Olympic Divers: behind the images

I’ve been really overwhelmed by the positive response to the diving images that won prizes at both World Press Photo and the Sony World Photography Awards. I want to thank everyone for the kindness, I’m really humbled by this experience. When I entered these competitions, I honestly didn’t envision winning. I really only entered to gain some experience in the process, to become more connected with the global photography community by just participating. Winning certainly wasn’t on the agenda.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking exactly how I was able to capture those frames as I did, particularly with regards to the dark background. I won’t go into too much detail (gotta save a little mystery), but I will say that it was a pretty quick and dirty solution to getting the images to look right under very tight deadlines. It was the Olympics after all, and there’s no time to dither in Photoshop. Since I shoot for a wire service, these images went out minutes (sometimes seconds) after the divers’ freefall hit the pool.


I can’t imagine how these images could have been made even a few years ago, and this is due purely to technology, not technique. Both Canon and Nikon make cameras now that can make great pictures at extremely high ISO’s, which you need at an event like the Olympics where the lighting is often quite poor and you have to ramp up the ISO so that you can shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. Digital cameras also now allow you to compensate for dull artificial light with in-camera contrast and saturation controls. A few quick turns of the dial, and I was able to really make the divers pop against a dark background.

As for that dark background, this was not the result of burning in Photoshop. I purposefully positioned myself so that I was shooting at an angle where the divers, at their apex, were in front of the deepest, darkest, most recessed area of the stands (the nosebleeds), where the already poor lighting didn’t really reach. So as they spun through the air, I was concentrating only only a fractional moment when they were in front of this small little black hole.

I envisioned this series initially in black and white, but shooting under deadline for a wire, this is not an option. So for the competitions submissions I was finally able to bring to life what I had originally envisioned. A simple BW conversion, plus some basic contrast and sharpening, and that was it.


~ by Julian Abram Wainwright on March 20, 2009.

2 Responses to “Olympic Divers: behind the images”

  1. […] The “Strapping Swedish Swordsman” Olympic Blogs Round Up March 22, 2009 Olympic Divers: Behind the Images By Julian […]

  2. Amazing shot! I wonder if I could produce at least near to similar quality with my D300..I’m still a beginner and seems that there’s much more to explore and learn in photography

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