Many regard synchronised swimming as more of an entertainment than a sport, and to be fair that’s hard to argue with, although it might surprise some to find out that this has been an Olympic sport since 1988. However there is also no doubt that the girls who take part in this event are supremely fit and strong. They seem to spend most of the routine with their heads submerged below the surface of the pool, only raising their faces to grab a few quick breaths and perform their balletic movements. It does however seem strange that there is a requirement to pull faces that would scare the pants off the average New Zealand rugby player while he is performing the Haka!
As with many of the water sports timing is everything in making a good image. You have to choose the exact moment when the swimmers are facing toward you with their faces visible, and as many of the movements are quick you have to rely on rapid reflexes and shooting a lot of frames to ensure you hit the best of the action. To shoot this sport in the ‘old days’ of film would have been an expensive undertaking as my success rate of keeper photos dropped way down to only around 20%. This was not a case of out of focus images, or bad exposures but simply lost images due to water in front of the faces, or a composition that was not pleasing because, for example, the competitors were not exactly in tune with each other.
As with swimming the commonest mistake in photographing synchro is too low a shutter speed. The water droplets fly around incredibly fast and to freeze them in mid air requires a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th sec. Fortunately the lighting in the Olympic Pool is very good so it is relatively easy to achieve this.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4, AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR, Gitzo Carbon Fibre Monopod, 1/1250 @ f4, ISO 1600
An elevated photo position can give something of a view as to what is going on under the water, although the only way to achieve truly good underwater images is from a camera in an underwater housing (there will be several in place during the Olympics) or using the underwater viewing windows of the pool. Unfortunately I was only able to attend a single session of the synchro due to a number of other test events running concurrently so contented myself with using a couple of the elevated positions.
Nikon D3s, 500mm f4, AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR, Gitzo Carbon Fibre Monopod, 1/1600 @ f4, ISO 1600
The slightly faster shutter speed is due to changing my shooting position from the side to the elevated gantry at the end of the pool.
All in all, probably not my favourite sport to photograph!
To see a selection of photos from this event click here then select the synchronised swimming gallery or use the search feature and enter “synchronised”.