In the build up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, there was a fair amount of criticism aimed towards the organisers LOCOG about prohibiting the use of ‘professional-style’ cameras. The rumours circulating on many news sites and photography forums stated that no camera with a detachable lens would be permitted into the venues. Also, any photos taken (presumably using compact cameras or smartphones) would be banned from being posted on the internet… including, according to some sources, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Whilst LOCOG’s reasonable intentions were to protect the copyright of the Olympic branding and prevent profiteering from the use of their imagery, the reality of policing such rulings were impossible.
However, as a photographer living in London and with the Games on my doorstep, it seemed like an amazing opportunity of photographing the Olympics in my home town was going to pass me by and become a pipe dream… one only afforded to the very select few accredited pro-togs and no-one else.
How I was wrong.
Upon the opening ceremony and the official start of the games, I began noticing spectators with DSLRs. Even better was the fact I noticed a few with L class lenses (those of the professional variety). I shoot a lot of sport with a 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon lens which enables me to get up close and personal with the action whilst maintaining a great depth of field and fast shutter speeds. To confirm what I was seeing, a photographer friend had attended an event on the first day and spoke of his experiences… he’d had no problems getting through security with his camera and was told that “as long as the camera and lens were less than 30cm in length, then it would be acceptable to photograph.” Well… this was a game changer for me.
My problem was, I was put off purchasing tickets on the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to capture what I was witnessing. As an avid photographer, nothing pains me more than to witness an event pass by my eyes and not be able to preserve it forever or put my own unique, creative spin on the occasion. Now, tickets were almost impossible to come by. I had already photographed the torch relay and the fireworks of the Opening Ceremony (more of that to come in another post), but I wanted some sporting action… after all, that’s what the Olympics is.
Then, by the grace of God (or actually, my girlfriend) I was given one ticket to the afternoon session of the Greco-Roman Wrestling. Okay – so not my first choice of sport, but I was just thankful to able to witness the Games first-hand. So, with camera in bag, I made my way to the ExCel Arena – home of several Olympic sports for the next couple of weeks. I was intrigued to see how my own experience of taking pictures held up against the pre-games claims and what I had since seen and heard.
I rocked up to the security scanners at the ExCel late, for various reasons. Here would be the first test. I was told that they would like to search my bag… and I did have something confiscated – a bottle of water that I hadn’t finished at lunchtime. There is one thing that LOCOG are fairly draconian about and that is allowing your own food and drink on their premises. They don’t want to upset the sponsors! The camera and various lenses passed with flying colours and the very friendly chap on watch even commented that he had the same Lowepro bag and how great they were. I was in… marvellous!
Upon entering the cauldron of the Wrestling arena (it was baking hot) I was shown my seat. And boy do they pack them in tight. I found that when sitting down, I physically couldn’t get my camera out of the bag. So I stood up, walked out and prepared my camera for use before re-entering.
I noticed that many spectators were freely wandering around the arena. Whilst I had a decent seat, I wanted to capture as many different angles of the action as possible, so I also began to take a stroll to see what vantage points I could get. The arena has many different entrances to watch the action.
I found that the Olympic volunteers were not obstructive in allowing me to take pictures whatsoever. In fact, many of them were very friendly, approachable and chatty. I was even mistaken for a press photographer and was shown where the media area was in case I was lost (it’s handy walking around with a thumping lens on the camera). I was too honest for my own good and politely informed them that I was only taking photos for my own pleasure.
Anyway, this article has a few of my photos from the afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised at how well lit the venue was, allowing me to shoot upwards of around 1/1000 sec shutter speeds whilst maintaining a reasonable ISO of 800 to 1600. I’ve never shot Greco-Roman Wrestling before, nor am I likely to again, but it gave me a great insight as to what is required to shoot in this kind of environment.
All in all, the scaremongering about the use of photographic equipment hadn’t come true. It seems that those who matter the most – those on the ground, realise that the Olympics are for the people’s enjoyment… and that includes ‘togs like you and me.
Author – Stuart Tree