A two week international multi-sport event spread over several different venues can seem quite daunting as a photographic challenge. However, there are dedicated media suites, manned by very competent helpers at every venue designed to help you succeed. The communications technology also works extremely well with one wifi password enabling you to get up and running across all the venues and they also have ethernet cables trackside at the main Athletics stadium.
My experience involved only three days. I wanted to cover the Athletics, table tennis and Rhythmic Gymnastics - the latter two being sports I had never photographed before. Firstly, it was off to the Birmingham Arena to pick up my accreditation pass and then a short drive to the park & ride for the evening session at the Alexander Stadium. It turned out to be a terrific evening of Athletics with Eilish McGolgan and Katerina Johnson-Thompson claiming gold medals.
The media centre was only about 50 yards from the trackside. It was huge with plenty of desks, power outlets and information on the sports and athletes taking part in each of the evenings activities. There was a good mix of British sports photographers plus some from various Commonwealth countries. Photographers were split into those with blue (Prime) bibs - the big agencies like Getty, PA etc - and the rest of us with light grey bibs. The Prime guys got the best seats in the house but there was still plenty of great vantage points for the rest of us and we could request a Prime bib for a particular event or to shoot a particular person if we wished to. The organisers were very co-operative.
They had obviously limited the photographers accreditations as I had expected to have to be down at trackside a couple of hours beforehand to secure my position. But, no that wasn’t necessary, there was ample room for everyone. Photographers positions were at track level head on behind the finish line or higher up in a scaffold section that would enable a different “looking down” on the action viewpoint. There were also several benches at different points down the 100m straight and at the starting line.
The action comes thick and fast. No sooner has one race finished than the next one is being lined up. This severely limits the time you have available to wire out your images between races. As a working photographer you have to adopt a method that keeps your pictures well organised for each race and also enables you to know who is actually in your pictures if it is a sport that you are less familiar with. It certainly pays in advance to think about your workflow and do your research on the athletes.
Research helps as it will give you a better idea of who is likely to win a fast sprint race and hence you can have your camera ready for that person approaching the finish line. Nothing is foolproof but you can’t be focussing closely on all nine runners crossing the line, you have to pick out the winner as best you can. The trouble is that when they are all running towards you in head-on fashion they all look to be winning !
The winning line celebration pictures can be great but sometimes particularly during heats of races you get very little emotion. You have to hope that the immediate after race minute or two will deliver smiles, cheers, joyful embraces and of course the athlete with their country’s flag.
In terms of camera settings I was mostly on 1/2000th sec at f4 with ISO ranging from 400 - 3200 as the light faded during the evening. I was using a Canon 400m f2.8 lens with a Canon 1DX3 and a Canon R3 with a Canon RF 70-200mm f2.8 lens.
The next day it was an early morning start to get set up at the Birmingham NEC for table tennis. There was another big media suite with the same great facilities. There were two large show courts and another hall with six other tables. I stayed on the show courts where the doubles matches were taking place. The show courts were side by side so you could shoot two games simultaneously. There were only four other photographers there so once again there was plenty of space to move around.
Photographers seats were at the end of the court and down both sides. This is a fast moving sport, however, in general it was easy to know who to focus on and when the ball was in play you had a 50% chance of getting it right so over the course of a morning there were ample good images to capture. The variety of shots is not great and a full morning was plenty of time to get the images I wanted. I was shooting with a Canon 300mm f2.8 as the action was much closer than the Athletics and also used the RF 70-200mm a lot in this session. In total I covered six games during the morning play, three on each of the show courts. On average I was using a shutter speed of 1/1600sec at f2.8 with ISO 4000.
After packing up at the Table Tennis it was a short drive to the Birmingham Arena to the evening session of the Rhythmic Gymnastics. What a fantastic sport to photograph. Using hoops, balls, clubs and ribbons the gymnasts created all sorts of great photographic opportunities during their mightily impressive routines. I was just gobsmacked at the athletic agility of these gymnasts, some of them as young as 14 years of age. They were truly outstanding to watch never mind photograph.
There were only about ten photographers at this country based competition evening and we were sat either side of the large performance floor. There were also vantage positions higher up in the grandstand which I used to get images with the floor providing a clean background. During the evening you begin to get an idea of the movements within a routine which is helpful for anticipating what the gymnast will do next. As normal, sometimes they give you the best shots as they run in your direction or do something very close to you, at other times the opposite is true. You just have to make the best of your chances.
Once again the action comes think and fast with only a couple of minutes between one gymnast finishing and another starting, so I had to decide to miss some of the evening action to download and wire out images from the nearby desks just outside the performance floor.
I used the Canon 300mm f2.8 and the RF 70-200mm lenses to capture these images. Camera settings were 1/2000sec at f2.8 with ISO being 2000 when sitting higher up in the Grandstand and ISO 4000 when down on the floor. The brightness of the floor covering all of your frame enabled these lower ISO’s from the higher viewpoint.
Getting back to my accommodation at midnight, it was up early the next day to be at the Alexander Stadium for another session of Athletics. It was quite a tiring event, particularly covering two shifts in one day. I should have paced myself better but the desire to cram as much as possible into the three days won out. I just wish I could have done more days as it was a fantastic event to cover.