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Photographing the Olympic Torch Relay and
How to Photograph Olympic Sports

by Nick Anis

On January 15, 2002 I was covering the Olympic Torch Relay as the Olympic flame passed through Los Angeles.  Part of the torch relay caravan included a press truck that was 15-20 feet ahead of the torchbearer.  I applied for a media pass to be on that truck, but discovered that if I was on the truck, the type of shot I would get would be somewhat limited.  Also I might cause the subject I wanted to shoot to not be part of the live coverage of NBC TV News, because my spot on the truck might be bumping a TV News Cameraman for that segment.  

So I set out to cover it on foot.  I picked up one of those nifty "Powerboards" that they sell at Costco for $400.  They go 18 miles an hour and can travel 12 miles and for 45 minutes on a single charge.

I arrived at the Coliseum and too pictures of all the luminaries who were going to be torchbearers including the one I was shooting (Mario Cruz ... a 18 year-old high school honors student).

Then I headed off to the section where Mario was to carry the torch.  I noticed most of that segment was kind of shabby looking - at least from a photography point of view.  Using the Powerboard I boarded through the entire route looking for a good spot to get a shot.  In the middle of his 5 block segment I noticed there was an intersection where the corners looked nice.  There was even palm trees and a little landscaping -- sort of an oasis in the desert, and that's where I decided to shoot.  Then I positioned myself on the sidewalk and looked through the viewfinder.  

I realized that position would give me too angled of a shot and I was worried about poles and power wires getting in my shot and also people blocking me.

So I went into the middle of the street with the traffic whizzing by me. I looked through the view finder and said "that's perfect."  My next problem was would the police and security let me stay there long enough to get the shot.  So I put my press ID on a neck badge and crossed my fingers.  I put on a 330mm lenses with image stabilizer circuitry on my Cannon Rebel G (EOS) because I knew I would only get one shot.  I set the camera to the motion pre-programmed mode.

I checked my lens and noticed a finger print and I also noticed the autofocus switch was set to manual.  So I cleaned it and flipped the switch to automatic.  I was using 200 ISO print film because I find that 400 or higher is a little too grainy for daylight shooting with not that much motion.  

The helicopters overhead clearly showed the flame and my subject, Mario were approaching.  There was a sudden excitement in the air.  When Mario was about 20 feet away ... I had to zoom out all the way with that 300mm lens ... and I snapped the shot.  Then he was too close and I was going to be in his way so I ran as fast as I could.  I almost got far enough ahead to take another shot but this kid was just too fast.  Most of those torch runners were running slowly but this kid (a track athlete) which running briskly ... probably because pace truck goes faster for torch runners like him and also because this kid loves to run.

But somehow I didn't pass out and somehow I stayed ahead.  I was a bit winded and I think some of the spectators were wondering if I was going to keel over or something.  So a little winded but still alive,  I arrived at the end of his segment, before he did.  I set up quickly and just as the Olympic flame was about to be passed off to the next torchbearer I was about to take the shot but they pulled his torch aside and started to turn off the flame.  I protested and they let him pose, but the flame was dieing faster then he could pose and I could shoot.

So in terms of "good" shoots.  I only got one.

Here is the shot I took.

Olympic Torch Run, Mario Cruz - Photo by Nick Anis
Olympic Torch Run, Mario Cruz - Photo by Nick Anis

I saw that trash can on the right but when I planned the shot I believed it would be obscured by the runners.  I didn't crop this picture.  I intended to have the motorcycle driving off like that and if it wasn't partially cropped it would take too much attention away from the main subject and his support runner.  The motorcycles and security people help give the shot validity.  The traffic light which happens to be red, reminds us the torch relay didn't have to wait for traffic lights.  The street sign is a nice touch which is what originally gave me an idea to use this location.

Mario's flame is lit and in the full resolution print you can see the heat rising as well as some more flame but he was running so fast there isn't as much flame visible as with other shots.  I toyed with the idea of adding more flame with Photoshop but decided to leave this picture in its true form.

Just after shooting this shot I ran in front of them to get to the sidewalk on the left. That motorcycle on the left has the loudest horn and siren I've ever heard, and when I got too close and crossed in front he let me have a blast that nearly caused me to loose the camera.  The press guys (including Fred Roggin) on the truck were laughing at me and I was embarrassed, but hey ... I got the shot.

Here are some tips for photographing Olympic Sports

How to Photograph Olympic Sports

Regardless of whether you are one of the millions of lucky spectators, camera in hand, at the 2002 Winter Olympics, or you are at your local high school hockey game, here are some tips from the New York Institute of Photography to help you take exciting pictures at your favorite winter sporting events. According to Chuck DeLaney, Dean of the world’s largest photography school, “These tips will help you get great photos regardless of whether you are at the Olympics or your child’s hockey game.”

If you’re way back in the stands, you’ll need a long lens 200mm or longer and use a tripod if allowed to steady the shot and fast film to stop the action ISO 800 is a good choice. Hint: When something exciting happens, everybody stands up! So if you’re sitting in crowded stands, don’t be surprised that at the height of action, when something is actually worth photographing, the guy in front of you jumps up and gets in your way. The solution is to try and sit where there is no one in front of you, which might happen at a local game, but certainly won’t be an option at the major venues in Salt Lake City.

Indoors, don’t use a flash. Most indoor arenas don’t allow it because it can distract the athletes. Rather, take advantage of the arena lights, which can provide adequate lighting if you use fast film.

When photographing skiers or skaters, you may want to convey a sense of motion in your photos. NYI Dean Chuck DeLaney suggests that you use a slow shutter speed, say 1/30th, and follow the subject in your viewfinder as he skates past, keep him there as you shoot, and keep following him after you shoot. “You want a smooth motion, like a tennis player swinging and following through with the ball.” When photographing skiers, timing means everything. If your camera does not offer auto-focusing, use “zone focusing” that is, estimate your distance to the point where you expect the action to be, pre-set your camera for this distance, and then don’t adjust it when you shoot each picture. This works especially well if you are using a small aperture, f/8 or smaller, which will increase your depth of field.

Don’t rely on a point-and-shoot camera to capture a gyrating skater at the height of a leap. It won’t. All point-and-shoots delay a bit, some up to a second between the time you press the shutter button and the time the picture is taken. To get a good action shot, use an SLR in Manual Mode.

When photographing a hockey game, watch out for reflections in the glass panel separating you from the action. If you use an autofucus camera, make sure it’s focusing on the action, not on the glass.

Finally, don’t forget to look for reactions shots too. Yes, the action on the field during the battle may be intense. But many a great picture of tragedy or triumph occurs after play is over or on the faces of the fans. You’ll find similar reaction shots after a spectacular ski jump or ice skating performance.

You’ll find complete tips on How to Photograph Olympic Sports, including skiing, hockey, ice skating, and other winter events at

In addition, visitors to their site will find tips on how to photograph skiers and snowboarders, by visiting 2001.html, and Cold Weather Photography

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Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with over 24 books in print published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam, Ziff-Davis, Tab, and others. Nick's articles have appeared in The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, West Coast Media, The Family Publications Group, The Weekly News, and Travel-Watch.  His beats include food, travel, snow and waters sports, entertainment, family recreation, consumer electronics, home improvement, and automotive.  He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram.  Nick is an accomplished downhill skier, PADI certified SCUBA diver, and when he's not sitting on his butt goofing off, enjoys a variety of active recreation including tennis, riding motorcycles, ATVs, wave runners, snow machines, horses, skeet and trap shooting he's also taken a stab at riding camels, donkeys, elephants, ostriches, lamas, dolphins, Reindeer, bulls, mechanical bulls, and buffalo.  Nick is a member (A Secretary/Treasurer) of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a member of the North American Snow Sports Journalist Association (NASJA), Computer Press Association, The Writer's Guild, and listed in Books in Print, Media Map, and Press Access.  You can reach Nick at

Portions of this article were reprinted with permission from the New York Institute of Photography Web site at 


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