Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; A general view of the rain during the women’s field hockey quarterfinals between Netherlands and Argentina in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Hockey Centre.
It started off innocently enough. Just one little ole’ rain drop, then one of his friends. Ok, we can work with this. They seemed cool enough, just hanging out up there in the hazy light beams of the Olympic Hockey Centre. The problems started when those raindrops decided that women’s field hockey was pretty exciting, so they hit up social media and invited a few billion of their friends to drop in on the action. You know how that goes! Once word gets out about the party, all bets are off.
I’d be telling you a tall tale if I said there isn’t a little moment of panic that shoots through me when the skies open up on an outdoor shoot. Here in Rio, my daily reality is that I have upwards of $30,000 of sensitive electronics gear on me — gear that doesn’t particularly like getting wet — that I need to function reliably at all times to do my job. Protecting that gear from the elements is my first priority, which is why I carry two purpose-built rain covers from Think Tank (one for each of my camera bodies) at all times when I am shooting outdoors.
With the rain party under full swing, I retreated to the underside of a scaffold holding up a video board to slide the rain covers on, then headeded back out to keep shooting. Not surprisingly, the Olympics athletes on the pitch didn’t miss a beat, and kept playing their match as if the sun was high in the sky.
Just as team Netherlands scored another goal, the rain party became a full on rave. I swear I saw a few flower crowns and glow sticks fall from the sky as the rain beat down over the stadium in an impressive torrent. There was even some low bass notes in there from DJ Natural Thunderclap (insert club air horn)!
As the cold rain washed the day’s sunscreen into my eyes with a painful sting, and my camera eyepieces began to fog up, I experienced a profound moment of frustration. You know, the kind where you want to toss your gear onto the pitch and leave? The kind where you want to format over your entire take and return to the media village to sob in bed with a bag of cookies who’s brand you can’t pronounce? Yeah, that kind.
It’s in these moments of frustration that I have to remind myself that dealing with adverse conditions and still delivering images is why I’ve been given the privilege of being here. True enough, if I chose the shooting angle, the lens, and dialed in the camera settings, I could train a complete novice to walk away with at least one solid Olympics action shot at a given event.
Now, let’s add the rain element and resulting personal discomfort in there. Let’s put the camera in a bag that makes it difficult to use and one that hides almost all the critical controls (luckily, I know them by how the different buttons feel). Let’s make you have to budget remaining space on the memory card, because you can’t open your card wallet in the downpour for a fresh one. Let’s remember that the camera’s autofocus now wants to grab the drops of water in the air in front of the players you’re trying to shoot, which needs to be compensated for by riding the autofocus less. Do you get my drift yet?
With all this in mind, I actually smiled and took in the scene before me. The drenched players pushing just as hard at their craft in the conditions as I was mine. The beads of water whipping off their pony-tailed hair as more droplets skipped up from the turf with each swing of their sticks. The screaming fans, many sans umbrellas, willing their team to victory with every chant and clap. And I can’t forget the fantastic venue photo staff — their red vests like those of ceremonial priests — literally toweling off the benches under us as we shot, trying to do whatever they could to make us comfortable out there.
I also took solace in the fact that the moments I’m the most uncomfortable on a shoot are often the moments I hold the closest to my heart and mind when it’s all said and done. I’m not sure that the images I shot last night are anything special, but experiencing that downpour with all those athletes, fans, and fellow photographers is something I will always remember from Rio 2016.
In addition to field hockey, the past few days have allowed me to photograph another new event, canoe sprint. Think canoeing meets drag racing! While the venue leaves a lot to be desired on the technical end (the backgrounds are terrible), it’s still impressive to see someone paddle a canoe for a kilometer without stopping! I also was fortunate to be part of a team of ten photographers who covered Usain Bolt’s gold medal run in the men’s 100 meter on Sunday. Seeing Bolt complete the run was stunning, because of course, I’ve never seen a human being move that quickly in person!
Usain Bolt (third from right) competes in the men’s 100m track and field final.
Hundreds of photographers gathered to photograph the men’s 100m final.
I got to play with cool light and artsy compositions once more at the Olympic Shooting Centre, and even got to shoot a few boxing matches on Tuesday! Later this week, I’ll be back to my extreme sports roots with BMX and mountain biking at X-Park. We’re getting down to the wire, and fatigue is certainly a daily issue, but I’d still rather be nowhere else than at the Summer Olympics.
Guy’s Portuguese Word of the Day is, “Chuva,” pronounced, “Shoe-va,” meaning, “Rain,” as in, “The chuva at field hockey didn’t stop the players or photographers from giving it their all.”