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The Show Must Go On, But Not Without the Fans!

By Robert Ghement

    ‘There’s lots of pretty, pretty ones
    that want to get you high.
    But all the pretty, pretty ones
    will leave you low, and blow your mind.’

    ‘The Dope Show’- by Marylin Manson

For Brazilian people, soccer is more than just a phenomenon, it’s almost a religion.
Organizing a world cup in such a place could be compared to setting up a religious pilgrimage for
a broad mass of followers, with all its implications.
Members from various ‘congregations’ will come to support their idols and saints, full of hope and believing that their support is crucial for their beloved ones; stadiums will be their churches, and
players their hopeful healers.

Brazil supporters react during the FIFA World Cup 2014 third place match between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 12 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

Brazil supporters react during the FIFA World Cup 2014 third place match between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 12 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

Either called ‘hermanos’ or the ‘red devils’, watching the game from their seats, or at home on their couches or
trembling in front of the Fan Fest stages, soccer fans are the most important factor in a World Cup equation.
No one could deny that.
Soccer fans can be hopeful, sad, daring, bold, enthusiastic or violent, but they could not replace the Big Show!

Brazilian fans react while watching the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Mexico at the FIFA Fan Fest in Salvador, Brazil, 17 June 2014. The match at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza ended 0-0. epa / Guillaume Horcajuelo

Brazilian soccer fans react while watching the FIFA World Cup 2014 group A preliminary round match between Brazil and Mexico at the FIFA Fan Fest in Salvador, Brazil, 17 June 2014. The match at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza ended 0-0. epa / Guillaume Horcajuelo

They could just watch it, encourage it, coming to despair or exultation, but never play it.
And that’s the role of the team players. Sometimes, expert commentators refer to them as ‘the twelfth player’.

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall).  epa / Ian Langsdon

A German soccer fan waves the German flag among spectators in Paris, France, 04 July 2014, who attend the public viewing of the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final soccer match between France and Germany on a giant screen in front of Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). epa / Ian Langsdon

The Brazilian team had its twelfth man in every stadium they played, as they were playing all the games in their own yard.
One could call this an advantage, but ‘the twelth player’ never listens to or obeys the head coach!
Sometimes, when eager, they can do more damage than good to a team.
That was not the case with the Brazilian team, who was supported at all times consequently and religiously.
Even at 5-0, Brazilian fans still had energy to encourage a desperate ball recovery or an almost brutal stop of their opponents. But, at a certain point, their love for soccer was greater than that for their own team, when, without any warning, Brazilians started to cheer each passing shot exchanged by the German players. As if the Germans
were Brazilians and vice versa. That was beyond common belief: they praised much more the Beauty of The Game than their favorite players.

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa/dpa/Thomas Eisenhuth

A Brazilian fan shows his dejection after the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. Germany won 7-1. epa/dpa/Thomas Eisenhuth

Some Brazilians were saying that the football shirts of their team were smaller than those of their opponents!
After the historic semi-final Brazil vs Germany ended, the streets of Belo Horizonte were set on fire:
parties were held on street corners in Devassi Square in a way that made you believe Brazil had won the game that night! Police were watching supporters dancing and drinking from close range, but spirits were never heated up in a bad way. From time to time, small groups of German supporters crossed masses of Brazilians. Dressed in their white T-Shirts they stood out like lanterns in the dark, drinking their beers and enjoying the street fiestas. Sometimes they were cheered by the Brazilians by voice or hand clapping, but never pushed, bullied or cursed at.

Fernandinho of Brazil react after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany  during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014.  epa / Robert Ghement

Fernandinho of Brazil react after a goal scored by Toni Kroos of Germany during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Robert Ghement

After 7 to 1.

I don’t know if seven is a magic number, but for sure Brazilian soccer fans are magic, same as the game of the German team who defeated their beloved team.
I think now, not many Brazilians believe into their own team, but for sure they will never lose faith in The Game!

I really want to make the followers of this blog understand that we as photographers are humans too, sometimes pushy, at other times stressed or impulsive. We are not just machines who push a button, but beings who care and who filter surrounding information and stimulus before transforming our perception and feelings into a digital pixel, to share our vision on soccer and the true fans who never had a chance to watch a game from pitch level!

Because we are The Transformers.

Robert Ghement is a staff photographer in Bucharest and has been with epa for 15 years.

UPDATE: Upon his return from Brazil, he was immediately called to a new assignment to cover the recent events in Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in eastern Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines plane crash in eastern Ukraine. Pictures by epa / Robert Ghement

22. July 2014 by elio
Categories: european pressphoto agency | Tags: | Leave a comment

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A goal accomplished – FIFA World Cup 2014

By CJ Gunther

This was the moment I had dreamed of for over 26 years. I was going to the FIFA World Cup, Cupo de Mundo. But my flight was cancelled and I was sitting in Boston’s Logan Airport rather than flying to Sao Paulo and I wondered if I would make it to Curitiba on time.

David Villa (C) of Spain scores the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group B preliminary round match between Australia and Spain at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 23 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

David Villa (C) of Spain scores the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group B preliminary round match between Australia and Spain at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 23 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

I didn’t set out to be a sport photographer, I wanted to shoot architecture and art when I first began to make pictures. But in college I discovered that I enjoyed the sport image too, and I enjoy soccer, played it as a child and through high school, I know the game so I found it easy to shoot. I was once asked, ‘How awesome was it shooting the NCAA Final four with the UConn men’s basketball team?” – “Not as cool as it would be to shoot the World Cup,’ I answered.

In 1994, I got really close to achieving that goal. I got to shoot one of the friendly matches between Ireland and Columbia when Boston was one of the World Cup host cities. But no real matches for me. Yes, in Boston we have the occasional friendly match between some National teams, or Premiere league teams, but the FIFA World Cup is not on the line when those games are played. So the level of play is not as intense. I also got really close in 2012 when I was asked to be part of epa’s team for the UEFA Euro 2012 Cup, but health reasons kept me away.

This time I was really going. I was part of the epa team. I signed up for Brazilian Portuguese classes, I studied the culture and the politics of the country. I was going and a dream goal was going to be achieved. But here I was sitting at the airport only 20 miles from home, with no flight yet.

Abdelmoumene Djabou (C) of Algeria celebrates with his teammates after the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. The match ended 1-1. epa / CJ Gunther

Abdelmoumene Djabou (C) of Algeria celebrates with his teammates after the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. The match ended 1-1. epa / CJ Gunther

Having never shot a FIFA World Cup match before, I was a little anxious. This soccer was going to be a faster pace than what I had ever seen before, and unlike the majority of the other photographers in attendance, my experience level would be much less. If this were baseball, there would be no anxiety at all. Top that with going to a country where everyone tells you, ‘do watch out, you are going to be held up,’ anxiety was at a high level.

Enner Valencia (C) of Ecuador scores the 1-1 equalizer against goalkeeper Noel Valladares (L) of Honduras during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Enner Valencia (C) of Ecuador scores the 1-1 equalizer against goalkeeper Noel Valladares (L) of Honduras during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

My nervousness about Brazil was relieved immediately upon my arrival. I already knew to tell everyone at the airports and immigration, ‘FIFA World Cup,’ and I would get rushed through to my connecting flights, no delays at customs. It was in the queue at the last flight check-in when I began to meet people from Curitiba and felt welcomed to Brazil. At nearly every step of the process, I was met with smiling faces, and even got the beefy security official at the Media entrance to eventually smile on my arrival each day. All of this led up to covering some of the best soccer matches I had ever been to.

Dmitry Kombarov (L) of Russia in action against Islam Slimani (R) of Algeria during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Dmitry Kombarov (L) of Russia in action against Islam Slimani (R) of Algeria during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

My colleague Rungroj Yongrit had been to the FIFA World Cup before and met up with me a few days after my arrival. I think he tried to relieve my nervousness by suggesting an early arrival time to the media center on the day of my first match, Iran V Nigeria. It was a big day for me, and I was a bit tense. We did go too early, but soon it was time to take our positions and set up the remotes. ‘Shoot it well,’ he encouraged me.

Iran's Ashkan Dejagah (L) and Nigeria's Joseph Yobo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah (L) and Nigeria’s Joseph Yobo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

The first game.

I know soccer and knew very well that as soon as the match started I would get into my groove and make good photos. And I did. The Australian photographer next to me at the end of the match was surprised at my enjoyment. “That was not such a fine match. The action was minimal, the play could have been more exicting, hmph,” he said slyly.
‘You don’t understand.’ I replied. ‘The best I get on a regular basis is MLS. I only see this level of play on TV. To be here and see it live in person on the pitch level! With Moses right in front of me? Boom! That was awesome.’

Nigeria's Victor Moses controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Nigeria’s Victor Moses controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Iran and Nigeria at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 16 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Now it was in the past, my first FIFA World Cup match. I was so excited about being there to work that it passed so quickly. I faired well; had good action images, covered the bases on getting the key players and plays of the game. Features before the game were hard not to find. The remainder of my time in Curitiba was a great experience as well. I met many local folks, discussed politics and football, tried the food of the region, became a regular at a pub near the Arena da Baixada even spending one evening behind the bar helping make and serve caipirinhas, was invited to several homes and explored much of the city on foot all the while photographing the people and places with never a feeling of danger.

The next two matches the nervous excitement was gone, I was no longer a FIFA world cup virgin. Honduras’ Costly celebrated his goal in front of me in the match again Ecuador.

Algeria's Islam Slimani (back C) scores the 1-1 equalizer during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Algeria’s Islam Slimani (back C) scores the 1-1 equalizer during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group H preliminary round match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

David Villa and Iniesta toyed with the Cahill shorted Australian boys for 90 minutes. The routine feeling of those two matches was long gone when Algeria faced Russia. With the streets and stands filled with several thousand Algerians, their World Cup party started early. It was a excting match; the goal by Kokorin (RUS) and the equalizer by Slimani (AGR) on my end of the pitch, the hard fought action through out the game. Algeria advanced for the first time out of the Group Play and the fans and team celebrated as if they had won the whole of the tournament. Flares and smoke bombs in the crowd, something that would never happen in the States, added to the excitement for me – I felt as if I was in Estadio do Maracana watching Algeria celebrate the FIFA World Cup Final.

Australian referee Benjamin Williams (R) sprays a marker line during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Australian referee Benjamin Williams (R) sprays a marker line during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group E preliminary round match between Honduras and Ecuador at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / CJ Gunther

Bittersweet was the feeling the next morning, headed back to Boston, but my children wanted me home, and the television there is big enough to make me feel like I was still on the pitch. Thanks Gernot.

epa photographer CJ Gunther and Rungroj Yongrit in the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014.

epa photographer CJ Gunther and Rungroj Yongrit in the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, 26 June 2014.

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16. July 2014 by elio
Categories: european pressphoto agency | Tags: | Leave a comment

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Paranoia at the FIFA World Cup, or the similarities of sports coverage and war reporting

By Dennis M. Sabangan

Weeks before we left for Brazil, an American photographer gave a warning through his Facebook account that some of his cameras and equipment for the World Cup were stolen in an airport in Brazil.

That this scenario is devastating to a photographer is a gross understatement, since so much of our work relies heavily on the proper set of tools in our arsenal. The loss of equipment is crushing since it affects not only his profession but also his psychological welfare.

Equipment for FIFA World Cup, epa Manila office, Philippines 07 June 2014. epa / Ritchie B. Tongo

Equipment for FIFA World Cup, epa Manila office, Philippines 07 June 2014. epa / Ritchie B. Tongo

Learning about the theft took me back to my 2001 war assignment in Afghanistan. After the 9/11 attack in America, a few days before the Capital of Kabul was set free, other Filipino journalists and I secured a vehicle to get around the city. The only way we communicated with our driver was through sign language and hand gestures. He couldn’t speak English nor could we speak Pashtun. Despite that, we bravely entered Kabul, leaving our fate in the hands of some higher being. Batman, maybe. Unfortunately for us, no one seemed to be listening to our prayers that day, as five armed Afghans stopped our vehicle between Kabul and Jalalabad.

I whispered to my fellow journalists, “Damn, I think this is where we will die. But it’s so cold, at least we won’t even rot”.

There we were at gun-point and forcefully held up. Thankfully, I brought three wallets. I deceived them with my “Philippine Dollars”– in reality worth a lot less in their currency. I also had a similar experience when I entered Jolo, Sulo and entered the camp of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf to accompany the negotiator to free some German, African, Finnish, Malaysian and Filipino captives. The terrorists forcefully asked for my equipment. Good thing that those weren’t mine. Still, these are moments that we would never in our wildest dreams wish to happen. Yet perhaps due to the twisted nature of fate, we can’t avoid such mishaps.

So instead of being depressed, or be rattled in these situations, I believe these are opportunities where we can learn, and develop the critical skills needed to survive, whether in a literal sense, or a professional one.

Such is the irony that when things fall apart, we as people and as photojournalist get put together.

Anyway, the FIFA World Cup.

June 9, 2014, we arrived in Sau Paolo after more than 24 hours of flying. I flew with my collegues, Rungroj Yongrit from Thailand and Mast Irham from Indonesia. We met in Singapore before going to Brazil. From there, we ventured to our own assignments, they will go to Manaus while I will go to Belo Horizonte.

Belgium's Vincent Kompany (L) and Argentina's Lionel Messi (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 05 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Belgium’s Vincent Kompany (L) and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final match between Argentina and Belgium at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, 05 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

The air of excitement over a big coverage hung above us when we met. Yet along with that, there was also another feeling–the underlying fear of what we may experience when we get there.

From Sau Paolo, I flew to Belo Horizonte. Even then I admit I felt fearful bringing my equipment out. It’s my habit that all my important things, particularly cameras, lens and some clothes are hand-carried so that whatever happens with the equipment I check in, it’s not something that I will primarily need covering the World Cup.

In Belo Horizonte, I was with my partner Peter Powell from Liverpool, Great Britain, from where modern soccer emerged. Peter is passionate over and familiar with covering football. It’s perhaps understandable that he asked me if football was a popular sport in the Philippines.

I said that boxing and basketball are the most popular sports in the Philippines. But in recent years, some provinces and sectors have begun to appreciate and keep a close watch on football. I even joked that if our former colonizers had taught Filipinos how to play soccer instead of basketball, then Lionel Messi of Argentina with a height of only 5’7” or Neymar of Brazil with 5’9” would have a Filipino to match their skills. Still in a country that is heavily influenced by American culture, basketball continues to be the sport of choice, no matter that Filipinos lack the height to be truly competitive at it.

At the World Cup, our first coverage was Match 5, Colombia vs Greece, where Greece lost with the score of 3-0. But it wasn’t just the losing Greeks who cried that night. Along with them were two photographers from an International agency, after two sets of lens and cameras were stolen – a unit of Canon 1DX 400mm, 1DX and 70-200 were lost from inside the Media Center despite it having tight security.

Lionel Messi (C) of Argentina in action against Andranik Timotian (R) of Iran during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 21 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Lionel Messi (C) of Argentina in action against Andranik Timotian (R) of Iran during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 21 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Their gear was stolen while they were editing at the Stadium Media Center. It certainly sparked paranoia in all of us there. After all, who else can enter the media center aside from accredited FIFA officials and the media? Minutes after the incident, everyone was already alerted.

I was going to the canteen when a photographer informed me that somebody lost equipment. I immediately went back to my desk and kept all my things in my bag and locked it. It is annoying and heart-breaking that this kind of situation can occur. For us in such an active profession, it can also be paralyzing– even if you get really angry, you can’t do anything about it. Hopefully this equipment were insured and the company can easily replace them.

Germany's Thomas Mueller (L) and Brazil's Luiz Gustavo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Germany’s Thomas Mueller (L) and Brazil’s Luiz Gustavo (R) vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2014 semi final match between Brazil and Germany at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 08 July 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

While reflecting on what had just happened, I couldn’t help but think that if the thief victimized some poor Filipino newspaper photographers (photographers whose newsroom change equipment more slowly than the passing of four leap years) then they would have no choice but to stare blankly at the walls. That or, the more logical alternative, they will always fall in line in the Canon Booth to have temporary equipment to continue covering the World Cup. Still, even if the equipment can be replaced, you will go nuts because you’ve already lost your footing even as the coverage is just starting.

After the second theft, you would notice that most of the journalists, especially photojournalists, became extra vigilant and careful. Sometimes even if they needed to go to the bathroom, they would bring their equipment, while others take turns in taking care of the things if people need to leave the table. With my team, we often kept our things locked, if we had to leave them. There was a shortage of lockers because everyone wanted to keep their things under lock and key, afraid that they might get stolen.

During the next days of coverage, I realized that the threat does not only exist inside the media center, but also outside in the streets of Brazil. If we needed to shoot for a feature, we would do it from inside a taxi. That’s how it really is if one isn’t familiar with the culture, even more so if the city you are covering has a high crime rate.

After staying for more than a month in Brazil, we have covered 6 matches. Nearing the quarterfinals in July 5 in Brasilia, our two teams was beefed up to four, with Shawn Thew from the US and Robert Ghement from Romania completing the lineup. We flew to Belo Horizonte to finish the last few chapters of our mission in Brazil. The semi-finals between, Brazil and Germany was particularly memorable, with Germany beating the hosts 7-1 in a crushing defeat.
All told, we will bring the memories of the 2014 World Cup with us. As for the the photographs, there is a certain joy to the feeling that we have taken part in recording history using the photographs we took during the games.

#selfie at FIFA World Cup: Shawn Thew, Robert Ghement, Peter Powell, Dennis M. Sabangan before the FIFA World Cup semi final Brazil vs Germany  in Belo Horizonte. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

#selfie at FIFA World Cup: Shawn Thew, Robert Ghement, Peter Powell, Dennis M. Sabangan before the FIFA World Cup semi final Brazil vs Germany in Belo Horizonte. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Perhaps we can’t avoid the nightmares that come, when thinking of the possibility of losing our own equipment during such an important coverage. That feeling of paranoia has been healed in part by the happy experiences working together. Even better than memories, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn even more as a sports photojournalist.

Ah, the football. The beautiful game.

Brazil's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (C) celebrates with Neymar (R) after winning  the penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 28 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

Brazil’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (C) celebrates with Neymar (R) after winning the penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 28 June 2014. epa / Dennis M. Sabangan

As the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda said,

“You can say anything you want, yes sir, but it’s the goals that sing, they soar and descend. I bow to them. I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down. I love words so much. The unexpected ones. The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop. Vowels I love…They swallowed up everything, religion, pyramids, tribes, idolatries just like the ones they brought along in their huge sacks. Wherever they went, they razed the land. But goals fell like pebbles out of the boots of the barbarians, out of their beards, their helmets, their horseshoes, luminous words that were left glittering here. Our language. We came up losers. We came up winners. They carried off the gold and left us the gold. They carried everything off and left us everything. They left us the goals.”

Dennis M. Sabangan pictured from the media tribune covering Argentina team training during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / Peter Powell

Dennis M. Sabangan pictured from the media tribune covering Argentina team training during the FIFA World Cup 2014 group F preliminary round match between Argentina and Iran at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 20 June 2014. epa / Peter Powell

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13. July 2014 by elio
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Smashing shots from the Wimbledon Championships 2014

By Sara Houlison

Wimbledon. Arguably the biggest tennis tournament of the year. And my very first editing assignment for epa. Being British and having watched the Wimbledon Championships on the television every year, I was ecstatic to have been offered the opportunity to head back over to home turf for two weeks as one of epa’s two picture editors for such an exciting sports event.

Spectators follow second round action during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 25 June 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

Spectators follow second round action during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 25 June 2014. epa / Valdrin Xhemaj

At this point I am primarily a news editor on the picturedesk in Frankfurt and have spent the past two years working on news stories playing out across the globe. From time to time I am also tasked with editing sports and arts, culture and entertainment material too. But I knew the job of a photo editor in the context of the Wimbledon Championships would be an entirely different ball game, pun intended. This realisation came when my job title changed from ‘picture editor’ to ‘media support’ on my grounds pass, which left much room for interpretation as well as a few jokes from our four-strong team of photographers.

A view of the grounds from the Wimbledon Championships press restaurant. epa / Sara Houlison

A view of the grounds from the Wimbledon Championships press restaurant. epa / Sara Houlison

My initiation into the world of assignments involved getting a 400mm lens over from Germany as part of my hand luggage. This type of lens is huge and weighs close to 4kg. In fact, it needs a special case of its own that is the size of a small suitcase. As it was x-rayed at the airport, one of the security personnel dragged it off the conveyor belt and gestured for me to go over. ‘It’s a lens!’ I protested. ‘I know’, she said, ‘but it has to be checked more thoroughly’. I fished around for the little key that opened the lens case and opened it up in a room away from the main security area. A man conducted the thorough check, which seemed to consist of him scanning it with some sort of paper, before telling me I was free to go with my lens. Logistics are important for any assignment and my lens-carrying abilities played only a minor part in the operation of getting all of the kit that we needed over to the Wimbledon Championships.

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in action against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada during their women's singles final of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 05 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in action against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada during their women’s singles final of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 05 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

The first day of editing was an intense one, as a couple of full-time sports editors had warned. We were covering between 20-30 matches per day to begin with, shared out between our photographers, and were looking for a tight selection of solid action pictures to illustrate each match. Unlike at the desk in Frankfurt, I would see every photograph that was taken, hundreds of files at a time, either after downloading them straight from a card or having them wired directly from the courts by our photographers. I soon realised the trick to coping with the enormous volume of pictures was to sift through everything as quickly as possible, keeping an eye out for the key moments and action that stood out, dragging them into my ‘to edit’ folder. Once satisfied with an initial selection of photographs for a match, each picture would be polished as part of our post-production work, captioned and immediately sent out onto the wire. If a photographer was still filing from a match, their folder would have to be reviewed again. And with a high number of matches going on simultaneously, special care had to be given to make sure players were correctly identified.

As the tournament progressed and players were knocked out, we covered matches in greater detail, sending out more pictures as we moved onto the quarter and semi-finals. Reactions from the players and their coaches became increasingly important as emotions ran high and the finals were in sight. We were looking for clean action, complete with unimaginable facial expressions, falls, tennis balls hovering in unusual spots, as well as ‘cellies’.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (top) and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria both take a fall in their semi final match during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 04 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (top) and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria both take a fall in their semi final match during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 04 July 2014. epa / Tatyana Zenkovic

I’d like to point out here some new terminology I learned during my time at Wimbledon. I’m sure all of the following terms apply to other assignments where editors and photographers are in close working quarters too:

Celly (n. sing.), cellies (pl.) – a celebratory shot. Ultimately, everything that happened during the tournament led up to infinite cellies of Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic lifting their winners’ trophies at the end of their respective finals. Mid-match cellies typically show players celebrating a point or winning a set.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophey after winning against Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men's final match of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 06 July 2014. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophey after winning against Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men’s final match of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 06 July 2014. epa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

To hose it down (vb.) – an instruction for a photographer, meaning to exhaust every possible angle multiple times to ensure that nothing is missed. Even a seasoned tennis editor would struggle to find a missing angle if a match had been truly hosed down.

Tight spot (n.) – the small space allocated to a photographer and his/her equipment in the pit by the side of a court. Otherwise, a tricky situation requiring a creative solution.

Of course, it’s wasn’t all about the cellies or hosing down the tennis action from a tight spot. The atmosphere at the Wimbledon Championships is special and calls out to be photographed. Strawberries, Pimms, Henman Hill, or ‘Murray Mound’ as it is hopefully being referred to nowadays, court covers being pulled on and off during rainy spells… The list of opportunities for features goes on and makes Wimbledon such a unique event, attracting a sizeable crowd of VIPs and celebrities. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended, as did footballer David Beckham and his wife, fashion designer and ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, 2013 Wimbledon Championships winner Marion Bartoli, actors Bradley Cooper and Colin Firth, to name but a few of the famous faces who followed the action from the Royal Box on Centre Court over the course of the tournament.

A visitor dressed as a flower as play is postponed on Center Court due to rain during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 30 June 2014. epa / Andy Rain

A visitor dressed as a flower as play is postponed on Center Court due to rain during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 30 June 2014. epa / Andy Rain

After Djokovic finally finished off Roger Federer in their five-set bout and all the cellies had been sent out, he threw signed tennis balls into a crowd of adoring fans. It was time to pack our small office of laptops and monitors into a tight spot, or rather a compact box to be shipped back over to Frankfurt. Wimbledon was all over for another year. As far as first assignments go, this one was special, leaving me with some unforgettable memories from behind-the-scenes and allowing me to work with some of the finest photographers around. In classic Wimbledon style, I raise a plastic cup of Pimms to all of them.

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10. July 2014 by elio
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Traditional Holi Festival – Color photography redefined

In this blog post epa Chief Photographer for the Indian Subcontinent Harish Tyagi tells the story of covering this year’s traditional Holi festival in India.

Barsana village in Mathura, India is famed for its unique and colorful display of the traditional Holi festival. As I left my home on the 9th of March in the early morning hours to catch this festival, my imagination was already busy weaving colorful imagery of the festivities I was to encounter. There was anticipation in the air as I pulled through the four-hour rough drive on Uttar Pradesh roads post, with another hours/1/2 hour walk finally bringing me to my destination. My cameras and gear had been well packed though I was to realize later that this was probably a good protection from rain but certainly not from the onslaught of water and color that was to greet me that day.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian women beat men with wooden sticks as they shield themselves during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian women beat men with wooden sticks as they shield themselves during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Narrow lanes finally led me to the square of the village proper where the traditional Holi festival is celebrated in an altogether different way. The connotations and symbolism of the unique ‘Lathmar Holi’ celebrated in Lord Krishna’s and his consort Radha’s home, is altogether different from the Holi celebrated anywhere else in India. ‘Lathmar’ literally means beating someone with sticks which is what the feisty women of Barsana (known as the birthplace of Lord Krishna’s beloved Radha) do when the men of the neighboring village, Nandgaon, believed to be Lord Krishna’s village, come calling to put color on them.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian widow load their pump guns with colored water and spray at each other while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian widow load their pump guns with colored water and spray at each other while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

In fact this festival of plastering people with color and water stems from Lord Krishna’s antics from centuries past which are well embedded into Indian mythology and lore. Known as a mischievous and flirtatious god he is given the credit for being the first to put color on a woman, Radha, his beloved in this case. He and his friends would come to Barsana and as a symbol of protecting themselves from the Lord and his mischievous friends the women charged at them with large bamboo sticks. Though it sounds playful the festival is anything but that.

Just as I entered the village a bunch of local men came towards me and with little regard for my expensive gear smeared me with color and water from their pichkaris (little hand worked water canons). Their chants of Radhe, Radhe rang through the air and after a satisfied appraisal of my now coloured and wet clothes they proceeded to ask which TV channel I worked for. In rural India, people still believe electronic media to be quicker than print and assume anyone with a somewhat big camera is from television. Now that I very much looked a part of the celebration I was left to myself to proceed with my work, which was just as well.

Traditional Holi Festival: Two Indian widows sit surrounded by petals while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Two Indian widows sit surrounded by petals while participating in the Holi festival in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, 14 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

I spent a good six hours in the midst of a packed crowd, often squeezed for space, often inching up very close to people who were so immersed in the gaiety they scarcely noticed my presence. This kind of an event is challenging and draining as hyper activity rings through the air and continuously one is being shuffled around. I kept myself well hydrated with the local drink Lassi, a cool soothing drink made with sweetened curd, which kept my energy levels also in check. The festival only slowed down by evening by which time everyone including me was fairly drained and exhausted. However the rainbow of colors that had dotted the air and the water canons rung thru the village even after all went home.

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian men shield themselves from women beating with wooden sticks during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

Traditional Holi Festival: Indian men shield themselves from women beating with wooden sticks during the annual Lathmar Holi festival in Barsana village, Mathura, India, 09 March 2014. epa / Harish Tyagi

My next experience of covering the festival of Holi was even more memorable. On 14th of March 2014, I proceeded to cover a unique event in Vrindavan, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is 180 kilometers from Delhi and is also infamously known as the city of widows. The tradition of widows seeking refuge in this town harks back to centuries ago when they were more or less ostracized by society and left to lead a life of penance far removed from the joys of daily life. A second lease in terms of re-marriage was unthinkable then and even now this tradition carries on in many ways. So upon hearing that the widows, who were not allowed to earlier partake in religious festivities, would now be playing Holi I wondered what really lay in store for the day.

epa photographer Harish Tyagi covering the traditional Holi Festival in India

epa photographer Harish Tyagi covering the traditional Holi Festival in India

On reaching the place I was pleasantly surprised to see the widows laughing, joking and brimming with joy at having given this rare chance to partake in a festival. I heard many of them remarking that they had not held a water gun in their hand in years. The beautiful site of these women playing with color (they are normally banished to white clothing only) and water was a rare privilege. Though some still fought shy of participating they told me they would definitely take part next time. I was very over joyed to see an unnecessary and harsh tradition of India loosening its shackles around women destined to an otherwise grim and sorrowful fate. For me this was the ray of hope or should I say ray of color in the celebrations of Holi that marked this year.

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13. May 2014 by elio
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Boston Marathon bombings – BOSTON STRONG

epa photographer CJ Gunther tells the story of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013 and the events following in the aftermath:

My assignment was another routine Patriot’s Day, covering the Boston Marathon. For the past 21 years, I’ve photographed all aspects of the prestigious race including the Start, the Men’s and Women’s elite runner packs, and the Finish Line from overhead. Since 2007, I’ve been part of the Finish Line tight pool, right there at ground level where the runners complete mile 26.2 just in front of me.

Since “Marathon Monday” is also the first day of my kids’ spring vacation, they asked if I’d make it home in time for the planned afternoon park activities. I assured them I would, since the Marathon was run like a fine-tuned machine with standard protocols and procedures that made it an annual event I enjoyed covering.

From left to right: CJ Gunther (epa), Jessica Rinaldi (Reuters), and Elise Amendola (AP). Picture was taken on 15 April 2013, at the finish line about an hour before the start of the marathon. Photo courtesy of Stu Cahill / Boston Herald

From left to right: CJ Gunther (epa), Jessica Rinaldi (Reuters), and Elise Amendola (AP). Picture was taken on 15 April 2013, at the finish line about an hour before the start of the marathon. Photo courtesy of Stu Cahill / Boston Herald

The meeting for the tight pool photographers began at 9:45 a.m. Tommy, the photo wrangler with the Boston Athletic Association, reviewed how the day would unfold, and took time to explain a few slight tweaks from the previous year. After the meeting, we took our positions and awaited the wheelchair athletes who cross the finish first, followed by the elite men’s and women’s runners. Once the winners regrouped, we then moved into position to capture the jubilation of the trophy and wreath presentation.

The last photo I shot showed both the men’s and women’s winners, arms outstretched in a pose together, smiling with joy. I then rushed to the filing center at the hotel in nearby Copley Square. I pushed my photos to the desk, checked to confirm receipt with the desk, packed my gear, and drove out of the city.

It was 1:45 p.m.

At 2:49 p.m., my routine day tumbled into chaos.

I had just met my wife and daughter at the park when a good friend from the Boston Fire Department called me. “Are you ok?” he asked. “Yea, I’m finally over my late winter cold and feeling better,” I replied. “NO! Two bombs went off at the finish line! You need to get there now!” he shouted in his unmistakable Boston accent. For a moment I paused, only to think about the gear I needed, and the best driving route back into the city. I ran to the car, and without breaking stride told my wife I’d call her shortly, trying not to show panic in my face or voice.

The next 102 hours were unforgettable. As I rushed to the scene, driving way too fast, all that was routine about Marathon Day had changed. I had no idea what to expect when I returned to the spot where I had just photographed some of the most joyous moments of the day.

I parked as close as I could, ran three blocks with my gear, and made my way to within a block of the Finish Line. I ran through scores of people who were confused, fearful, and terrified – the complete opposite of the scene I had left 90 minute earlier. I photographed shocked family members, crying children and adults, exhausted and confused runners, and abandoned belongings. I made my way to the medical tent, normally reserved to treat routine post-marathon ailments. It had been quickly converted to a triage center, where bloodied victims were wheeled in, treated, and then brought out to waiting ambulances.

Our chief photographer, Matt Campbell, was traveling back from The Masters golf tournament. When I phoned him, he answered from his seat on the plane. “BOMBS?” he repeated loudly; I reminded him that he was on a plane so he wouldn’t cause any panic. We agreed to connect as soon as he landed in Boston.

The scene for blocks was chaotic. Emergency personnel were everywhere: police, firemen, bomb technicians, Special OPS, and National Guardsmen. I wondered where they all came from so quickly. A colleague took a photo of me being shoved from the street by a Boston Police officer as we tried to make our way to the scene. There were no rules; bombs just don’t go off in the United States. Again, it was complete chaos.

I had pictures to file, which was my main concern. I went to a nearby parking garage where I could still see some of the scene, but away from the police officers who were establishing a tightly-secured area. My phone wouldn’t connect because I was receiving calls from friends and family who had seen an earlier Facebook post of me with two colleagues at the Finish Line. They know the Marathon is one of my annual assignments, and they wanted to make sure I was all right. Finally I moved my first pictures from the tragic scene, then took a moment to post on Facebook: “I’m OK. Safe.” That simple message alleviated concern from friends and family, and freed my phone for the work ahead.

Somehow in the chaos, I was able pull together a pretty good team to expand our coverage. Freelancer Dominic Chavez was nearby, at the Boston Common. Matt Campbell arrived at the airport and came directly downtown to edit, even though he had been away from home for over a week. Staffer Justin Lane drove in from New York and former staff photographer Matthew Cavanaugh drove in from Western Massachusetts. I thought of how fortunate I am to work with such a talented crew of photographers. The whole area was locked down, so we covered the basics, which included news conference updates from local, state and federal authorities, and scene setters of the chaos that still had its hold on the city.

We documented a normally peaceful city that was thrown swiftly and brutally into shock, but not inaction. Boston Strong was born.

I spent the next two days covering reaction to the tragedy, especially once the names of the three people who lost their lives were released. The little boy who was killed, Martin Richard, hit close to home for me since he was just a few years older than my daughter, and a few years younger than my son.

In the days following, I was touched by the outpouring of support, caring and compassion shown throughout the city. I photographed many of the impromptu memorials that cropped up all over the city, including outside the homes of the grieving families.

On Thursday, a memorial service was held and attended by President Barack Obama. Although we were working on only two or three hours of sleep each night, we covered every angle. Concerned about our well-being, Matt scheduled us on shifts us so we could rest. We had no idea how long we would be covering this story, and each day had blended into the next.

Boston marathon bombings: Police SWAT teams make house to house searches in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Boston marathon bombings: Police SWAT teams make house to house searches in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Another freelancer, Dominic Reuter, stepped in and I headed home to my family, just hours before the next series of fateful events gripped the city.

I received a phone call from Dominic later in the evening on Thursday. He lives on the edge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus, and heard reports of a gunned-down MIT police officer. Dominic ran to the scene on campus, even though at the time, we didn’t know if the shooting of Officer Sean Collier was related to the Boston Marathon bombings. I edited his first photos, and then fell into bed, exhausted.

At 3:00 a.m., my wife woke to my phone buzzing. She immediately shook me awake. I was up, dressed, and answering the call in nearly one motion. Matt had been calling for almost two hours, needing me in Watertown, a neighboring city of Boston. There was a connection between the Boston Marathon bombings suspects and the shooting of Officer Collier, which had led to a shootout in Watertown between the suspect and local police. Just like four days earlier, I raced in my car to a scene well outside the norm of our usual Boston coverage.

I parked within a block of the shootout and joined a growing group of journalists covering the house-to-house search for the remaining suspect. This search continued the entire day while Watertown, Boston and several other local communities were on lockdown after Governor Deval Patrick issued a “stay in shelter” order.

Time moved slowly throughout the tense day, with occasional activity as law enforcement personnel moved from place to place. At 6:45 p.m. just before sunset, gunfire erupted and I made my way to a yard two blocks from the shots.

I stayed hidden in this yard along with four other photographers. We put our cameras on quiet mode so we wouldn’t be rousted by the police, who were only a meter or two away, separated from us only by a white picket fence. Through the fence in the growing darkness of early evening, we made images of the police at the ready; the robot used to pull the tarp off the boat that revealed suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; and the celebratory gestures by the special operations squads leaving the scene after Tsarnaev surrendered.

Finally, it was over. Boston Mayor Menino’s voice came over the police scanner, thanking everyone involved.

When I turned, my colleagues (who were also my competition), had left to file their photos. I stayed, however, because I knew there was one more shot I needed to make: the ambulance that had arrived only moments earlier which surely was called to carry away Tsarnaev.

There were so many strobes from the police vehicles flashing that it was hard to see. In the dark, it was tough to determine if the image was in focus. I kicked open the gate in the fence, and slowly squeezed off a number of frames as the ambulance turned away. I saw Tsarnaev through the window, his head bloodied. Now it was really over and I filed my final photos.

Boston marathon bombings: An ambulance carries Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the scene after he was apprehended in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

Boston marathon bombings: An ambulance carries Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the scene after he was apprehended in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, 19 April 2013. epa / CJ Gunther

The events of that week resulted in the loss of life for four people, and forever changed the lives of many more who sustained life-altering injuries. Thankfully, horrific events such as these are not common in the United States, but we’re reminded too often of the unfortunate reality that innocent lives are lost and affected around the world every day. In fact, just yesterday [14 April 2014] in Nigeria more than 70 people were killed in a bomb blast at a bus station, while more than 125 others were injured.

I am thankful that this type of coverage is not the norm for me. This year, I hope we have another routine Marathon Day – or as routine as it can be the year following the tragic events that forever altered our city. Matt and Justin will return and freelancer Herb Swanson will join the coverage team. Security will be tight, and police presence will be at a high level, but the determination of the runners and the spectators to enjoy the day will Boston Strong.

epa photographer CJ Gunther covering the Boston Marathon 2014. epa / Matt Campbell

epa photographer CJ Gunther covering the Boston Marathon 2014. epa / Matt Campbell

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23. April 2014 by elio
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Curling Pictures – Covering a Visually Underestimated Sport

by Tanya Zenkovich
It started in July 2013 when I got to know that I’ll be a part of the epa team for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games 2014. It was to be my most serious assignment ever.

A man stands near the Olympic cauldron in the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, 01 February 2014. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Games run from 07 to 23 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

A man stands near the Olympic cauldron in the Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia, 01 February 2014. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Games run from 07 to 23 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

Sochi met me with palms and a very pleasant weather contrast: while in Minsk it was –18 Celsius, in Sochi it also felt like being 18 degrees, but now above zero. At the very beginning I couldn’t escape troubles though. A wrong accreditation pass was given to me at the airport. Anyway, I thought that standing in a line at the accreditation center to get a correct card, wasn’t the worst thing to happen.

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich—- find out more

The first challenging task for me was to cover the opening ceremony of the Games. I got a really awesome position at the stadium: it was very central and high to make good panoramic shots. After the necessary preparations (briefing, plugging a cable into the camera, sending test pictures, defining settings in the camera set, and, of course, learning the ceremony schedule by heart), I couldn’t wait for the ceremony to commence. There’s one peculiar thing about events in Sochi: when they start there’s no stopping. Therefore, to get a nice shot one has to stay focused, be creative, be prepared, do everything fast and predict what’s going to happen the next moment. Time is so fast here! So it’s very important also to have some snacks with you at your working place so as not to be out of energy, when the crucial moments come. :)

Curling Pictures and Pajamas

Most of the time I spent taking curling pictures. At first I hardly knew what it was about. Some colleagues told me this sport is boring and that it’s hard to come up with interesting angles for curling pictures; still others assured me that it’s really nuts, great and an expressive competition to cover (and some of these “optimists” even sent me Youtube lessons how to play curling). Besides, I always asked my new acquaintances among the photographers who worked in Sochi whether they had had a chance to shoot curling pictures before and (if yes) what their experience had been.

Christoffer Svae of Norway delivers a stone during the tie-breaker match between Norway and Great Britain in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 18 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

Christoffer Svae of Norway delivers a stone during the tie-breaker match between Norway and Great Britain in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 18 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

Indeed, curling turned out to be an exciting “playground” for experimenting! Multiple exposures, panning, slow shutter speed, zooming and twisting, game of shadows, different angles and an opportunity to move from one position to another during matches. My favorite team was from Norway. Because of the Norwegian team’s everyday-new funny uniform and curling slippers it seemed sometimes that the players wore trendy pajamas – a real stroke of luck for a photographer!

Jennifer Jones of Canada in action during the Women's Gold medal match between Sweden and Canada in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 20 February 2014. epa/Tanya Zenkovich

Jennifer Jones of Canada in action during the Women’s Gold medal match between Sweden and Canada in the Curling competition in the Ice Cube Curling Center at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 20 February 2014. epa/Tanya Zenkovich —- find out more

When I understood how a typical match develops and also found an effective algorithm of my actions for a match, life at the venue became much easier for me.

When the Games started I saw how many preparations the epa team had done in advance and how many people were involved in the process so that everything was running smoothly. I also realized that my work was only a small contribution to the huge working mechanism. And I’m pretty sure that what I could see is only the tip of the iceberg. So my task as a photographer was quite easy – just wait for a good moment and press the button.

It was a great experience for me to work with such a professional and cool team, to learn from them, and I’m very grateful to my colleagues whom I got to know there!

Tanya Zenkovich from Belarus, our photographer for curling pictures, jubilates under the olympic rings in front of the Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich

Tanya Zenkovich from Belarus, our photographer for curling pictures, jubilates under the olympic rings in front of the Olympic stadium in Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/ Tanya Zenkovich – —- see her portfolio

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07. March 2014 by oliver
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Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games – Challenges of a Picture Editor

By Karl Sexton
Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia – my first ‘big’ assignment as an editor with epa. I had had some prior experience in editing in the field, having worked at a European Council Summit in Brussels in 2013. Whilst that experience gave me an insight into what was expected of me in Sochi, the weeks I spent in Russia have taught me so much more about the job we do at epa.

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, coming to work at the Main Media Centre in the mornings is always a pleasure. epa/Nic Bothma

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, coming to work at the Main Media Centre in the mornings is always a pleasure.
epa/Nic Bothma

After nearly four years at the desk in Frankfurt, I am familiar with handling a large volume and variety of images from all parts of the world, having to stay on top of the news, and responding to clients or member agency requests, as well as to breaking news stories. However, our shooters usually submit photographs that are pre-edited. Most of the time, the photos are technically ready to be transmitted to the wire, leaving the editor to focus on caption quality, picture selection, and making sure all the angles of a particular story are covered.

The role of an editor at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic games or other such events is very different. Here, photographers send their images often straight from the camera, only a matter of seconds after the event or incident they are covering has occurred.

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa/Tatyana Zenkovich

The shooters can transmit hundreds of raw, unedited images in only a few short minutes, and it is up to the editors in the media centre to sort through the myriad of different angles from various photographers, choose the best pictures and begin the post-production work, such as balancing colour levels and cropping, as well as captioning the photos. All of this has to be done at speed, in order to deliver a high-quality product to our clients in the timeliest fashion possible. We watch television monitors with live feeds of the events we are covering to stay on top of the action, and we use online information services to keep track of details such as results, scores, and spellings of athletes names, to name but a few.

epa editors at work during the during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Picture on the right: Gernot Hensel keeping a steady hand on the helm of the ship / On the left Stephan Mueller and Karl Sexton loving their Figure Skating editing. epa/Nic Bothma

epa editors at work during the during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Picture on the right: Gernot Hensel keeping a steady hand on the helm of the ship / On the left Stephan Mueller and Karl Sexton loving their Figure Skating editing. epa/Nic Bothma

These aspects of truly participating in the production of the image and feeling real proximity to the action are some which I have found hugely interesting, not to mention satisfying. Seeing an image in play that you have edited from a raw file to a finished product is a real source of professional pride, even if it is the photographer who (deservedly!) takes most of the glory.

Endo Sho of Japan in action during the Qualification 1 of the Freestyle Skiing Men's Moguls competition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 10 February 2014. epa/Sergey ilnitsky

Endo Sho of Japan in action during the Qualification 1 of the Freestyle Skiing Men’s Moguls competition at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, 10 February 2014. epa/Sergey ilnitsky

Having spent the best part of a month at these Games, I have also had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know the people whose work I have the privilege of editing back at the desk in Frankfurt. It has been a massive learning experience and fantastic opportunity to exchange views and ideas on the job or on life, and to hear stories from colleagues and friends from every corner of the globe.

A multiple exposure image of South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna, the reigning Olympic champion in the women's single event, during an open practice session at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa/Barbara Walton

A multiple exposure image of South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna, the reigning Olympic champion in the women’s single event, during an open practice session at the Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa/Barbara Walton

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20. February 2014 by elio
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The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia – The IT Perspective

Ole Bratz, Head of IT at epa, takes us with him on a trip to Sochi. After you’ve seen the Olympics from all kinds of angles, this is a unique experience, you probably haven’t heard of yet.

The coverage of Olympic Games is challenging. The planning and preparations for the photo coverage of this major sports event started already 28 months ago, and included several visits to Sochi.
In addition to a dedicated team of professional photographers and editors, huge efforts have been made by administrative and IT teams for organizing transportation, accommodation and last but not least the technical set up. The real operation started when the freight consisting of several flight cases had been picked up in the first week of January to make its way to Sochi. That date marked the point of no return. Anything that’s missing, configured wrongly or not properly tested – too late. Luckily, the transport by truck from Frankfurt through several countries, borders and customs went well, and when epa’s IT colleagues Joerg Reuter and Helmut Emelius arrived in Sochi on January 17, all servers, computers, network equipment and several kilometers of network cable arrived in good shape and were taken into epa’s private office space in the Main Press Center. Now the advance party started organizing accommodation for the team, in this case it meant visiting construction sites, at least in the mountain area in Krasnaya Polyna, but conditions were not much better in the media accommodation at the coastal cluster in Sochi Adler. Quite on the contrary, they were terrible and only got better a few days before the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Joerg Reuter, who is heading epa’s IT operations at all major sports events, successfully met all major challenges for the benefit of the entire epa team.

One important lesson taught by the Russians: Everything is ready, no problem! (Regardless the facts)

In the week before Carsten Riedel and I arrived in Sochi, Joerg and Helmut had already set up the whole temporary editorial office with workstations, servers and network. And they cabled many photo positions in the Sochi Olympic Park such as the Iceberg Skating Place, the Adler Arena, the Bolshoy Ice Dome, the Shayba Arena, the Ice Cube Curling Center and the Medals Plaza.

Helmut on the catwalk in the Bolshoy arena at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Helmut fixing network cables for remote cameras on the catwalk in the Bolshoy arena. epa / Joerg Reuter

6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable

The task was to connect every single of the 150 photo positions to the VLAN network which takes the photographers’ images with 100 Mbit/s speed from his or her camera to the editorial desk in the main Press Center. During the second week, after editors Gernot Hensel and Herbert Maier had also arrived, the mission headed towards accomplishment by pulling epa’s yellow network cables to all photo positions in the mountain cluster in the Laura Cross-Country Ski and the Biathlon Center, the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, the Russki Gorki Jumping Center, the Sanki Sliding Center and the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. This became the real challenge: In addition to the actual cabling of approximately 6000 meters of yellow CAT5 cable, some in closed stadiums but mostly in the snow at downhill tracks, halfpipe, moguls, ski jump, biathlon and sliding, other obstacles like climbing or massive cable lengths of 100 meters came into play.

Joerg and Carsten pulling network cables at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Joerg and Carsten pulling network cables for direct image transmission from the photo cameras. epa / Matt Campbell

Carsten, Joerg, Gernot and Herbert at the  Laura Cross-Country, Ski and Biathlon center at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Carsten, Joerg, Gernot and Herbert at the Laura Cross-Country, Ski and Biathlon center at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. epa / Helmut Emelius

The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN

Luckily, the timing and scheduling with photo and venue managers and our fellow agencies went rather smoothly due to the fact that we had already established a very friendly relationship with them. Security regulations were the main time consuming issue. By the way, so was our IT security. The Russian authorities prohibited all kind of encryption and VPN. Whenever we had to bring a vehicle with tools and technical equipment into an Olympic venue we were stopped at a vehicle checkpoint, although each technician had a special sticker showing a screwdriver on his accreditation pass, allowing him to carry tools, even knives. All passengers  had to step out and walk through a separate mag and bag check, the car and its contents were diligently searched by police or military personnel. The Russians – smart as they are – had them all dressed in friendly looking purple Sochi 2014 uniforms. Then back in the car, after all windows, doors and hoods had been sealed with stickers, off to the next checkpoint where all seals were checked to make sure we did not open a window or anything. Those procedures felt like they took forever. When we finally reached the venue the only problems to overcome were iced cable paths, frozen pipes, snowbound network cabinets and everything else related to IT hardware and people having to cope with the snow and the cold.

Snowbound cabinet at Extreme Park in Rosa Khutor at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Technicians wiring network cables to a snowbound network cabinet at Extreme Park in Rosa Khutor. epa/ Ole Bratz

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games kick off

6 days before the Opening Ceremony, the main photo and editorial team from all over the world arrived. Now everything became really busy because as a technician you are the single point of contact for everyone. But these few days of gathering with our friends and lovely colleagues before the real show started were the most enjoyable. They were the magic and epic moments that make the european pressphoto agency family very special.
Before the official start of the games, last modifications in the picture workflow were done, lines checked, configurations tested, remote support from the colleagues at home installed and connectivity fine-tuned. Now we were ready for the show to begin…
The master mind behind all epa sports coverage is Gernot Hensel, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Head of the Sports Desk, editing wizard, all-round sports expert and well experienced leader of those operations. He is truly in his element when it’s show time and the going gets tough. The same can be said about all colleagues whether behind lenses or in front of computer screens, producing thousands of exciting images from the competitions, even special pictures by request for our partners and clients. Some colleagues standing in the cold next to an alpine track for a whole day and others rushing from one event to the next, from early to late, all without a break or a day off. The epa team is a real dream team, producing an excellent photo coverage for its customers all over the world.
What is left for the IT is the daily duty, some support, some fixing or replacement of a cut or frozen network cable. No more challenge until the show ends with the Closing Ceremony. Then everybody will be off back home, only the rear guard will roll back the operation and bring everything back home.
And an important Russian word: “Poyekhali”, as Yuri Gagarin said on his trip into the orbit. It is used when you raise the vodka glass as well.

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18. February 2014 by ole
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Air Pollution in China – A Photojournalist in Beijing

epa’s Regional Chief Photographer, Adrian Bradshaw, on air pollution in China

2003 we had the SARS outbreak and had to get to work wearing facemasks to avoid catching the deadly respiratory illness.

Heavy midmorning traffic amidst air pollution in Beijing, China, 25 November 2011. epa / Adrian Bradshaw

Heavy midmorning traffic amidst air pollution in Beijing, China, 25 November 2011. epa / Adrian Bradshaw — find out more

2014 and air pollution has made the old paper medical masks redundant: now we need industrial strength filters in our face masks. Even my ten year old daughter is an expert on the air quality index and PM2.5, the particulate measure that indicates whether the air is the usual ‘very unhealthy’ or the more alarming, maximum ‘hazardous’ level of 300.

A smartphone app shows hazardous levels of air pollution in Beijing, China, 26 March 2014. epa / Adrian Brashaw

A smartphone app shows hazardous levels of air pollution in Beijing, China, 26 March 2014. epa / Adrian Bradshaw

When the level reaches 150 or at some schools 200, all outdoor activities are halted. The index was only made to go up to 500, well above anything measured in the US where it originated, but it is now quite frequently off the charts in Beijing. As I write it is 427.

A policeman directs traffic in the heavy fog and smog in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, 21 October 2013. Heavy fog shrouded northeastern China, disrupting traffic while pushing up air pollution in the cities. epa / Hao Bin

Heavy smog disrupts traffic in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, 21 October 2013. epa / Hao Bin — find out more

The World Health Organisation has just released a report that as of 2012, the latest year with comprehensive figures, air pollution is the leading leading cause of premature death, accounting for more than 7 million deaths annually around the world. The problem is global but the epicentre is northeast Asia. The Chinese government is now openly tackling the problem of air pollution, at least rhetorically, after years of denial. Premier Li Keqiang declared ‘War on Pollution’ at his recent annual press conference as a national priority. An official survey made the observation that only three of China’s major cities meet national air quality standards. Thousands don’t.

Chinese citizens wear masks on a hazy day in Beijing, China, 16 January 2014. Reports stated that local governments in China may soon face stiffer fines and administrative punishment if found guilty of failing to implement air pollution prevention measures. epa / Rolex dela Pena

Chinese citizens wear masks on a hazy day in Beijing, China, 16 January 2014. Reports stated that local governments in China may soon face stiffer fines and administrative punishment if found guilty of failing to implement air pollution prevention measures. epa / Rolex dela Pena. — find out more

Survival takes precedence over getting pictures in those conditions and most people simply follow government orders and stay at home. When we do venture out it is with the best protection possible, either the maximum filtration of the 3M N99 disposable mask or the horror movie type Respro masks which bring back the look Hannibal Lector made so unfashionable in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Even with these devices a constant hacking cough and stinging eyes has been the norm living in Beijing. A long term study just published by the British Medical Journal and Beijing University indicates that children born in Beijing now will lose 15 to 16 years of life expectancy due to toxins in the air.

Residents of Beijing try to cope with air pollution which exceeds the level of 400 on the air quality index, rating a hazardous warning, in Beijing, China, 26 March 2014. epa / Adrian Bradshaw

Residents of Beijing try to cope with air pollution which exceeds the level of 400 on the air quality index, rating a hazardous warning, in Beijing, China, 26 March 2014. epa / Adrian Bradshaw — find out more

Besides the personal concerns this story is one of global importance: it has been reported that the number one source of air pollution on the west coast of the US is China. Most of the toxins come from coal, much of which is imported from countries that insist on cutting out coal burning in their own territory but don’t seem to have a problem selling to China. This may change. In the meantime it feels like photographers are going to have to get used to a more monochrome look hereabouts.

Adrian Bradshaw Facing Air Pollution

Photographer Adrian Bradshaw ventures out with his respro N99 face mask to protect against hazardous levels of air pollution in Beijing, China, 23 March 2014. epa / Adrian Bradshaw

Photographer Adrian Bradshaw ventures out with his respro N99 face mask to protect against hazardous levels of air pollution in Beijing, China, 23 March 2014. epa / Adrian Bradshaw — find out more

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31. March 2014 by oliver
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Multiple Exposures – Experiences of a Photographer in Sochi

by How Hwee Young

Covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is one of the best assignments I have received so far, but it was not without its usual or unusual hiccups as with any major coverage. It started on the third day of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Horse with a 12-hour-flight from Singapore to Frankfurt for transit before landing in Sochi after another four hours in the air. Having just been relocated back from China to balmy Singapore, I was rather dreading the drastic difference in temperatures. Ditching the traditional light dresses of Chinese New Year visitations, I donned my heavy Beijing winter clothes again, which I had been hoping to lock away forever, to arrive in a temporary airport terminal on a wintry night with our Southeast Asia Chief Barbara Walton.

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

The main Sochi airport was not built to handle the hordes of journalists, photographers, athletes and visitors descending on the city. We watched with trepidation as our bags and equipment rolled in slowly on a single conveyor belt surrounded by a huge crowd of cold and tired passengers, all vying for the same limited number of trolleys. Getting our bags was only the first hurdle, we then have to queue with our heavy luggages to get our accreditation passes. The Russian volunteers in their colourful Sochi Olympic-themed jackets and caps directed us with smiles of cheerful exuberance to a table where they handed us our slick press passes fresh through lamination machines. It was however hard for the exhausted and grouchy photographer to return the smiles with the same joviality.

And of course the bus going to our hotel was full and there would not be another one stopping at our terminal. Unfazed, the cheery volunteers led us on foot with the same good spirits to the main terminal about 500 meters away, helping us push and pull our luggage and equipment along the way. They promised that would be a bus there that would take us to our hotel and only a five minute wait for the half hour journey.

Two hours later, we finally arrived at our accommodations. One would assume we could kick back and relax at last with a hot shower. But as usual, that was not to be. Hot water would not come on for us till two days later. By then, pretty much nothing could make our stay any worse or daunt our ‘toughened Olympic’ spirit…though I have heard that another journalist had his hotel room ceiling collapsed on him, but that’s another story.

Dancers perform among large helium inflatables creating the elements of St. Basil's cathedral during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Dancers perform among large helium inflatables creating the elements of St. Basil’s cathedral during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

And so it is that we plunged into the Winter Olympics coverage. The opening ceremony was a wonderful spectacle of Russian largesse featuring key moments of the country’s history and arts. I had the floor position and was rather delighted to find at least three sites fixed with our epa cables during the rehearsal, making it easy for me to send my pictures direct from the camera wherever I was shooting on the floor. Or so I thought.

Olympic rings open up with one ring malfunctioning during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Olympic rings open up with one ring malfunctioning during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia, 07 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

The last Olympic ring failing to open was not the only glitch in the opening ceremony. None of the cables worked for the first half of the actual show, through no fault of our dedicated epa IT technicians, though. It was a malfunction that affected everyone including all the other agencies. They however had at least two photographers each on the floor and had runners delivering their cards while I was the only one running like a headless chicken from one cable site to the next. I think there was a collective sigh of relief when the cables started working again, but none louder than mine!

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers of Canada react after the Pairs Short Program of the Figure Skating event at Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 11 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers of Canada react after the Pairs Short Program of the Figure Skating event at Iceberg Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 11 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

The rest of the games was focused on figure skating and short track speed skating which I had been assigned to shoot. Photographing figure skating was a dream come true especially teamed with the tenacious Barbara and talented Tatyana Zenkovich of Belarus. I love the sport, the music and the beauty of skaters’ movements. The Canon 1D X paired with the 200-400mm lens was a perfect combination and I experimented heavily with multiple exposures and slow shutter speeds, often much to the chagrin of our brilliant sports editors led by the magnificent Gernot Hensel. It was however a liberation of creativity – to challenge what had been and what could be and I loved it!

Multiple Exposures: Gracie Gold of the USA

A multiple exposures picture of Gracie Gold of the USA performing in the women's Free Skating of the Figure Skating team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 09 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

A multiple exposure picture of Gracie Gold of the USA performing in the women’s Free Skating of the Figure Skating team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 09 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

Since I returned to Singapore, I have had many questions from people as to how the multiple exposures were done, some even asking how much time I spent on ‘comping’ the pictures together in post-production. I had to laugh because the time between when the pictures were taken on the camera and sent out on the wire was a matter of seconds! There was no time for any post production. Our editors would go mad if they have to do any of that nonsense!

Here’s how it’s done. The Canon 1D X has an in-camera multiple exposure function that would allow multiple exposures of up to 9 bursts to be exposed on a single frame. Composition, framing, shutter speeds, rhythm of the skaters in frame have to be decided in between 1/1600th to 1/8th of seconds. Cables connected directly to our cameras ensure that the pictures in their raw form are sent at 100 Mbit/s directly to editors hard at work in the main press centre. They make the selection, crop, levels, caption and the pictures are sent out on the wires within seconds. It was a speed game, and getting the best pictures out there in the shortest amount of time possible is paramount in the highly competitive arena of Olympic sports shooting for wire agencies.

Multiple Exposures: Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia

A multiple exposures picture of Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia performing during the women's Free Skating of the Figure Skating team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 09 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young

A multiple exposure picture of Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia performing during the women’s Free Skating of the Figure Skating team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi, Russia, 09 February 2014. epa / How Hwee Young — find out more

Due to our grueling schedule, I only had time to visit the venues in the mountains on the second last day of the games and it was beautiful. I learnt how difficult and physically demanding it was for our colleagues up in the mountains to work in the snow ladened with heavy equipment yet manage to produce stunning images every day that wins the play for us. I was at once humbled and immensely proud to work alongside such esteemed colleagues.

Overall it was a great experience, one that surpassed my last Olympic coverage in Beijing and I am very glad to be able to meet so many talented and accomplished colleagues to learn from and be inspired by. I will miss all of you. Till next time!

epa photographer How Hwee Young at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. epa / Tanya Zenkovich

epa photographer How Hwee Young at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. epa / Tanya Zenkovich — find out more

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14. March 2014 by roberto
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