Saturday, 28 July 2012

The games have begun!

Did you see the Olympic opening ceremony last night? Over 27 million Britons watched it on the BBC - a staggering audience share given the amount of channels that even the most basic tv package provides these days.

I must confess that usually I'm really not a big fan of opening ceremonies of major sporting events. In fact if I'm totally honest, I normally detest them. Strangely dressed people swinging around on ropes whilst groups of bizarrely clad children dance around underneath them seems to be the standard show. It's like the creative directors of such events all take the same type of drugs and end up with the same trippy vision.

But last night was so different. The British history that Danny Boyle managed to fit into a relatively small period of time and arena was staggering. The way the landscape transformed from idyllic countryside, to a dirty industrial scene, to a celebration of the NHS was done in such a slick fashion, it almost appeared seamless. Added with some genuine surprises (a parachuting Queen), real humour (a orchestral Mr Bean) and an inspiring British soundtrack, it served up a truly astonishing spectacle. It's not something I would ever say lightly, but it genuinely made me feel proud to be British. It encapsulated the spirit and achievements of our tiny nation and underlined some genuine contributions we have made to making the world a better place.

Even now as I listen to the range of sporting events on the radio, I keep finding myself feeling disproportionately emotional at the news of various individuals personal achievements. The 'vibe' and energy of this event feels like its doing my soul good. It represents a coming together of a group culture that all too often, is far more isolated and segregated.

Another event where I had this feeling was back on July 12th 2012 when the Olympic flame started the next leg of its journey at precisely 07:49 from outside of Salisbury Cathedral. What made this even more special was the fact it was being carried by superstar American athletics legend Michael Johnson. The chance to see both him and the flame in front of one of my favourite buildings was so exciting, I could barely sleep the night before. One advantage to this best kind of insomnia was that getting up at 4am was fairly easy. This early start ensured I got a really good spot, right in front of the cathedral entrance. Local school children were assembled to perform various songs and music which helped entertain the ever expanding crowds until the main event was ready.

In order to get a prime spot, I had to wait in the shadow of the magnificent gothic masterpiece that is Salisbury Cathedral. Although this brought me the benefit of some great views, it also had the drawback of making things colder and darker than if I had set up camp a little bit further down in the breaking dawn sunshine. Even though it was a pleasant July morning I was glad I'd packed my jacket, but with both hands exposed holding and adjusting my camera, I wish I'd also packed gloves! I remedied my freezing digits by vigorously applauding each performance the children's choirs and bands gave. They must have thought I was their biggest fan.

Shooting in the dark shadows meant I had to set my camera to an ISO of 400. Although my camera can cope fairly well with the extra 'noise' higher ISO's inevitably produce in an image, I always try and get away with the lowest possible. Since I was shooting with a lens that only measured 105mm at the longest end, I would be cropping into my pictures in order to effectively extend the zoom range and this would only make any image noise worse.

But, it's better to have a slightly noisy image that has captured the subjects in focus thanks to the faster shutter speeds available, rather than a noise-free photo that contains blurry people. I captured most of my pictures that day with shutter speeds of around 160 to 200/1 second. Definitely the lower end of image-freezing speeds, but thankfully nothing was moving exceptionally quickly so I had no need to reach for any higher ISO settings.

The combination of charming school children, the Olympic flame and an athletics legend, helped me capture some shots that I was genuinely thrilled with. One of them was featured on the Guardian newspaper website and others were used in various local media. Considering I didn't have the luxury of the full access granted to accredited photographers there, I was pleased with my final results.

The image here of Michael Johnson carrying the flame captures the spirit of that morning well:

The excitement and awe in the schoolgirls faces would have made a great picture by themselves, but with the dignity and grace of Michael Johnson proudly carrying the torch, I think it covers all the emotion of not only this leg of the torch's journey, but all of its travels across the nation.

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