Can the joy of an Olympic victory--the win of all wins--or the gut-wrenching torture of losing it--be captured visually? Is it a palpable phenomenon or as intangible and fleeting as the moment itself?
In Ron Wyatt's images, Olympic wins sustain joy eternally and losses remain in a purgatory state. As evidenced by his work for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as Kodak's only hired photographer, Wyatt managed to capture the emotions of the games. For so many who weren't able to witness Kobe Bryant slam dunk or didn't smell the fear between tennis giants Federer and Nadal in person, these moments became real and tangible. Still, he brought home with him an even larger gift. A life lesson in humanity and the ills of rumor, if you will.
"I had the impression China was not that great of a country. It was supposed to be hot and polluted. We were warned to watch what we ate and not drink the water. All not true. I was totally impressed," says Wyatt. "This Olympics was 10-times better than Athens. The volunteers were excellent. Their work ethic was amazing." Particularly, Wyatt grew fond of the soldiers placed all around the city. They reminded him of his own son--a 26-year-old army soldier. "They were young, sweet kids. They made eye contact with you."
Kodak plucked Wyatt from the hundreds of eager image makers because of his diversity. Wyatt's assignment: three-fold. Be Kodak's corporate photographer, capture the Olympic games for the company and provide stock images for several small agencies.
His background in sports and corporate photography may have won him the platinum gig, but that was only the beginning. His schedule would be insane, the workload enormous and the hours sleepless.
Just like covering a corporate event, but on a much larger scale, preparation, planning and flexibility were the keys to Wyatt's success. He was able to arrive in Beijing on July 26, a week early, to familiarize himself with the time difference, the culture and his surroundings. Every day he scoped out the different venues and conducted lighting tests. "I took my light meter (Sekonic L-758 DR) around and did readings along with my PhotoVision 24-inch Digital Calibration Target," he says.
"A reflection has gray, white and black in it, so you keep adjusting it [PhotoVision] until the histogram lines up. Then, I go back to the computer to do a white balance check. This way I knew the exposures beforehand." He says the light was very good at the venues. Generally, he used the Nikon D3 set at ISO 2000 with an f/4 aperture.
Kodak used his images from each day's events as a give-away CD in its hospitality suite and showed a slideshow of them on a big screen TV in the suite. "[It] was a big hit with clientele," says Wyatt.
"Before I left I planned to shoot three events per day," says Wyatt. Later he adapted the plan to shoot "as many events as he could" without a formal schedule to provide stock to Zuma press and for Kodak's suite and website. He termed it the "shoot and scoot." That was the best way to maximize his time and images. At each event there's a photo marshal. Media buses were often available at the end of each event and every ½ hour, but he often chose cabs to scoot to the next event if not in walking distance. He carried with him the 200-400mm, 70-200mm and 24-70mm lenses, two Nikon D3 cameras, flash, battery pack and a computer. While each event also had lockers to store supplies, he chose to carry all his equipment, making it easier to dash to the next event. Although he arrived early to China, he saw various news agencies/pool crews, which generally get the best access, marking their territory with tape on the venue floors.
A typical day consisted of Wyatt shooting three to seven events. He returned to the hotel about 12am and for the next two hours he'd edit hundreds of images down to the 15-20 best shots. By 6:30am he gave the disk to Kodak. This left him with about 2-3 hours of sleep per night.
Part of the time he stayed in the Radisson in Beijing, the hotel designated for the press and found no problems with rumored restricted Internet/ Web access. Events Wyatt captured include: the US Gold medal beach volleyball win, Serena Williams' tennis match, Men's/Women's basketball, the Men's tennis Federer vs. Nadal match, boxing, soccer, fencing, field hockey, archery, water polo, rhythmic gymnastics and the Gold medal Women's Softball game. He also photographed the opening ceremonies.
Wyatt avoided some ticketed events because of the congestion, which made it difficult to get good shots. He only used his two SB-800 Speedlights during his corporate gigs as they weren't allowed in most areas during the Games. He used his 200-400mm and 70-200mm lenses pretty consistently.
Kodak's new client groups arrived every four-five days. These groups of 50-100 people were made up of executives, clients and board members. At each new interval, Wyatt was contracted to cover a special welcome dinner in Tiananmen Square and served as the hired shooter on tours to the Great Wall of China and other local attractions. On this trip he actually visited The Great Wall about five times.
Wyatt's preparation for the event actually began four years earlier. While driving on the New Jersey turnpike a friend called, asked him to pull over. He was selected to cover the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
While he had made the switch the digital by 2008, he wasn't completely getting the results he wanted from his gear. That's when he bumped into a buddy shooting for USA Today while at the USA gymnastics trials in Philadelphia in April. His friend insisted that he shoot with the Nikon D3 if he was going to cover the Olympics.
Wyatt made the call to Nikon to sponsor him. After waiting three weeks to find out if they would, he was soon sent a dream package of equipment: two Nikon D3 cameras, a Nikon D300 and a bunch of lenses.
In August, Wyatt was still decompressing from the trip of a lifetime. His Olympic force lifesavers: his blackberry, Mac's iChat, his iPod, the Nikon D3 and pure adrenaline--something that everyone has.
Ron Wyatt's Olympic Gearbox
• Nikon D3, D300 DSLRs; Nikon F6 Film SLR
• Nikkor Lenses: 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8, 200-400mm f/4
• Nikon SB-800 Speedlight
• 20 SanDisk CompactFlash cards
• MultiMax Remotes
• Manfrotto 682B Monopod
• Bogen Friction Arm & Super Clamps
• Hoodman Right Angle Viewfinder
• Hoodman LCD Screen Loupe
• Sekonic L-758 DR Light Meter
• Photo-Vision 24" Digital Calibration Target
• Two MacBook Pro 15" laptops
• Apple Aperture
• Interarchy File Transfer Interface
• Apple MobileMe Gallery for Blog
• Nik Software Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro
• Western Digital My Book 2 TB external drive
• Western Digital 320GB Passport Portable drives
• BlackBerry 8830 World Edition Phone
Ron Wyatt (www.ronwyattphotos.com) of Ron Wyatt Photography is a commercial and editorial photographer based in the NY/NJ area. His client list includes Verizon, Six Flags Great Adventure, CVS Pharmacy, MSNBC, Court TV, USA Today, and Continental Airlines, among others.