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Ashgabat 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games

I returned a couple of weeks ago from the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan where I worked as Photo Manager for the Equestrian Events and as part of the Official Photographer team for other sports. An ‘interesting’ experience for sure as I got to photograph a few sports that I had never seen before, even after 35 years+ as a sports photographer. In fact, when I found out I was going to the Games I actually had to look up several of the martial arts as I had never actually heard of them.

After an incredibly long  journey of almost 40 hours I arrived in Ashgabat – pity my baggage did not also arrive! (It would be three days before it was found at JFK and another day before it arrived in Ashgabat). Fortunately my essential photo equipment was all carried as hand baggage.  The first thing one notices on arrival, apart from the heat, is the incredible whiteness of the city. Ashgabat was entirely destroyed in an earthquake in 1948, one of the most powerful ever recorded,  with reports varying between 110,000 and 176,000 deaths. This resulted in a rebuilding programme that has seen every single building clad in white marble. More marble here than any other city on earth. What is remarkable is that this tragic event was not reported to the world until after Turkmenistan gained independence from the USSR in 1991.

Typical marble clad buildings, Ashgabat – Nikon 1 V3, 1/4000th at f5.6, ISO 400

The sports facilities constructed in the centre of Ashgabat are truly remarkable – worthy of any world class event, and again completely clad in white marble. Spent the first few days getting to know my way around before the Games actually started. 

Opening ceremonies were of the highest order featuring a wide range of Turkmen culture and ending in a spectacular firework display.

5th Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Opening Ceremonies – Nikon D3s, 200-400 f4 lens at 340mm, 1/125th @f4, IOS 3200

Unfortunately the following day I came down with a bad bout of ‘Turkman Tummy’, a condition shared at some point with just about every person working at the games, and which, unfortunately lasted to some degree throughout the two weeks of competitions and even after I got home.

However, I continued to be able to work and covered a range of interesting competitions, including weightlifting, belt wrestling, kick boxing, sambo and even snooker.

Beltwrestling -Mens +100Kg division – Nikon D3s, 70-200mm f2.8 lens at 116mm, 1/1250th @ f3.5
Kickboxing – Mens LK 51Kg division – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 380mm, 1/1250th @ f4, ISO 4000
Weightlifting mens 105kg – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 270mm, 1/1250th @f4, ISO 3200
Mens snooker final – Nikon D3s, 200-400mm f4 lens at 270mm, 1/160th @f4, ISO 2500

A few sample images are seen here, but a wider selection are available by visiting the Latest Images gallery and the Martial Arts Gallery.

The final day allowed myself and a colleague to venture out with the aid of a local taxi driver (read Government minder) to see some of the local colour and architecture. One must be extremely careful photographing in this country, no images with police or military personnel, and great care when photographing certain monuments – if in doubt ask and if told no accept this without question. 

Ashgabat – Ruhy Mosque – Nikon 1V3 10-30mm lens, 1/1600 @ f8 ISO 400

A little background

Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, very much a desert country mostly dominated by the Karakum Desert. It is certainly subject to an authoritarian regime, ruled closely by current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (a self avowed sports fanatic), who’s photo appears in just about every room of every building, bus, taxi, and sports facility. I’s an Islamic state, although fairly moderate, and was once an important stop on the silk road. It declared itself a state of permanent neutrality in 1995, a state recognized by the UN.

Ashgabat 2017 – Old Nisa – Dynastic sanctuary of the Parthian Kings from late III century BC to early III century AD – Nikon 1V3, 10-30mm lens, 1/200th @f10, ISO 200


One month in Toronto

Well it’s now been a month since I arrived in Toronto and finally the weather has started to improve. Got to take a walk around my new neighborhood this morning with just a sweater and no jacket!

I have now moved into my permanent residence here, a loft in the St. Lawrence district of the city – vry dynamic area with lots going on and just a short walk to the office.

Tromp d'oile, Flatiron building Front Street Toronto
Tromp d’oeil, Flatiron building Front Street Toronto

Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens, 1/1000th sec @ f5.6 ISO 200, hand held

Tomorrow I am flying back to British Columbia to collect Jean, the dogs and the rest of my ‘stuff’ then heading back on the long cross-country drive to Toronto – probably a five day road trip.

St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
St. Lawrence Market, Toronto

Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens, 1/200th sec @ f11 ISO 200, hand held

I m very close to the famous St. Lawrence Market, reputedly (by National Geographic no less) to be one of the finest fruit, vegetable, meat, fish and cheese markets in the world. I can see my wife Jean spending a fair bit of time in there!

Toronto is a curious mixture of some of the oldest building in Canada, the East coast being the first area settled and a frantic rush to build another Manhattan type skyline with new buildings being erected everywhere one looks. In fact the PanAm Games themselves are creating a series of new building projects to aid in hosting what will be the biggest multi-sport event ever seen in Canada. In terms of numbers of sports a,d competitors, the PanAms are considerably larger than the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but more of that to come in future posts.

Street car passing St James' Cathedral
Street car passing St James’ Cathedral

Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens, 1/1250th sec @ f5.6 ISO 200, hand held

St. James Cathedral has a dog walking park around it so this will be a regular walk each morning before heading to the office. St James is the site of the oldest church in Toronto, the original wooden building having been erected here in 1803, still a far cry from the medieval churches of Europe.

Melanized Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), St James' Cathedral Grounds
Melanized Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), St James’ Cathedral Grounds

Nikon D3, Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 lens at 200mm, 1/400th sec @ f2.8 ISO 320, hand held

Toronto’s parks are full of Gray Squirrels the majority of them a generally unusual black variation (hence the melanized in the name). Now spring is here they are busy digging up their store of nuts.



PanAm Games, Photo Manager

It’s been 18 months since I completed my stint as the Deputy Photo Manager at the London 2012 Olympics, and since then I have continued to run a few workshops, and shot a few commissions here and there.

The time has come to get back into Photo Management and so I am pleased to announce that I have been appointed as the Photo Services Manager for the PanAmerican Games in Toronto which will take place from July 10 – 26 2015, followed by the Parapan Games August 7 – 15.

Ice skating on natural rink, Harbourside, Toronto , Ontario, Canada
Ice skating on natural rink, Harbourside, Toronto , Ontario, Canada

Nikon D3s, Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens at 24mm, 1/1250 @ f8, aperture priority automatic set to -1/3

I will again be posting regular updates to the sports venues with relevant photo information, attending the test events and providing background information.

I am now based in Toronto where the highest temperature since arriving has been -11 and the lowest down at -19, the lowest consistent March temperatures in many years. Just my luck.

Toronto Island ferry breaks through ice, Lake Ontario, Toronto , Ontario, Canada
Toronto Island ferry breaks through ice, Lake Ontario, Toronto , Ontario, Canada

This one is specially for my friends on Gabriola Island. At least there we don’t have to break the ice to get the ferry to run. Today was the 81st consecutive day the icebreaker had to break a route to the island – a record.

Photo Mechanic 5

Now I am getting back into ‘photo mode’ from ‘management mode’ I am looking at the various software upgrades that have happened along the way. Anyone who has been on one of my workshops or follows the blog will know that in the main my digital workflow revolves around three main products.

  1. PHOTOMECHANIC – ( – The primary tool for sorting, captioning, and re-numbering all of my digital files. While I have been in London version 5 has arrived and I am just beginning to get to terms with the slightly changed interface. The main reason for my choice of Photomechanic are it’s speed, ease of use, batch processing ability and perhaps most of all, the convenience of code replacements to aid the rapid captioning of hundreds or even thousands of images from a shoot. So what’s new in version 5?
    • A new look – the new interface has a more modern feel to it and has many more customization options to tailor it the way you want
    • Cropping withing the program can be rotated to any angle and is compatible with Adobe products crop tools so any crop in Photomechanic will now be reflected in an Adobe product.
    • Many new IPTC/EXIF fields are now available
    • Movies can be viewed (Mac version only)
    • The Preview window can now be opened and remain open whilst still viewing the contact sheet – great for a dual monitor set up such as I use in the office.

    One of the main reasons behind the new release is that it will integrate into the new cataloging software that Camerabits will shortly (I hope!) release. This promised software will offer dully searchable cataloging/databasing of your complete image collection and perhaps most importantly will be multi-user and offer a remote interface allowing one to contact and administer the catalog from any internet connection. For a travelling photographer such as myself this would offer huge advantages.

  2. APPLE APERTURE – ( – Once the images are sorted, captioned and keyworded the RAW files are imported into Aperture which is currently my primary raw image processor, JPEG exporter, and database program. Currently at version 3.3 Apple is needing to pull it’s socks up if it wants to retain the professional and advanced amateur market place! Did you notice that Photomechanic is going to have a database soon? Well one of the main reasons I use Aperture is it’s database so if i can perform that function from within Photomechanic than I have to question what else I am using Aperture for and does it do things better than the competition? More on that shortly.
  3. ADOBE PHOTOSHOP – ( The third product I use is of course Adobe Photoshop. There are just some things that cannot be done any other way, including accurate crops, preparing images for the web sites, sharpening (yes I know Aperture does that as well but frankly the latest version of Photoshop does it better), and anything that requires complex masking or major image manipulation.

On occasion I also use Nikon Capture NX2, a product that I used to hate, but which Nikon have been steadily improving.

Each different raw process produces it’s own distinct look to the same raw image and everyone has their own personal preferences. You need to take time to learn the nuances of your software and how you can best manipulate the image to produce the look you want. One of the main issues for me is how long does it take to get to where I want to go? This may lead me to adopt a different practice depending on what I am shooting and the urgency with which it is required For example a wildlife shoot usually allows me to take time to process the images whereas a sports shoot is done under high pressure and speed of getting the images to my client is everything. This is one reason I am now adapting my sports shooting to capturing both a high quality JPEG and a RAW file simultaneously so that if necessary I can transmit he JPEG immediately and follow up with a raw conversion if necessary. I generally then keep the RAW files to be put into the database as these will always offer the highest quality attainable.

Take a look at the three images below and decide which version you like best. They are all an unmodified (i.e. I have done no additional work on these images) versions interpreted by the converter for each program. All images were then re-sized to fit the blog page using Photoshop to crop the converted JPEG.

Apple Aperture conversion


As you can see there are some distinct difference. The Nikon Capture version offers a more neutral tone and perhaps the best skin tones. The Photoshop version is much warmer whilst the Aperture version probably offers the truest blue of the track at the Olympic velodrome. Of course these images were shot under artificial light.

This time let’s take a look at three images taken under natural light.

Apple Aperture conversion

This time I think the differences are even more apparent. The Aperture conversion shows warmer colour tones and mush more detail is apparent in the sand. The Capture version is even better, yet more sand detail is apparent with the most natural sky colour, and the Photoshop version is the weakest from every aspect. Compared to the other two it looks washed out and lacking in ‘punch’ with some considerable loss of detail. It is therefore a matter of which file will require the least additional work, and therefore the least time, to get it to look how I wish. The less time I need to spend working on a file the better as far as i am concerned.

So, the question is, where does the future of my image processing lay, and will I need to re-write the Digital Workflow E-book available from this web site?

I think the answer to a great extent will lie with how good the forthcoming database tool will be in Photomechanic. If it is all that they promise, and I had some long discussions with their development staff in the Main Press Centre at the Olympics, then yes, I think there are some major changes coming. If I can ingest my images from the memory cards, sort, caption, keyword and then database from within a single program that also has the ability to transmit selected images to both my clients and the online database (powered by Photoshelter) then I seriously need to re-think how I process my RAW files.

Should I use Photoshop? Well, as stated above the latest version of Photoshop performs some tasks that I still need. The problem is that I am not a great fan of the way Photoshop’s raw converter processes Nikon files as shown above.

Should I use Nikon Capture? I am slowly coming around to this program, although of course Nikon are a great camera manufacturer and not primarily a software company. But, I am sure that Nikon’s engineers know more about Nikon’s raw file format that anyone else.

Should I use something else entirely? There are other raw converters out there and I have tried many of them, but so far nothing has blown me away.

You will notice that I have not mentioned Adobe Lightroom anywhere above. Mainly because Lightroom performs most of the same tasks as Apple’s Aperture, and although I cover the use of both products in ‘Digital Workflow for the Working Photographer’ I currently have a personal preference for Aperture. Incidentally Lightroom uses the exact same raw converter as Photoshop so there is no difference to be had there.

Watch this space as they say and I will keep you updated as things progress, but the big wait is on Camerabits producing their database solution.

I would value opinions and comments on this post.


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.