Having only one previous dose of Olympics under my belt, 2012 allowed me the chance to shoot my first ever Summer Games. Knowing most of my Olympic experience would be spent on swimming duty, I had the early treat, before it all kicked off, of being able to shoot the opening ceremony.
Being one of the lucky few in blue vests (which allows extra access opportunities for the major agencies), I had the chance to watch two run throughs of the show, in the days running up to the big night. It can’t be stressed enough how helpful this was and according to colleagues who’ve shot previous opening ceremonies, was totally unprecedented. Having seen the show twice, we could sit down with the organisers and explain to them exactly where we needed to be at each point of the show. Unfortunately, this often involved being on one side of the stadium immediately after a moment on the opposite side. If we’d been able to use the track itself, we’d have given Bolt a run for his money.
When the night finally arrived, the six photographers chosen for the in-field position gathered in the media room, decked out in head-to-toe unbranded black clothing like a particularly ill-attended mime convention. Even though I knew what to expect, it still didn’t stop me, and the other photographers, from suffering some serious nerves. As the time got closer, conversation dropped off to silence, cards were formatted and re-formatted, batteries were checked and final toilet runs made.
When the cue came, we were all ushered out onto the infield and it was time to get to work. As I shot various parts of the show over three nights, I thought I’d just show my favourite shots from it all, including some behind the scenes and rehearsal pictures.
One aspect of the job that I’d never had to deal with before was Non-disclosure contracts, or NDCs. With certain elements of the show remaining secret and not included in the two dress rehearsals, all of the photographers who got to see previews had to sign legal documents forbidding them from spilling the secrets. The secrecy was so paramount that for the second run-through, the whole stadium was cleared of non-authorised people with even the security guards taken out of view so the cauldron rehearsal could take place. As it was, I was more than happy to keep it a secret anyway and was so impressed that the thousands of invited guests who made it to the rehearsals managed to “#savethesurprise” so successfully.
On the night itself, in a wonderful salute to British understatement, the crowds all applauded and cheered for the arrival and departure of the geese. Coming after Beijing’s display of dominance to the world, I do believe we couldn’t have done it better. Yay to livestock!
Between the scenes of idyllic life and the arrival of the industrial revolution, the set had to change completely, so hundreds of extras flooded the stage to lift giant props and rolls of turf onto the off-stage area. Unfortunately, that was the area that we were working in, so from this point on, the night became a bit more of a Krypton Factor style assault course.
One of the very few issues with the show as far as photography went was that from the Queen’s view point, the Olympic rings that hovered over the stadium were actually upside down. Thinking it may look better from the far side, we positioned ourselves there on the night itself, only to find the rings looked more like an Audi advert.
A hard lesson to teach yourself in this position is that you don’t have to cover it all. That might sound dumb but when you’ve seen the show a few times and you’re in the thick of it, it’s very easy to begin to believe it’s vital that you get the shot, forgetting that there are actually a bunch of your colleagues in various positions that are more than capable of capturing the moment from a much clearer angle. There were a good few moments of the show that we decided to just ignore, but on the night itself, it did feel like such a waste!
With this in mind, it worked better to focus on the angles and the details that weren’t available to those who were shooting from the top of the stadium. While “the picture” the next day would inevitably be one of the big set piece moments, it was down to the handful of photographers on the infield to document the small moments that made up the larger picture.
One of the only parts of the show that I hadn’t been warned about was what ended up being to me, and to many others, the highlight of the evening. When Brenda turned round and it was actually her, there, on screen with James Bond, I nearly cried I was so giddy. Just awesomeness on every level. The Queen. James Bond. Corgis. A parachute jump. I can genuinely watch that clip over and over without getting bored. Without even seeing this section, I’d tweeted earlier in the week that the ceremony made me proud to be British. With this section included, it was just simply genius. Sadly, the Queen’s moment in the sky was one of the moments that we had to forfeit as we moved between spots. Oh, the inhumanity… *sob* Still, at least AFP’s Olivier Morin could catch a great frame from his position at the 100m finish line.
Once the majority of the entertainment aspect of the show was out of the way, it was on to the athletes which takes forever. Seriously. When you’re watching it at home and you can pop to put the kettle on or practise your yoga, it’s all fine, I’m sure. However, when you’re crouched down in front of the frantic steadicam operators for what seems like an eternity, the fun soon passes. While we initially entertained ourselves by taking pictures of the athletes, panicking TV producers soon sent messages down to the stadium floor that we had to stop as we were holding up the show. This results in a bunch of excited athletes coming out onto the track, only to be greeted by a huddle of photographers who won’t take pictures of them. Whoop. Still, one of the few that I did catch was the Indian Intruder herself…
When the show reached its climax, I was lucky enough to be escorted into the centre, where we could watch the fireworks light up the stadium. With the pyros complete, I was moved into my final position of the night, inside the cauldron area itself. Decided earlier that day, only myself and one other photographer would be able to shoot the lighting from the centre of the stadium, with me being the only photographer actually inside the cordon.
As myself and the event coordinator waited for the flame to arrive, it was truly one of those moments that you sometimes get in this job. Here I was, stood in the eye of the storm, waiting for the flame to arrive and the world’s eyes to fall upon this small circle. That was definitely one for the memory banks.
Once the cauldron was lit, I scurried back over to my technician to hand him my cards, only to realise that as I did, the cards were then being handed to all of the other agencies as part of a “pool” arrangement. I had no problem with this apart from the handful of gormless self-portraits I took on a fish-eye lens from the centre. Way to go, Leon. You show them how pro you are… Sheesh…
The show wrapped up at around midnight and after packing up my gear and making it back to the hotel, it was well into the early hours. Three hours later, my alarm rang out and the real Olympic Games began.