Magazine Article


Covering the Olympics

George Tiedemann's Five Golden Rules

The beginning. For some this means our date of birth. And for others, it's their wedding day. Most agree the beginning of sports dates back to 776 B.C., when the first Olympic Games took place in Olympia, a small town in southern Greece.

p.8: Opening Ceremonies -CFi 30mm lens, f/3.5@1/30 sec, ISO 800. ©George Tiedemann/ZUMA Press

History drew George Tiedemann, a New Jersey-based freelance sports photojournalist, to shoot this year's Olympics in Athens, Greece. He also made the journey to Olympia to shoot events in the same historic location where the Olympics took place 2,700 years earlier. Tiedemann's photography has graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Life, People, and ESPN The Magazine. At the 2004 Olympics, he was sponsored by ZUMA Press, a large independent press agency and wire service, and NewSport Photography, Inc., and covered many events including the opening and closing ceremonies, beach volleyball, sailing, gymnastics, wrestling, cycling, swimming, soccer, and track and field. One of his images from the Olympic Games appeared as the opening spread in Newsweek.

RULE #1: Choose the right equipment

Many of these published photos were taken using a Phase One P 25 22-megapixel portable digital camera back on a Hasselblad 503CW camera. Tiedemann explains: "The back was surprisingly easy to operate," he says. "It seemed to be a little heavier than a Hasselblad film back. However, the slight increase in weight didn't come into play at all, and the mobility factor was never an issue. I was able to shoot about a frame every two seconds, which is obviously not as fast as an 8-fps digital camera, but, I was out here to do it differently, and 22MP vs. 4MP was worth the sacrifice in speed. I also relied on my Nikon D2H throughout the games, but there were many golden moments when I used the Hasselblad and P 25, and when those times came, I was in pixel heaven."

p.9: Cyclists -CFi 50mm lens, f/22@1/30 sec, ISO 50. ©George Tiedemann/ZUMA Press p.9: Gymnastics(Carly Patterson) -CFE 350mm lens, f/5.6@1/125 sec, ISO 800. ©George Tiedemann/ZUMA Press

Of all the shots he made, Tiedemann favors his photo of the Acropolis with a blurred cyclist in the foreground the most (p. 9). "This photo says Greece," he says. "You look at it and know exactly where you are."

Tiedemann shot many handheld photos using the P 25. As for lenses, he used the CFi 30, CFE 40, CFi 50, CFE 350 and the Teleconverter Apo 1.4xe. In addition, Tiedemann used a monopod and tripod. He adds that the P 25's 2.2-inch color LCD display worked very well both indoors and outdoors, except for the times when he encountered bright sunshine. "When that became an issue, I utilized the histogram to keep me in the ballpark," he says.

Tiedemann used most every ISO setting on the camera back, from 50 to 800, and notes that noise was not very noticeable, even at ISO 800. "It would only be apparent at higher ISO settings with underexposed images; If you expose properly, you'll be fine, and I relied on the histogram on the LCD to guide me."

RULE #2: Be Prepared

"I've worked with medium format cameras many times during my career as a photojournalist and sports photographer," he says. But Tiedemann did not consider himself an expert when it came to medium format digital cameras, so for the Olympics, he contacted Jeff Moore, who handles the medium format department at Roberts, an Indiana-based equipment supplier. "He not only brought me up to date, but also put me in touch with Kevin Raber, USA vice president of sales for Phase One," he recalls. "Raber, without hesitation, indicated his interest in the Olympic project and after meeting in New York City, we then arranged to spend time shooting NASCAR practice for the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, where I cut my teeth on the camera and digital back combo. That evening, Kevin made a few 16x20 prints of the day's efforts and they blew my mind."

When Tiedemann arrived in Greece, he was met by tough, although "very friendly" security. However, he did encounter two problems. He once forgot to claim all of his equipment after passing through security and had to go back to retrieve it. In addition, he was once detained while checking into the Media Village, and at a security booth for 45 minutes because the bag scanner didn't like something in his suitcase. "They finally figured out it was a facial cream that caused the problem," he recalls. Other than that, Tiedemann says he had no problems covering the grandeur of the Olympics.

Also, battery issues are always a concern with digital cameras, and Tiedemann came prepared: "I had four P 25 batteries with me on my trip. I found I would run out of CF cards before I had battery problems. I used the LCD quite a bit, but that didn't seem to have a huge affect on normal battery consumption. When a battery got down to half power, I automatically changed it."

RULE #3: Avoid the Pack

Covering the Olympics automatically means tremendous competition from other photographers. Tiedemann's advice: "Avoid the pack." "Everyone has an 8-fps autofocus digital camera with a 400mm lens," he says. "If you want your pictures to look like everyone else's, then hang with the pack. I find that boring and not very creative."

p.11: Closing Ceremonies -CFE 350mm lens, f/22@12 seconds, ISO 100. ©George Tiedemann/ZUMA Press

Tiedemann's avoid-the-pack mentality was evident when he shot the closing ceremonies. It certainly wasn't easy to capture fireworks rushing from the Olympic stadium (left). "Dan Helms, an editor and friend of mine, said I should try to shoot from a high hill," he recalls.

So Tiedemann, armed with a Hasselblad, P 25 and tripod, began walking up a blocked-off road on a hill overlooking the Olympic Stadium at 9:30 p.m. After a long trek on a windy, twisty road up the hill, he finally found an excellent viewpoint. But he still had to be creative. "It was very fortunate I had my cell phone. Not only could I make a call if I needed to, but I also used the cell phone to illuminate my F-stop and shutter speeds in the dark."

RULE #4: Deliver On-time

Editing, downloading, uploading, burning CDs, and captioning were such tasks that, "I only averaged about three hours of sleep of night," Tiedemann quips. He says he enjoyed working for ZUMA Press because it allowed him to shoot the Olympics the way he wanted to. "By this, I mean that image quality was the No. 1 factor when it came to making a picture," he says.

p.10: Windsurfing- CFE 350mm lens, f/8@1/500 sec, ISO 100. ©George Tiedemann/ZUMA Press

Tiedemann also captioned everything for the agency. He notes: "I gave them the event, who won, and where it was." Caption information was added utilizing Adobe Photoshop CS for the P 25 images and Nikon View software for his Nikon D2H images. He sent full-size 22-megapixel JPGs from the processed P 25 RAW files and let the agency determine the final size it wanted to use. Files were approximately 18MB each as JPGs.

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