What’s it like to be a pro photographer covering a much anticipated and keenly followed worldwide event? Nikon UK Ambassador and 2012 Olympics Photographer of the Year 2012, Mark Pain, was in Brazil on the ground and has been keeping a diary for us! Here is part two of four.
The Opening Match & Ceremony Day – 1
What a day. It started with a 5:20am landing at Sao Paulo airport, but I didn’t clear passport control until 9:15am! Absolute carnage in the arrivals hall with thousands of fans from competing countries all arriving at the same time – the airport was totally unprepared for the level of traffic. It was all very good natured, though, with fans of all countries mixing well together as they waited for that precious Brazil stamp in their passport. It has to be said though that the English fans on my plane from London looked by far the grumpiest as we waited for hours to get out of the airport. The Costa Ricans were the most lively and upbeat with almost all of them travelling in their red team colours. Awesome supporters!
On arriving at Arena De Sao Paolo it was obvious that the stadium was nowhere near ready to host the opening game. I feared the worst for the photographers’ working conditions too. Whilst the collection of accreditation was simple and quick, the structure and the condition of the stadium itself was shocking. Nothing was finished, from the Media Centre to the VIP areas I managed to walk through during Brazil’s training session. It was all a complete shambles. However it looked great on TV, and that’s all they care about really. But the fact is this was the most unfinished stadium I have ever worked in. I managed to shoot some exclusive pictures of workmen finishing the temporary stand at one end of the ground during Brazil’s final training session and bizarrely all the workers downed tools to watch their heroes practice.
During the session I was able to walk freely into the VIP areas of the ground which were still being put together, partition walls being created, loose electrical cables dangling from ceilings being hidden, men with saws all over the place, pot plants being carried and drinks vending machines being delivered in a panic on trolleys. All on the day before the opening game. Madness really.
Opening Match – Brazil v Croatia – Sao Paolo
Well the day finally arrived, after all that planning. What kit to bring? How to carry it around? Where to stay? Where in the stadium should I shoot the game from? And how good exactly is the new Nikon 400mm 2.8 and can I get my hands on one?
All these questions and a thousand more had gone through my mind in the last six months. Some questions you can try to find answers to way before your trip, but there is only so much you can plan. You have to be fully prepared to be able to work at your absolute best in the surroundings around you, and many questions can only be answered fully once you set foot in the stadium. Especially when it’s your first game at a new tournament, in a new country.
How big are the advertising boards on the pitch going to be? Will I be able to see easily over them to shoot the game? Having shot Brazil’s training session in the stadium the day before I was able to get a good idea of how it would work out.
The first photographers briefing at a big football tournament is always an interesting event. Have they learnt any lessons from the previous tournament? Have the photographers’ comments been taken on board? Sao Paulo was no different; organised chaos really.
As you can see from the map of the available positions (above) all of the big international wire agencies (Reuters, Getty, AP, AFP and EPA) have pre-allocated positions on the pitch, mainly in the four corners. The other positions are decided on a priority basis, with each photographer allocated a priority of 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each match. The priorities are:
1) Photographers from the two competing teams
2) Brazilian Photographers
3) Photographers from other countries whose national teams are qualifiers
4) Photographers from other countries
Within those priorities you can choose your position on the pitch on a first come first served basis; those who get to the Media Centre earliest on the day of the game have first choice of where to sit within their priority category.
Each photographer gets an individually numbered seat to sit on which has both power and an Ethernet cable running to it. There is also media WiFi in the stadiums but a cabled internet connection is always preferable as the WiFi tends to go down when 50,000 plus spectators are in the stadium.
When you get accredited to cover such a huge event you then have to apply for individual games that you want to cover and tell them where you want to shoot it from. You have a choice of shooting it from the normal pitch positions or you can shoot it from the stands which is called a “tribune” position. These positions are high up in the stands and can work really well for big matches – often providing the iconic images we all remember and this is where I had chosen to shoot from months ago. The position also works very well for the Opening Ceremony as the elevation gives you a great overall view of the show from high above the pitch. It’s also a great position for shooting a 360 degree picture which I needed to do for the Daily Mail Plus App.
If you shoot from the tribune, you are allocated to a specifically numbered seat for the whole game. This can be a bit of a lottery as you have no control of where it will be in relation to the pitch. It is invariably on the front row half way up the main stands that run along the length of the pitch. Sometimes you are towards one end overlooking a penalty area but my seat was almost bang on the half way line – ideal for the opening ceremony and most of the action on the pitch.
Nikon provide all accredited photographers with full technical support throughout the football tournament. They have a dedicated service area inside the Media Centre at every match in every venue. They not only clean and repair your equipment (within reason) free of charge, but they also have an excellent loan facility. You can literally borrow anything you want for the match if they’ve got it – and they had a lot of kit in Brazil.
I had been trying to get my hands on one of the new recently announced Nikon 400mm 2.8 lenses for the opening match, but they were so new that Nikon themselves weren’t actually sure how many samples of the lenses they would have in Brazil and in what venues. It turns out they only had one lens in São Paulo and I was given exclusive use of it for the game along with the new 1.4 converter. This was a worldwide first professional test of the lens at a big sports event. I was given a full debrief of the new 400mm 2.8 and had all the big differences pointed out to me. Then off to the tribune position for the first game!
The game itself ended in a 3-1 victory for Brazil, Neymar scored and the party in Brazil had started. Neymar-mania had taken off! If only they knew what was to come. There were signs even in that first game that not all was right with the Brazilian team – they won 3-1 but the Croatians had given them a real test.
First impressions were that the new 400mm is super-sharp, beautifully balanced and much more flexible to use now that it is 0.85Kg lighter that the lens it replaces.
The lens has been completely redesigned and uses two large fluorite glass elements at the front of the lens that help to reduce the weight. The lens also now has a completely new electronic motorised aperture diaphragm which they have been able to move further towards the middle of the lens. The combination of the reduction in weight and the improved balance make for excellent handling it feels so much more usable in the field. I still used it on a monopod but I reckon at a stretch you could hand hold it for a while, something you could never do with the old 400mm. It now has a one piece hood which is actually longer than the old two piece hood when they’re combined together for use. So the lens with the hood on is longer. It comes with a new lightweight lens case who is SO much lighter – out goes the old heavyweight lens box. However the guys at Nikon say that the new case is stronger.
This was part two of four of Mark Pain’s diary. Make sure to check back later for the rest of the story. In part three, Mark continues his football tournament adventure in Manaus in the Amazon Rainforest.
Mark Pain is the current 2012 Olympics Photographer Of The Year and has twice been named as the Sports Photographer Of The Year in the UK.