Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, : Photo by Peter Llewellyn
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Elmley Marshes RSPB Reserve, England, Finished image after cropping, correction and clean-up : Photo by Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm f4G ED lens, 1/2000th at f6.3, ISO 500, aperture priority automatic, lens supported on window ledge of car.

The second image above has the distracting branch removed and some additional exposure and contrast work, which I regard as perfectly acceptable. Here I have used the Quick Mask technique in Photoshop, one of the few tasks I still use Photoshop for. For details of how to do this see the e-book, Photographers Workflow available from the site. The book will soon be updated to account for some major changes in the way I handle my images. Anyone purchasing the book now will get the update free when it comes out.

 

Hard water!

You might be thrown by the title of this weeks blog. That is until you imagine being a diver coming down from 10metres up and getting it all wrong. Suddenly that nice soft landing into 15 metres of water must be like landing in wet concrete. Unfortunately Mexican diver Rommel Pachero found out this hard way when he failed to make the last 1/4 turn and landed rather painfully.

Rommel PACHECO (MEX) lands badly while competing in the men's 10m platform semi-finals
Rommel PACHECO (MEX) lands badly while competing in the men’s 10m platform semi-finals

 

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm, 1/1000 @ f4, ISO 3200, set manually, hand held

Photographically this image just goes to show how important it is for a sports photographer not to let his or hers concentration lapse for a moment. One of the hardest things for a sports photographer to do is to maintain a high level of attention in a repetitive sport like canoe sprints, dressage or diving. But of course one lapse means you miss the shot that can be that incident of the day, and you can be sure if you don’t get it someone else did! On this occasion, the someone else was me – no other photographer got this shot – just goes to prove I’ve still got it.

To shoot the best images of diving you need to take a different approach depending if the event is 10 metre platform of 3 metre springboard and if it is singles or synchronised diving. I chose to shoot the men’s highboard from the pool deck basically shooting up from water level. This is a difficult sport to photograph and you need to be prepared to have a lot of outtakes as the divers twist and somersault through the air you will inevitably end up with many images of the divers backs or arms and legs will obscure much of the body. For the highboard I expect a success rate of only around 25%.

London, England, 12-02-25. Gleb GALPERIN (RUS) competing in the men's 10m platform semi-finals at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-25. Gleb GALPERIN (RUS) competing in the men’s 10m platform semi-finals at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

 Getting the timing right in this sport is more a question of luck than judgement. One of the few sports where this is actually the case.

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm, 1/1000 @ f4, ISO 3200, set manually, hand held

London, England, 12-02-25. Peter WATERFIELD (GBR) competing in the men's 10m platform semi-finals at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-25. Peter WATERFIELD (GBR) competing in the men’s 10m platform semi-finals at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

These athletes must be among the fittest and strongest in the Games, certainly if the 6 pack on Peter Waterfield of GBR is anything to go by!

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm, 1/1000 @ f4, ISO 3200, set manually, hand held

For the 3 metre springboard the angle of shooting needs to be a little different, especially for the synchronised events. Rather than shooting up I decided to go to the highest photo position available, way up in the upper levels of the seating area, parallel to the boards so that I could shoot down at an angle where I could see both divers clearly, with the added advantage of having the water itself as a clean background. This is a real long lens shot from this distance requiring at least a 500mm.

London, England, 12-02-25. Alicia BLAGG and Rebecca GALLANTREE (GBR) competing in the women's synchronised 3m spring board at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-25. Alicia BLAGG and Rebecca GALLANTREE (GBR) competing in the women’s synchronised 3m spring board at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

 Nikon D3, AF-S VR  Nikkor 500mm f4G lens, 1/1250 @ f4, ISO 2500, set manually, Gitzo monopod

Note that I was able to drop the ISO a little from this position due to the direction of the lights, shining more directly onto the boards and coming from overhead much more than for the 10 metre platform.

London, England, 12-02-25. Katja DIECKOW and Nora SUBSCHINSKI (GER) competing in the women's 3m spring board at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-25. Katja DIECKOW and Nora SUBSCHINSKI (GER) competing in the women’s 3m spring board at the 18th FINA Visa World Cup Diving, Olympic Aquatics Centre. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm f4G lens, 1/1250 @ f4, ISO 2500, set manually, Gitzo monopod

Note how in all the springboard photos I have included the tips of the diving boards to give a sense of place to the event, otherwise it can be difficult to tell exactly what sport is taking place.

To see the full selection of diving images click here

 

World Cup at the Velodrome

This weekend was the UCI World Cup Track Cycling at the Olympic Velodrome, the latest in the series of test events.

Now I like to ride my bike – a road bike to be sure. There’s nothing quite like coming down a decent hill, the wind ripping away at your face, senses keenly aware of every bump, and more especially every pot hole on the English country roads where I ride. But when my bike computer shows around 30 mph I must admit that I begin to lose my nerve and the fingers begin to twitch on the brakes. This weekend I realised that the weakest of the girls on the track had far more guts than I do, on a bike with a fixed gear, and no brakes to slow them even if they wanted to. These guys belt around the ramped track at speeds sometimes touching on 43 mph and do so within inches of each other.

London, England, 12-02-18. The field in the women's Omnium elimination race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. The field in the women’s Omnium elimination race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3, AF-S Zoom Nikkor 200-400mm f4 at 380mm, 1/640th @ f4, ISO 1600, hand held

One of the great things about photographing track cycling is that you get a wide variety of disciplines, from a single rider in the sprints going hell for leather against nothing but the clock, the cat and mouse tactics of the sprint finals, the massed riders of the scratch and elimination races and the spectacle of the riders being paced at ever increasing speed by a cute little motorcycle, the Kierin, until the last few laps when it’s an all out race to the finish.

London, England, 12-02-18. Competitors follow the motorcycle pace bike in the finals of the men's Keirin at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. Competitors follow the motorcycle pace bike in the finals of the men’s Keirin at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3, AF-S VR  Nikkor 500 mm f4, 1/640th @ f4, ISO 1250, Gitzo Monopod

Of course the Kierin has become a British speciality, this being one of Sir Chris Hoy’s gold medals in Beijing, as well as world champion no less than three times. Chris has announced he wants to add to this tally at the Games, and his win in the event yesterday puts him well on the road.

London, England, 12-02-18. Sir Chris HOY (GB) celebrates victory in the men's Kieren final at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. Sir Chris HOY (GB) celebrates victory in the men’s Kieren final at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3, AF-S VR  Nikkor 500 mm f4, 1/640th @ f4, ISO 1250, Gitzo Monopod

If you get a chance to go to a track meet take it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend time experimenting and honing your techniques at photographing high speed sport. This sport lends itself to panning techniques and I spent a fare bit of time experimenting with different shutter speeds, and lens combinations.

London, England, 12-02-18. Luis DIAZ (VEN) in the men's Omnium scratch race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. Luis DIAZ (VEN) in the men’s Omnium scratch race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3s, AF-S zoom Nikkor Nikkor 24-70 mm at  f2.8 set to 66mm, 1/30th @  f11, ISO 640, hand held

In a shot like the above it’s important to pick a point to focus on, in this case the rider’s head and try and keep the active focus point on your camera exactly on the same spot throughout the pan. Here I also decided to make a strong crop of the original image to create almost a panorama effect.

London, England, 12-02-18. Competitors on the men's Omnium scratch race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. Competitors on the men’s Omnium scratch race at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3s, AF-S zoom Nikkor  Nikkor 24-70 mm at  f2.8 set to 50mm, 1/60th @  f11, ISO 640, hand held

Here’s another shot with the same lens, this time a little wider than the first and shot with the riders still well away from me. Note how by doing this you have a dual effect, first the rider you are focusing on remains relatively sharp, but, due to the out of focus riders behind, attention is always drawn back to that leading rider.

London, England, 12-02-18. Kaarle McCULLOCH (AUS) competes in the Women's Sprint at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.
London, England, 12-02-18. Kaarle McCULLOCH (AUS) competes in the Women’s Sprint at the UCI World Cup, Track Cycling, Olympic Velodrome, London. Part of the London Prepares Olympic preparations.

Nikon D3s, AF-S zoom Nikkor  Nikkor 80-200 mm at  f2.8 set to 200mm, 1/800th @  f2.8, ISO 800, hand held

Finally, don’t forget to get in for some close-ups of the way out gear these riders wear. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I’d go faster if I had a helmet like that!

To see a selection of my images from the World Cup click on the Search tab and enter the key word velodrome

 


Hoops, Balls, Ribbons and Clubs

The seconds part of the gymnastics the rhythmic gym tool place this week at London’s Excel Centre, following on from the traditional artistic gymnastics. This sport is the exclusive domain of the girls consisting the four discipllnes of ball, hoop, ribbon and clubs. some of the world’s top athletes took part in the latest of the London Prepares series.

Runa YAMAGUCHI (JPN) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Runa YAMAGUCHI (JPN) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

 

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 70 – 200mm f/2.8 ED lens, 1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 1600

Unfortunately due to work commitments I was only able to get a single days shooting so had to be content with just the ribbons and clubs.

Francesca JONES (GBR) competes in the clubs, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Francesca JONES (GBR) competes in the clubs, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

 

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens, 1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 1600, set manually after shooting test shots and checking histogram

To freeze the action of the various pieces of apparatus used in the rhythmic disciplines a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th second is necessary. As the the light was very consistent across the floor I simply took a few test shots and checked the histogram until I was able to lock the exposure I wanted manually.

Kseniya MOUSTAFAEVA (FRA) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Kseniya MOUSTAFAEVA (FRA) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

 Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens, 1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 1600,
set manually and shot from an elevated position in the stands.

Although the rhythmic gymnastics will not take place at The North Greenwich Arena, but actually at Wembley, every effort was made to replicate the same photo positions to be used at the Games, and I made sure to shoot images from both the field of play positions on the corners of the mat and the elevated positions in the seating stands. For this sport I found that the elevated positions were probably the best for showing the apparatus in action, especially the ribbon.

Victoria VEINBERG FILANOVSKY(ISR) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Victoria VEINBERG FILANOVSKY(ISR) competes in the ribbon, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

 

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens, 1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 1600

In shooting this sport it’s necessary to keep a sharp eye open for the amazing shapes made by the athletes and apparatus. One thing that’s for certain, these girls are very ‘bendy’

The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens, 1/1000 @ f2.8 ISO 1600

For a further selection of rhythmic gymnastics images enter rhythmic in the keywords box on the search page.


 

It’s Olympic Year – 2012

We finally have to stop calling it next year’s Olympic Games, it’s now this year’s Games and we are getting closer to delivering one of the best Olympics ever.

The test events have started up again the same day I arrived back from spending Christmas and new year at home in Canada with the artistic gymnastics running last week at the North Greenwich Arena, perhaps better known as The Dome. Gymnastics has always been one of my favourite sports to photograph with it’s huge range of photographic opportunities, offering strength, grace, acrobatic skill, speed, and daring and featuring both men and women competitors and all taking place in a single arena. A photographers dream.

Isaac BOTELLA PEREZ (ESP), competes in the floor exercise, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics
Isaac BOTELLA PEREZ (ESP), competes in the floor exercise, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 500mm f4/G lens, 1/800th @ f4, ISO 2500, set manually

Gymnastics requires a bit of thougt in your photography. Different disciplines require different minimum shutter speeds to freeze the action. For the floor excercises you can get away with a speed of 500th or so, although I prefer to go a little faster when the light allows.

Erica FASANA (ITA), competes in the vault, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 12, 2012.
Erica FASANA (ITA), competes in the vault, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 12, 2012.

 Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 300mm f2.8/G lens, 1/1000th @ f2.8, ISO 3200, set manually
Image processed with Noise Ninja noise reduction software

Although the Nikon D3’s are excellent at high ISO settings I felt that some of the images taken on apparatus at the edge of the arena where the light falloff was a little more than I would like could benefit from a quick run through Noise Ninja. see www.picturecode.com for full details of this program www.picturecode.com

Matteo ANGIOLETTI (ITA), competes in the rings, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 12, 2012.
Matteo ANGIOLETTI (ITA), competes in the rings, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 12, 2012.

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 300mm f2.8/G lens, 1/640th @ f2.8, ISO 2000, set manually

The rings is a lot slower in it’s movements, apart from the dismount which usually makes horrible photos anyway, so you can get away with a slower shutter speed. Note how I have consistently tried to use the lowest ISO possible that enables me to achieve the shutter speed I need. Although the latest cameras are great at  the higher ISO settings you will still achieve the highest quality of file with the lowest you can get away with.

Francesca DEAGOSTINI (ITA), competes in the beam, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Francesca DEAGOSTINI (ITA), competes in the beam, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 400mm f2.8/G ED lens, 1/1000th @ f2.8, ISO 2500, set manually

I love photographing the beam. There is a host of opportunities within this one piece of apparatus to shoot detailed close-ups, full frame shots, and various actions. Although much of the action is slow and graceful you need to keep a high shutter speed for the flips and somersaults, not to mention the odd fall!

Carlotta FERLITO (ITA), competes in the beam, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Carlotta FERLITO (ITA), competes in the beam, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

Nikon D3s, AF-S Zoom 80 – 200mm f2.8 ED lens, 1/640th @ f2.8, ISO 2000, set manually

Masahiro YOSHIDA (JPN), competes in the parallel bars, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Masahiro YOSHIDA (JPN), competes in the parallel bars, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 400mm f2.8/G ED lens, 1/1000th @ f2.8, ISO 2500, set manually

Masahiro YOSHIDA (JPN), competes in the parallel bars, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.
Masahiro YOSHIDA (JPN), competes in the parallel bars, The London Prepares Visa International Gymnastics, Olympic Test Event, North Greenwich Arena, London, England January 13, 2012.

 

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR 400mm f2.8/G ED lens, 1/1000th @ f2.8, ISO 2500, set manually

Watch out for details around the field of play at sports event. They can often be as interesting as the sport itself as in this image of a gymnast preparing his hands

To see a selection of images from this event go to the main web site and do a search for “gymnastics”

Many thanks to Nikon for the loan of a 400mm f2.8 lens to cover this event while my 200-400 zoom is in for repair.

Watch for details of shooting with a D4 coming soon!

The year comes to an end

Well, I am back in Canada after a somewhat protracted trip home due to an aircraft failure at Heathrow.This meant a night in a hotel in Chicago and not arriving back on Gabriola Island until 6.00 pm on Monday, having left for Heathrow Airport at 9.00am on Sunday. The joys of international travel!

2011 has been a big year for me, moving temporarily to London, and being involved with the biggest sporting event on earth, the 2012 Olympic Games. By the time I head back in January it will be Olympic year and the pressure will really start to ramp up. The test events have shown us that we are well on track to delivering an amazing games and I hope to see some of the best Olympic photos ever produced. As soon as I get back the test event will start again, with the next being the Gymnastics, one of the biggest and most popular Olympic sports, and I will continue to bring you information on how I shoot  these sports. Please don’t hesitate to pose any questions you might have on sports photography and I will do my best to answer you.

The final test events of the 2011 year were the wrestling and the weightlifting, which again took place at the ExCel Centre.

Wrestling is one of the oldest Olympic disciplines, having been contested at every modern Games since the first in 1896, and is as far removed from the modern TV version as chalk and cheese. In Greco-Roman style there is no holding below the waist, being the major difference with the other form of Olympic wrestling, freestyle.

Using the experience of having shot in the same halls last week I decided to take a lesson from the work I had to do on those images. I realized that the lighting in the ExCel Centre is exactly 5,000 degres K, and for some reason my D3s were having some trouble with the white balance set to Auto. There are few occasions when I take my white balance from the auto setting but this proved to be the exception and with manually setting my balance to 5,000K I had perfect white balance on every shot. Don’t forget the golden rule – if you set your camera to any type of manual setting such as this then set it back to the normal setting immediately you have finished the shoot.

Rami HIETANIEMI (FIN) in red v alo TOOM (EST) in blue, 96kg class, Greco Roman Wrestling

Nikon D3s, 80 – 200 f2.8 lens set to 145mm, 1/800th @ f2.8 1600 ISO, exposure set manually, white balance set to 5000k manually

You have probably noticed that almost all the sports I shoot indoors are with the camera set to fully manual exposure. This is because at indoor arenas there are so many conflicting areas of light and shade that, even with the most sophisticated cameras available today, they are still easily fooled into giving incorrect exposure. It is essential that you know how to read a histogram, probably the most important tool in the digital photographers arsenal. All of my indoor shots are set up by taking a few test images checking the histogram, and then tweaking the exposure manually.

At the same time as the wrestling was taking place in one hall, the weightlifting was going on in another. As the lighting in both halls was identical I only needed a quick histogram check on my first images and then continued to shoot away. There are two disciplines in Olympic weightlifting, the snatch and the clean and jerk, with the combined total deciding the winner

You need to shoot the two types of lift a little differently. For the snatch, where a single movement makes a good lift it is all about facial expressions and so a head on spot usually provides the best images. My problem in the weightlifting hall was that my 200 – 400 f4 lens, that would have been ideal for this, was in the Nikon repair facility with the manual focussing ring completely jammed. This meant that I had no lens between 200mm and 500mm. Well, these thing happen, so I decided to use the situation to my advantage and get in really tight on some faces during the snatch with the 500mm.

Dmityiy KAPLIN (KAZ) in the snatch

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens , 1/500th @ f4 1600 ISO, exposure set manually, white balance set to 5000k manually

In fact you don’t need to see the whole of the barbell to indicate what the sport is all about, the faces say it all.

For the clean and jerk I moved to a side-on view, but decided I would still give the 500mm a go. I think the image below works just as well from this angle.

Mart SEIM (EST) in the clean and jerk,

Nikon D3s, 500mm f4 lens , 1/500th @ f4 1600 ISO, exposure set manually, white balance set to 5000k manually

The image below shows the more classic view of the clean and jerk.

Ferenc GYURKOVICS (HUN) in the clean and jerk

Nikon D3s, AFs zoom 80 – 200 f2.8 lens set to 135mm, 1/640th @ f4 1600 ISO, exposure set manually, white balance set to 5000k manually

A great Christmas to all and I look forward to bringing you a lot more sports images in 2012

 

New Olympic Test Event Series

The next of the Olympic Test Event series is now well underway. The past week has seen the boxing, fencing and table-tennis events running in London’s Excel Centre, their home next year when the Games start.

The Table Tennis test was performed us part of the ITTF Table Tennis Tour and saw most of the world’s leading players, and of course the main contenders for next years medal. The Chinese continue to dominate the world table-tennis scene and an amazing men’s semi finals between the world’s # 1 and 2 proved to me that the table tennis I play is nothing like the game played at the highest level!

Unfortunately the lighting was not the same as that to be used during the Olympics and left a little to be desired. I found myself shooting at between 3200 and 6400 ISO to get anything close to the shutter speed required to freeze the action.

 

Long MA (CHN) the world #1, competes against Hao WANG (CHN) the world #2, during the ITTF Table Tennis Tour Grand Finals, ExCel Centre, London, England November 27, 2011. Long Ma went on to win the tournament beating Zhang Jike in the final.
Long MA (CHN) the world #1, competes against Hao WANG (CHN) the world #2, during the ITTF Table Tennis Tour Grand Finals, ExCel Centre, London, England November 27, 2011. Long Ma went on to win the tournament beating Zhang Jike in the final.

Nikon D3s, 80-200 f2.8 AF-S Zoom Nikkor at 145mm, 1/1000th @ f2.8, ISO 5000, exposure set manually after shooting test images and checking histogram.
The high resolution output files all ran through Nose Ninja to help reduce the digital noise

The fencing provided some wonderful creative opportunities, especially during the finals on the main piste. The whole arena has ‘theatre style’ lighting meaning that the playing area is brightly lit while the surroundings are in almost complete darkness. I started by shoting some regular sports photos of the fencers in action.

Erwan Le Pechoux (FRA) [left] v Keith COOK (GBR)

Nikon D3, 80-200 f2.8 AF-S Zoom Nikkor at 165mm, 1/1000th @ f3.5, ISO 2000, exposure set manually after shooting test images and checking histogram.

Looking for something different I set my D3 to multiple exposure mode capturing 4 consecutive images  on the same frame. Having the theatrical lighting really adds to this affect. The main trick is to ensure you keep the camera as still as possible during the exposure and resist the temptation to move the lens to try and keep the subject centred. Just hold the button down and let the action do the moving. Ideally one would use a tripod but that’s nearly impossible when shooting sport from crowded photo ares. As the shot below demonstrates it is possible to handhold this type of photo but you do need a fast shutter speed.

Marcel MARCILLOUX (FRA) [left] v Husayn ROSOWSKY (GBR) [right] during the men's foil competition at the London Prepares Olympic Test Event, ExCel Centre, London, England November 27, 2011.
Marcel MARCILLOUX (FRA) [left] v Husayn ROSOWSKY (GBR) [right] during the men’s foil competition at the London Prepares Olympic Test Event, ExCel Centre, London, England November 27, 2011.

Nikon D3, 80-200 f2.8 AF-S Zoom Nikkor at 86mm, 1/1000th @ f3.5, ISO 2000, multiple exposure turned on and set to 4 frames. Exposure set manually after shooting test images and checking histogram.

Finally I headed down to the Boxing Hall. This was not taking place in the hall that will be used at Games time so was really more of a test for the technical and sports people than for our photo positions.

Boxing is not one of my favourite sports to photograph, in fact it’s not one of my favourite sports period. In fact I find it’s actually a difficult sport to create great images especially amateur boxing.

Con SHEAHAN (IRL) [red] v Lazaridis EUGENIOS (GRE) [blue] during the men's super heavyweight final at the London Prepares Olympic Test Event, ExCel Centre,  London, England November 27, 2011. Sheahan went on to win the title.
Con SHEAHAN (IRL) [red] v Lazaridis EUGENIOS (GRE) [blue] during the men’s super heavyweight final at the London Prepares Olympic Test Event, ExCel Centre, London, England November 27, 2011. Sheahan went on to win the title.

Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 AF-S Zoom Nikkor at 380mm, 1/800th @ f4, ISO 2500. Exposure set manually after shooting test images and checking histogram.

You may have noticed that in all the above images I chose to use manual exposure. This is because the lighting in each of these sports presented particular challenges, especially as the backgrounds were lit considerably differently to the field of play. This can easily cause erroneous exposures, (especially at the fencing with that black background). However the lighting on the filed of play was completely consistent so, after shooting a few test exposures and checking the histogram, I was able to hit the exposure dead on.

Beach Volleyball and BMX

Although some might describe both of these sports as ‘extreme’ it would be for vastly different reasons! I guess that for some the mode of dress of the competitors in the Beach Volleyball might well be considered extreme. That’s not the only thing these sports have in common, they are both events that have all the young hype of loud announcers, and even louder music that seems to accompany our most recent additions to the Olympic events schedule. Call me old, but I can’t quite understand the necessity for the pop culture that surrounds these sports.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in awe of the athletic ability of both sets of competitors, and there is not a shadow of doubt that huge amounts of training, stamina and skill goes into both sports. So, after finishing up with last weekend’s cycling road race that finished in the mall I felt compelled to walk across the park to Horse Guards Parade to check out the beach volleyball. Purely of course to check out the photographers positions were all in the correct places for next years Games!

Horse Guards Parade, location for the beach volleyball event

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 Zoom, set to 26mm, 1/2000th @ f5.6, ISO 200, aperture priority automatic, hand held.

The venue for the beach volleyball could not really be more removed from a beach so tons of sand was shipped in to make the arena. In fact the last time I photographed beach volleyball it was completely the opposite, Bondi Beach in Sydney being about as much a beach as one could imagine.

FIVB Beach Volleyball International, Olympic Test Event, Horse Guards Parade London, England
FIVB Beach Volleyball International, Olympic Test Event, Horse Guards Parade London, England

Nikon D3s, AFS Zoom Nikkor 200-400 f4 Zoom, set to 200mm, 1/1250th @ f4, ISO 200, aperture priority automatic, hand held.

So, to the action. Beach volleyball is incredibly difficult to photograph well. Only two players on each side of the net with a relatively large field of play, and lines people at all four corners means that there are really two points of action to concentrate on, either trying to get the spike at the net, which is not easy, especially trying to keep the ball in the frame as well, or you simply pick a single player on the far side of the net and concentrate your shooting on that person in the hope of getting a good diving shot, below the level of the net.

Following on from the beach volleyball came the BMX test event, the first event in the new Olympic Park at Stratford in East London. Now these athletes are really something else, hurling themselves at high speed down a ramp and then over a series of massive jumps where 30′ into the air is a regular occurrence and throw in a few hairpin bends just for good measure.

Renaud Blanc (SUI), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Renaud Blanc (SUI), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 200-400 f4 VR Zoom, set to 200mm, 1/2000th @ f4, ISO 400, Gitzo carbon fibre monopod,
aperture priority automatic +2/3 stop from metered exposure to compensate for bright sky and retain detail in rider.

This is certainly a young event with loud music and a certain culture involving loud music,  and is more of a lifestyle than a sport for many of the competitors. As I have mentioned before however these are definitely brave athletes and accidents are not uncommon.

Caroline Buchanan (AUS), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Joyce Seesing (NED), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 Zoom, set to 80mm, 1/2000th @ f4.5, ISO 400, aperture priority automatic +1/3 stop from metered exposure.

Each race lasts for only around 40 seconds so during the course of an event you get many opportunities to move around the venue and get a variety of different shots. This particular test suffered badly from a series of rainstorms that swept through so we were subject to a number of rain delays asd it is impossible to compete in BMX on a wet track.

L to R - Romain Riccardi (ITA), Oliver Hoarau (FRA), Luke Madill (AUS) and Manuel de Vecchi (ITA), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
L to R – Romain Riccardi (ITA), Oliver Hoarau (FRA), Luke Madill (AUS) and Manuel de Vecchi (ITA), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

 Nikon D3s, Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 Zoom, set to 90mm, 1/1600th @ f4.5, ISO 400, aperture priority automatic +1 stop from metered exposure.

The down side is that after a while you get a bit bored with shooting riders sailing through the air. So finally, looking for something different I selected my fisheye lens and looked for a creative opportunity on one of the bends.

Moana Moo Caille (BRA), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Moana Moo Caille (BRA), BMX Supercross World Cup Olympic Test Event, Olympic Park, Stratford London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3, Nikkor 16mm f2.8 fisheye, 1/2500th @ f4.5, ISO 400, aperture priority automatic +1/3 stop from metered exposure.

The building in the background is the velodrome, more from that venue early next year.

In the next few days I will be posting from the canoe sprints at Eton Dorney. This is a completely new event for me having never photographed it before so will be something of a challenge.

Peter L.

Badminton World Championships

This week the shuttlecocks are flying in Wembley Arena at the World Badminton Championships which is serving as an unofficial test event for next years Olympic event. This is not an easy event to photograph as the lighting is somewhat patchy and with black backgrounds almost impossible to get a good shot of any player in dark clothing.

Pui Yin Yip (HNK), World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Pui Yin Yip (HNK), World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3s, AFS Zoom Nikkor 80 – 200 f2.8, at 80mm
1/1250th @ f2.8, ISO 3200

Lot’s of additional tweaking in Aperture for this one.

You need to keep the shutter speed at least 1/1000th or better to freeze the action in this sport as the racket head moves with enormous speed. Once again the high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D3 cameras score heavily. I can remember way back photographing Badminton at the All England Championships in this same venue when we were using tungsten balanced film at 160 ASA and pushing it two stops to achieve 640. You had to be sure to fire the shutter at the exact end of the backswing to ensure that the racket head was almost completely stationary to be able to freeze it – those were the days! And people ask me if I would ever want to return to the days of film – definitely not, we have many more opportunities available to us today.

Kevin Cordon (GUA), World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Kevin Cordon (GUA), World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3s, AFS Zoom Nikkor 200 – 400 f4, at 360mm
1/1000th @ f4, ISO 3200
This is an image was shot from the top row of the stands, one of the positions that will be available to photographers at Games time next year.

This is a sport dominated by the Asian countries with a small scattering of Europeans. Many finals are all Chinese affairs and I am sure it will be the same way next year.

Dan Lin (CHN) , World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Dan Lin (CHN)
, World Badminton Championships, Wembley Arena London, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3s, AFS Zoom Nikkor 80 – 200 f2.8, at 80mm
1/1250th @ f2.8, ISO 2000

And now for something different. As I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of ‘straight’ sports images I was getting I decided to experiment a little. In the image above I set the D3 to shoot 4 images on the same frame.

Are you interested in learning how to take images such as those seen on the blog in recent weeks? Watch out for announcements coming soon on formal sports photography workshops where you will get the opportunity to learn all these techniques and more on three-day workshops to be led my myself and a couple of the world’s best known sports shooters.

Peter

 

The finals are being dominated by the Chinese

Sailing at Weymouth

This week it’s the turn of the sailors to run their Olympic Test Event at Weymouth in Dorset, on England’s South Coast. Discounting the odd football game taking place in Scotland and the North of England this is the most remote of all the Olympic Venues being some two and a half hours South of London.

Franziska Goltz (GER), Laser Radial, women’s one person dinghy, Sailing Olympic Test Event, Weymouth, England,

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm,
1/1600th @ f5.6, ISO 250, Aperture Priority Automatic, Handheld

The first few days of the test event saw a variety of  weather conditions and on Friday I managed to get out on the water to see how our RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) drivers were performing. Although not as windy as I might have liked we did get some sunny conditions which aids immensely as this is a very difficult sport to photograph. You are faced with trying to work from a small boat that is bouncing around in the waves, with difficult lighting, trying to focus on a subject that is also bouncing around while moving at quite high speeds while hand holding a long telephoto lens!

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR), 470, women’s two person dinghy, Sailing Olympic Test Event, Weymouth, England,

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm  f4 lens,
1/1000th @ f6.3, ISO 320, Aperture Priority Automatic, Handheld
(yes, you can handhold a 500mm in these circumstances, just ensure your shutter speed is high enough and the VR is turned on)

This is a sport where you shoot large numbers of photos and keep a much lower percentage than you would normally expect. Often you think you have everything framed up nicely only to find that at the instant you pressed the shutter all you captured was the top of the masts. Additionally you are gong to spend a great deal of time straightening up your horizons. As a colleague of mine remarked as we were reviewing photos in the media centre when we got off the water, “no wonder they can all go so fast, the sea slopes downhill in all my pictures!”

Boarders pull away from the start, RS:X women’s windsurfer, Sailing Olympic Test Event, Weymouth

Nikon D3, AF-S VR Nikkor 500mm,  f4 lens,
1/1000th @ f6.3, ISO 320, Aperture Priority Automatic, Handheld

Tomorrow I am off to the World Badminton Championships at Wembley Arena, which is our test event for this sport – more shooting advice to come.

Peter L.

Two more test events

Last week saw two more test events running, the White Water canoeing from Lee Valley White Water Centre and the Mountain Biking from Hadleigh Farm in Essex. Once again both events were a roaring success with things shaping up nicely for next year’s Summer Games.

Both events took place under blue sky and skyrocketing temperatures, and I must say I would gladly have thrown myself into the artificial river at Lee Valley, although had I done so I would probably have been writing this from my hospital bed! When they say wild water they really do mean wild water.

Jan Benzien (GER), Mens C1 Class, Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Abbey, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn
Jan Benzien (GER), Mens C1 Class, Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Abbey, England, Photo by: Peter Llewellyn

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 200-400mm VR set at 400mm with VR off,
mounted on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, $ 1/1600th @ f5.6 (set manually), ISO 320

Having shot almost exclusively wildlife photos for the past 18 months I am now beginning to get back into the swing of sports shooting, and my timing is beginning to hit the mark again. The canoeing was a particular problem with so much spray making both focussing and exposure very difficult. Finally I decided to meter manually and focus with autofocus, trying as far as possible to keep the focus spot on the face. To get my metering spot on I tried several exposures and checked the histogram after each until I had it right – only took around three tries before I had it nailed. If you try to leave your metering on any auto mode you are going to have the a huge number of over or under exposed images as the amount of bright white spray varies so much for each shot. Don’t forget to check the sun doesn’t go in from when you made your first exposure!

To freeze the water in a shot like above it’s necessary to get a shutter speed close to 1/2000 sec.

As a photographer this is a high concentration sport as even though you may remain in one place every competitor’s route will be slightly different and the reaction of the water also varies. You need to watch closely for the height of the action an react very quickly.

Denis Gargaud Chanut (FRA), Mens C1 Class, Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Abbey, England

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 200-400mm VR set at 2200mm with VR, 
mounted on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, @ 1/2000th @ f5.6 (set manually), ISO 200

Not all images have to be shot as action stoppers – take a look at the photo below shot with a much slower shutter speed.

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 200-400mm VR set at 400 mm with VR  
mounted on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, @ 1/20th @ f32 (set manually), ISO 200

The K2 event makes it’s own challenges as there is some distance between the front and rear paddler. Careful attention to focussing is therefore necessary.

Marcus Becker and Stefan Henze (GER), Mens C2 Class, Olympic Test Event, Lee Valley, White Water Centre

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 200-400mm VR set at 2800mm with VR off, 
mounted on Gitzo carbon fibre monopod, @ 1/2000th @ f5.6 (set manually), ISO 320

The mountain biking venue is set in the heart of Essex (name any mountain in Essex??) This si of course an artificially made course but is nonetheless one of the world’s most challenging. Not so for Olympic Gold Medallist from athens and Beijing, Frenchman Julian Absalon who led the men’s event from start to finish, demolishing a world class field and finally coming home almost 90 seconds before his nearest rival.

Julien Absalon (FRA), Olympic Test Event, Hadleigh Farm Mountain Bike Centre, England

 

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 24 – 70mm, 2.8 VR set at 62mm hand held, @ 1/1000th @ f6.3 (aperture priority automatic), ISO 250

Below is another slow shutter speed shot. It’s very difficult to impart the speed with which these riders negotiate the course when using action stopping shutter speeds. everything, including the wheels get’s frozen in time and it can almost look like the biker is completely still if you are not careful.

Mountain bike Olympic Test Event, Hadleigh Farm Mountain Bike Centre, England

Nikon D3, AFs zoom Nikor 80-200 mm, 2.8  set at 80 mm hand held, @ 1/20th @ f16 (aperture priority automatic), ISO 200

Today I arrive in Weymouth to oversee the photography for the sailing test event that runs for the next 10 days, although I will only be here for the first four, then it;’s off to the Badminton world Championships in Wembley Arena. Hoping to get e little more shooting done along the way so watch for further posts.

It all begins again!

The first two events in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics have already taken place. The equestrian event in historic Greenwich Park, was a great success, with really positive feedback from all the press. A couple of fences on the cross country course offer stunning views if the City, in the background and the water jump will, as always be a popular point for photographers, both from the jump itself and the hill in front of the Greenwich Observatory.

Olympic Test Event – Equestrian – Water jump, London, Greenwich Park, Greater London, England

The main arena, which will be considerably enlarged for the Games itself, sits on a raised platform above the surface of the park. One of the criteria for the use of Greenwich is that no damage is done to the park itself so pretty much all the infrastructure ‘floats’ above the park itself. Now the whole arena will be dismantled to return the park to it’s normal use prior to the Olympic reconstruction beginning early next year.

Olympic Test Event – Equestrian – Showjumping stadium, London, Greenwich Park, Greater London, England

A few days after the equestrian event it was the turn of the modern pentathlon to try out the facilities. As the venues for the fencing and swimming are not yet complete this part of the event took place at The National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace. This brought back some interesting memories for me as the same arena as the fencing was where I took my first photo ever published – Neil Adams then the World Heavyweight Judo Champion competing in the British Championships that was used in The Daily Telegraph way back in 1981!

After the fencing and swimming the athletes made their way back to Greenwich for the riding, and running/shooting phases. (Running and shooting is now combined together, the athletes running a section of cross country in between pistol shooting to score 5 targets – now using laser pistols).

Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final – 10 July 2010, National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace, London, England, Elena Rublevska (LAT) and Mhairi Spence (GBR) compete in he running/shooting

Now, after completing my reports on the first two event I need to start turning my attention to the forthcoming events. In the next few weeks there are quite a few tests running including sailing, mountain biking, badminton, and white water kayaking. Watch this space for photos and reports from these events.

Peter L.