Let’s just say there are a lot of photos being made at the Olympics, and many of them are damn good, some truly memorable. The amount of pro talent here on the sidelines is staggering. On the Sports Illustrated team, amongst the four true sports shooters who are here, there has to be 100 years of experience of being on sidelines, poolsides, and ringsides.
So when I show up at an event and stare at a firing squad of 100 or more photogs, each with the appropriate lens for the sport at hand, my shoulders slump a bit. How to do something, anything, different? Often it’s just not possible. Getting truly specialized access is the key to difference at an Olympics, and that takes years of relationship building. Taking a spot in the line is cool enough, and there are good pix to be made from the general photo positions. It’s just that every flight of excellence or fall from grace out on the field of play is recorded hundreds of times over.
So, when I got assigned to wrestling, I brought an 800, specifically, a Nikkor 800mm f5.6, to be precise about it. It’s a lot of glass, way too much for a floor position there, which is where I was. Overkill. Like bringing an RPG to a knife fight.
What I went after were the patterns and details of the brutally tough, classic art and sport known as Greco-Roman wrestling. I was trying to see the hands, muscles, strategies, and the sweaty human architecture that gets created when a couple of folks get on the mat and try to toss each other around.
It’s risky. None of these pictures really fulfill an assignment. You’ll never see them on an AP wire. It became, really, a self assignment within the larger assignment. If someone makes a big move, you’ll miss it. A bunch of the take will be out of focus, even with great AF at the camera. Simple mismanagement of the lens, perched like teetering rock atop the monopod, causes that. And if the wrestlers move fast, as they tend to do, you’ll be looking at empty space, and have to curl your non-camera eye around the corner of the prism head just to figure out where the hell everybody went to.
But a change of lens means a change in perspective, and that’s potentially precious. So I gave it a whirl.
More tk from Rio….