With the Opening Ceremony out of the way, it was on with the actual Games and all of that sport business. In the weeks leading up to the start, I’d been assigned swimming as my domain for ten days of the Olympics, having shot the wet stuff a few times before. The Olympic Aquatics Centre provided both positive and negative work experiences. On the plus side, it was built with the Games in mind, so the facilities for media and the available positions were great. On the negative side, the light was a little low, resulting in some scary ISOs at times. Also, the heat just drained you after a while. Thankfully, I just resorted to wearing Speedos under my wanker jacket so everything worked out OK. No. No, I didn’t.

Not being an expert in any way, I had to get my learning head on, as I tried to remember the techniques and best ways to shoot it. That might not sound like much, but there’s no point in shooting freestyle from head on, for example. Morning sessions were used to capture some action pictures of the big hitters, while evening sessions were simply to capture the results and medal ceremonies.

On the subject of freestyle, the 50m races and heats are just the most pointless things to try and shoot, as most of the competitors don’t even take a breath for the whole length. As I tweeted at the time, picking out an individual swimmer during these “splash and dash” sessions is like being asked to take a picture of a particular sock through the door, during a fast spin of your washing machine. It’s certainly challenging.

One of the few downsides of the venue was having to sit on solid wood benches for three hours at a time for two sessions. After discovering that the cheapest camping cushion in Westfield was over £20, my Northern roots kicked in and I looked for a cheaper option. Thankfully, I sorted this by making a seat out of the strangest lunchtime purchase of my life; a pack of maternity bed pads that I then wrapped in AFP-branded tape. I’m the MacGyver of photography.

The big story of the Games as far as H2O went, was Michael Phelps’ race to become the greatest Olympian ever. His career started with a world record at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships, and the Olympics gave him the opportunity to try for his 19th medal before he officially retired. As it was, Phelps went on to take his tally to 22 medals. The man’s a machine, a rather petulant machine, sulking and frowning at the board if he came anywhere other than first, but a machine nonetheless.

Amid the onslaught of victories, he took the opportunity to break even more records, including winning the 100m Butterfly final for a third consecutive Olympic Games. With those stats, I’ll forgive the strops.

An advantage of having the Nikon D4, over previous Nikon models, really became apparent during the Olympics; a built-in network port. For everyday life, it doesn’t affect work in any way as it’s decidedly rare that I have a convenient direct line where I’m working, but the Games are an exception. Nearly all of the venues had LAN cables installed by the top tech chaps at AFP, so that the photographers didn’t even have to get their laptops out to transmit. Using this system, I just popped a cable into the port, tagged a picture that I wanted to transmit and within a second or two, it was gone. A team of editors waiting in the MPC then carved up the art into choice cuts, whacked a caption on it and released it into the wild within minutes. If only all jobs were like that… As I’ve written before, sending untouched pictures to a team of editors takes some getting used to, but it certainly makes you think about what you transmit before you push the button!

The diving was one of the events that was particularly testing on the cameras. As it was, I only shot two sessions, but the D4s had to be cranked to 6400ISO if there was any hope of freezing the divers as they rotated at break-neck speeds towards the pool. I have no idea how anyone managed at previous games. Shooting this kind of thing on earlier digital cameras would have been nigh on impossible. Hats off to those that did. This kind of situation must have been such a step back when digital was introduced, as the industry went from being able to use high speed films that they could push even further, to having cameras that creaked like the Mary Celeste when you nudged 400ISO. *shudder* It was bad enough that the organisers frowned on me when I set remote flashes all over the diving boards too… ;)

Aside from the ongoing chlorination of my lungs, I got the chance to explore a few other sports too. One of which was a single day at Wimbledon for the finals. The overpowering sense of deja-vu was thankfully diluted by the entirely different nature of the club during the Games from during the Wimbledon Championships. For starters, gone were the subtle dark green colours and clean backgrounds of Wimbledon, and in their place were the garish bright colour-schemes, over-staffed courts, unnecessary chairs and furniture in view and, most disturbingly, music through the PA as the players warmed up. I could almost hear the grinding of the Wimbledon regulars collective teeth, as they saw their hallowed ground transformed, even if it was only temporarily.

My seat for the day was called “Platform B” and those of you who have shot the Championships before will know that shooting from there essentially means that you become “cutaway” fodder. This means every time the camera operator at the far end of the court wants to reframe, gets bored of tennis, fancies doing a “zoom-out” style shot or just wants to embarrass someone, we’re the ones that get the attention. Within a few minutes of the matches starting, the photographers around me were all getting texts from friends and family saying “Ooh, I’ve just seen you on telly!” This can cause amusement for a while until you begin to question what the hell you’ve been absent-mindedly doing. Thankfully, my nasal passages remained unexplored, so I think I managed to survive the day reasonably intact.

In the end, all of this was soon forgotten as Andy Murray went on to win the Men’s Singles Final, giving him the success at Wimbledon that he’d fought so hard for earlier this year. While it’s not the big cup he hoped for, it seemed to give him a modicum of pleasure.

As expected, the Women’s Doubles Final wasn’t quite so shocking with the Williams sisters claiming yet another title. One thing that I noticed at Wimbledon when they won, was that Serena seems to constantly be telling Venus “See? I told you we’d win!” as they prepare to receive their trophy/medal. I find it hard to imagine that Venus is lacking in confidence after all of these years but I guess we all have our weaknesses!

While Sabine Lisicki couldn’t hide her emotions on only taking the silver medal, those on the pitch at another discipline were equally forthcoming with their feelings. Hockey isn’t something I’ve ever shot, thought about or considered, so the two sessions that I covered were a hell of a learning curve. Seriously, I had, and still have, no idea at all about how it works. As far as I could tell, if you won the ball you had to give it back, if you smacked another player in the face with your stick you sat on the naughty step rather than being sent off and the pitch itself was an inch deep in water. I’m guessing that this is to slow the ball down but you could do that by using a different ball. All very odd.

Continuing the outdoor life, it was time to head outside for the finals of the BMX event. Thankfully, after hockey and its unusual rules, it was was good to return to something that is based on everyone racing to a finish line again.

It seems Mr Strombergs was quite happy too when he won the Men’s Final.

Another brief experience was a quick dash outside of London to the venue for the Women’s Cross-Country Mountain Bike Finals. Knowing that it was straight into the finals, I made the decision to set up a couple of remotes to give me options on angles. While it did indeed give me options, it also gave me files. Lots of them. Due to the nature of these longer races, there was never any real way of ensuring you had the winner, so every time the pack rode through my location, I ended up shooting as many of the competitors as possible, in case they ended up going on to win. As this was the finals, sadly it is all about the winners so once I’d filled my cards with billions of images, the only cyclists that the world wanted to see were Gold, Silver and Bronze. That left a HELL of a lot of extra frames to wade through.

There’s only one place that all of that cycling can lead. The Velodrome. SURELY this would be simple, wouldn’t it? Gun goes bang, everyone pegs it around the oval a few times and someone wins, right? Nope. Oh, sport. How I’ll never understand you…

The Velodrome was by far the most impressive venue that I worked in or visited during the Games. The architecture, lighting and facilities were top notch. With track cycling being another discipline that I’d never explored before, I tried to learn my Keirins from my Omniums. Eventually I settled on “The one with the incredible dude on the moped”, “The one where the riders don’t seem that interested in winning for the first bit” and most confusingly “The one where everyone races around but if you get tired you can drop out for a few laps without being penalised”.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be setting foot in the Stadium between the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, I did feel a little out of the loop regarding witnessing bursts of incredible speed, but then Team GB on wheels came along. I know you probably all watched it anyway, but seeing Jason Kenny turn on the speed during the heats was just phenomenal. His acceleration was so strong that he repeatedly left his opponents looking towards their teams with expressions of “Well? What could I have done to beat that?” on their faces as they crossed the line. Absolutely brilliant.

The highlight of the cycling for me came when Cycling team leader Carl de Souza offered me the chance to shoot from the infield. For those of you that haven’t seen velodrome cycling, the teams are all in the central area throughout the session. Rather than being behind closed doors, the workshop areas, athlete seating and waiting areas are all on full view to the spectators, but even better they are pretty much open to the photographers on the track. While it provides shed-loads of pictures, it also means you have to have eyes in the back of your head, as the finish line can be in one of two positions. There was scrambling, and frantic scrambling at that.

One of the big upsets of the cycling was the disqualification of Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish. While it was tough on Pendleton to miss out on the chance of taking a medal, the sympathy had to go with Jess Varnish as it was her only event at the Olympics. That must be rather disappointing after four years training.

In happier times, Chris Hoy went on to become our very own Phelps, becoming the most successful Great British Olympian of all time. It was a great thing to experience, especially from so close. Like shooting gigs though, you never really see it as it’s happening, as you’re too busy thinking about what you’re doing and where to move to next. Thankfully, having a capacity crowd screaming the roof off the place helps to remind you that you’re somewhere special.

So there you have it. That was my sport for the Olympic Games. Having shot quite a mixed bag of sports, it’ll be good to see what I get to shoot in 2016. *crosses fingers and bats eyelashes at AFP Photo Chief* Still, at least I’ll be able get away with those Speedos in Rio

Next up, the divisive beast that was the Closing Ceremony…

47 Responses to “The London 2012 Summer Olympics”

  1. Amazing, and the gun shot?! As my 11 year old would say, ‘that’s sick!’ – apparently that means amazing as well.

    Posted by Juliet Mckee
  2. Christ almighty! I know just about nothing about photography but even I can recognize that those are some ah-fecking-mazing pictures! Just beautiful to look at. A+!!!!!!

    Posted by Courtney
  3. Absolutely brilliant… Especially the gun shot and Hockey Mask shot, but all brillant. I bet you’re glad I taught you the Twist Technique at Gill’s wedding, I see it came in handy at The Velodrome…

    Posted by Grant Johnson
  4. Holy wow! I read this on my cell phone this morning over breakfast and even at such small sizes your photos really reached out and grabbed me.

    Posted by Jim
  5. That’s it: I’m going to perform an ‘Invasion of the Bodysnatchers’on you! Nicely done, my liege, and it’s interesting to see an pictorial essay in mono. Not seen that from you in a long while. Any reason why you went down that route? On a lighter note, no speedos for you!

    Posted by pixpilgrim
  6. Wow this pictures are brilliant! We would like to put you in are flickr group ‘olympics bokeh’

    Posted by Mikael
  7. @Juliet – The thing is, the gun was outside my local off-licence as I walked home…

    @Courtney – Cheers petal! As it happens, those that do know more, think the exact opposite. ;) Thanks for your kindness and see you soon! x

    @Grant – Mr Johnson, oh teacher of the ways, it’s good to hear from you. I was tempted to just credit all of the pictures to you but thought there may be legal issues.

    @Jim – That’s good to know. Thanks Jim.

    @Akin – Ahhh, the mono question. I thought about this for a while actually. The thing is, I think a lot worked in mono but a handful possibly looked better in colour but I’m not keen on mixing them up. Cheers for the kind words, too!

    @Mikhael McNumpty – It’s a good job I see your real email address or that would have been spammed… ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  8. Your pictures are absolutely phenomenal! I love following your blog and tweets – your work just blows me away every time :) Have you published any books?

    Posted by Robyn
  9. Thank you again for another interesting insight into your working world! Sport isn’t often shown in black & white, and while I personally prefer colour images, your compositions, timing and skill at capturing expressions make up for the lack of colour.

    My favourite shots: Andy Murray wears the flag (& a cheeky grin); Penalty corner mask wearer; Wonder Wiggins – great eye contact and crowd response around him; On Your Marks gun blast – I’m surprised how much smoke & sparks is thrown out; Leading the pack panning shot.

    I remember watching live TV when Sir Redgrave went to hug Hoy, so it’s interesting to see a different angle of that moment. Redgrave seemed to be a hugging machine at these games!

    My favourite caption: ET 2012 :)

    Mankini for Rio?

    Posted by Tim
  10. Bloody brilliant, and monochrome just adds to the quality feel.

    Posted by Andy Tobin
  11. @Robyn – Thanks very much. I’m afraid I haven’t published anything as I can’t sell the shots as they belong to my employer, Agence France-Presse. Any book of pictures I owned would mainly consist of pictures of my boy and amusing headlines on local newspapers from outside my newsagent!

    @Tim – Cheers Tim. As I said in a previous comment, I had a long think about whether to run this in colour or BW and still don’t know if it was the right decision! Some of the shots really lend themselves to the contrasts of black and white while some of the flag pictures obviously lose something. I asked on twitter a few months ago for thoughts on whether it’s good to mix colour and mono in a blog and most people seemed to agree that it made sense to choose one or the other. Thanks for checking out the captions too. I often wonder if people notice both the captions and some of the choice of links. While a lot are as you’d expect, there’s the odd joke thrown in there too sometimes!

    @Andy – So that’s a strong vote for mono then! Cheers!

    Posted by tabascokid
  12. So hard to choose a favourite – but I think its between to cyclists shots. Thanks for sharing – stunning as always!

    Posted by petra
  13. Loving it. The leading the pack shot is stunning. I think I’m going to have to claim a prize for being properly unobservant, I didn’t realise they were all B&W until the Chirs Hoy “Gold Hits Home Shot”.

    Good Effort, must be a bit of a come down to be sat outside the Ecuadorean Embassy.

    Posted by Ian
  14. Wiggins looks like he’s in colour. That’s the best photo I’ve ever seen of him.

    Posted by BJ
  15. @Petra – Ta petal! I think “The Velodrome” is my favourite just for it’s whirly nourishment. :)

    @Ian – haha! A trained observer, I believe… Yeah, it’s quite a change of pace but it’ll all pick back up again in a few days for the paras. Besides, writing this post has left me feeling like it never ended!

    @BJ – Kind words indeed! Thanks!

    Posted by tabascokid
  16. Amazing photography as always, and also an entertaining read which can get overlooked when the images are so strong. I look forward to your next bg assignment Leon.

    Posted by Tim Allen
  17. @Tim – Cheers bud. I may scrape a short closing ceremony blog together before I finally get to move on. I MASSIVELY overshot it so there’s bound to be a few decent frames in there! *crosses fingers*

    Posted by tabascokid
  18. Hmmmm not too bad are they ;) … do like the slow pans but then I’m a sucker for a slow pan !!

    Posted by Keith Last
  19. Amazing. Loved them all.

    Posted by Rochelle
  20. @Keith – It’s true. You can’t beat a dramatic pan. I became a little obsessed at the velodrome.

    @Rochelle – Cheers petal!

    Posted by tabascokid
  21. I know what you mean, I can spend a whole day at Brands Hatch just looking to get a particular slow pan shot….sad but true…mind you, trying to shot motorcycles/cars moving at 150mph at 1/10 etc of a second takes a bit of time and lots of frames ;)

    Posted by Keith Last
  22. Wonderful.
    Great images and lovely narrative.
    Thank you Leon

    Posted by Ceildh
  23. As always Leon, reading your blogs just encourages me to get the gear out and go and take a picture. Fantastic. Thanks

    Posted by Steve Miles
  24. Really like these in black and white, they have an intensity about them without all that distracting colour nonsense!

    Sun Yang is one of my favourite shots, I remember watching it live and thinking (after his false start), “who is this idiot?” Oh, he’s just the guy that smashed it in the end. That and Chris Hoy, who knew a big, tough, blubbing Scotsman could set me off?

    Look forward to the closing post :-)

    Posted by Neil
  25. Great blog as usual, but why black and white? Surely this was a colour Olympics?

    Posted by Dillon
  26. @Keith – I have a tendency to get locked on a picture idea sometimes. I’ll finally get it and realise that the whole event has finished… ;)

    @Ceilidh – Thanks very much.

    @Steve – Good stuff. You can go and shoot all the jobs I don’t want to do!

    @Neil – Cheers Neil. That Sun fella just reminded me of a James Bond villain. He’s absolutely huge, scowls loads and has bad teeth. It was only his blubbing when he won that changed my opinion!

    @Dillon – Haha! I love the fact that your questioning of the BW comes directly after a comment praising it! trust me, I had exactly the same mixture of thoughts as I’ve already replied elsewhere. I just found that the larger percentage of pictures worked well in mono and hate to mix within the same post. It always looks to me as though someone’s screwed up a shot and tried to rescue it if there’s a handful of BW among mainly colour!

    Posted by tabascokid
  27. INSANELY good pictures, Leon. Bravo.

    Posted by Tom Ashmore
  28. Brilliant as ever with a great touch of comedy
    My gold goes to starting gun timing and vision right there
    Thanks leon

    Posted by Stephen
  29. @Tom – Cheers bud. WAY too kind.

    @Stephen – Yay! I’m glad the attempts at humour don’t ruin it too much! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  30. Leon, Simply Amazing Images….simple yet creative on the go!

    Posted by Neil Patel
  31. Amazing work Leon, really inspiring.

    The “mono” choice is inspired for me, if only because we were all so conditioned to the sea of red,white and blue.

    Highlights are the Chris Hoy set, the “liquidity” of the “the bubble bursts”, and Njisane Nicholas Phillip doing his best impression of “Frozone” from the Incredibles. I love the Olympic Rings reflection in his visor. Mrs Kaseltza wasn’t too impressed to see me tittering at “if you insist” though…

    Looking forward to the Closing Ceremony and Paralympics coverage.

    Best, Al K

    Posted by alkaseltza
  32. @Neil – Thanks very much!

    @Alkaseltza – Cheers bud. If you were concerned about Mrs Kaseltza’s feedback, imagine how it feels to just hit transmit on the camera and hope the editor shares your humour! ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  33. Absolutely incredible images Leon, I am brimming with jealousy that you got the chance to shoot these though I’d have never managed to capture images anywhere near the quality of yours. I was at the women’s mountain biking too and took a lot of shots. What area were you covering? I live a few miles from the site and am a keen cyclist so am looking forward to getting the chance to ride there myself.

    Thanks for posting these, amazing.

    Posted by Matt Long
  34. @Matt – Thanks Matt. As I said above, I took so many shots I think melted my cards! The joys of firing two other cameras every time you press the trigger… When you say what area, I presume you mean of the MTB track? I was at the steepest drop that I seem to remember was called something suitably “extreme” and then at the rock garden area before heading to the finish line.

    Posted by tabascokid
  35. I was near him but no, that’s Pavel from Reuters. Us baldies, eh? ;)

    Posted by tabascokid
  36. Leon, absolutely fell in love with your work. You are quite the professional from beginning to end. Top notch work!
    Christopher Soulé
    Imagens Divinas
    Curitiba, PR Brasil
    P.S. Don’t let the Brasilian thing throw you… I’m just a transplanted Yank. :.)

    Posted by Christopher Soulé
  37. Sensational pictures Leon – even my dad thinks they’re brilliant and he hates everything!

    Personal favourites: Sun Yang celebrating, mad-eyed Strombergs crossing the line and ‘Leading the pack’ in the Velodrome. Oh and Wiggo actually smiling – that’s a rare thing.

    Bravo indeed.

    Posted by Nick Morrison
  38. @Christopher Soule – I’m quite happy to accept insanely kind comments from any region so don’t worry about any Brazilian confusion! ;) Thanks very much.

    @Nick – If your Dad’s happy, I’m happy. Thanks Nick. If a smiling Wiggo is a rare thing, I must be on a roll after getting a grinning Murray at Wimbledon too!

    Posted by tabascokid
  39. Top stuff…AGAIN!!

    Posted by chris
  40. @Chris – Cheers, again! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  41. Unbelievably awesome and inspiring!

    Posted by Gill
  42. I have nothing else to say other than this has been doing the rounds on twitter and they are absolutely amazing. I loved your maternity mats idea (true northerner). I laughed out loud. This made my day :)

    Posted by Andrea
  43. Very inspirational frames…you have captured the essence of Olympics through your frames…many thanks for sharing them

    Posted by Tabish Anwar shaikh
  44. @Gill – Cheers petal!

    @Andrea – Excellent. I’m always happy to amuse! To be honest, it didn’t last very long. The mats compressed producing little comfort. C-. Must try harder.

    @Tabish – Thanks very much! Currently putting the Paralympic post together at the moment so watch this space…

    Posted by tabascokid
  45. Love ‘the bubble bursts’ and the ‘on your marks’ shots , both fantastically timed .
    It also makes me cry to see so many expensive lenses just lying on the floor next to anybody’s feet :-(

    Posted by Ray Fothergill
  46. Cheers Ray! Yeah, you get used to seeing thousands of pounds worth of gear being systematically abused in this job. :)

    Posted by tabascokid

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