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Clive Rose goes swimming with a Canon EOS-1D X, Olympics in mind  
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | by Eamon Hickey
A few weeks ago, a great underwater picture from the Olympic Games Synchronized Swimming qualifications in London really caught our eye. Artfully composed and perfectly timed, it was shot in April by veteran Getty Images photographer Clive Rose at the London Aquatics Centre, which will be one of the main venues for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, starting in July. When we got in touch with him, Rose agreed to give us the lowdown on how he did it.

And it turned out that he had a couple of surprises up his sleeve. Rose made the shot using a pre-production Canon EOS-1D X while testing a system for shooting underwater that Getty and Canon together have been developing specifically for the upcoming London Olympics. Hereís what Rose told us about shooting his fine photo, his path to a career in sports photography, and the challenges of shooting sports.

Splashdown: Canon EOS-1D X (pre-production) + EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM at 15mm, ISO 2500, 1/1000, f/5, shot as an in-camera JPEG. Click to enlarge (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Q. Help us understand the photo. What are we seeing?

The picture is shot from the pool floor looking up and out towards the middle of the pool a little. The swimming team is diving over the camera into the water, and Iíve aimed to capture them as they hit the water. The main objective with this type of shot is to try and encapsulate the pattern (if there is one) of the venue ceiling, whether itís lights or structural, and use it as a nice background for the swimmers as they dive in. Once they hit the water the glass effect is destroyed, and it basically becomes a mess. Weíre fortunate with the swimming venue for London 2012 as it has a good ceiling to work with. Maybe not as good as in Beijing (what will be?) but by no means bad.

Q. How was it done?

We [Getty Images] have been working with Canon on an underwater photography solution for the London Olympics for some time now, so we were lucky enough to be able to use a pre-production EOS-1D X with the new EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens during the test event. This was packed inside a prototype custom built waterproof housing.

The EOS-1D X isnít even available yet (or wasnít then), so getting a housing to fit was one of the many challenges that weíve had to deal with. The housing is connected via hardwire cables that run from the back of the housing along the pool floor to a laptop at poolside. There, we can use Live View to adjust the camera settings to suit which kind of shot we want. The camera is powered (always on) and connected to an Ethernet cable to allow us to draw the images up in real time. We can fire the camera either via the laptop through the Live View software, or hook the camera up to a trigger cable and attach the end of that to a PocketWizard, much the same way as you would for any other remote camera.

Prior to this system, we would always shoot to CompactFlash card and dive down and collect after sessions, but time demands such as they are these days, itís imperative we have the images as fast as possible. Most, if not all, of the major agencies will have a similar solution come Olympics time, rest assured.

The great thing about it [London Aquatics Centre] being a newly built sporting venue is that it has been constructed with modern day TV requirements in mind -- i.e. HD -- so we have plenty of light to play with. That, coupled together with the incredible ability from the very latest generation of cameras to deliver amazing results at higher ISO ranges, allow us to produce great results without the need for supplemental lighting. Although saying that, as a sports photographer working indoors, can you ever have enough light?

With underwater photography in general you tend to be shooting from the bottom of the pool up into the main light source. Balancing the exposure of the underside of the swimmer (thatís facing you) and keeping the detail in the roof where the light is coming from -- which youíre trying to use as a background -- is a constant battle. Every pool offers different amounts of reflected light (normally bad).

This battle is made a lot easier as we can now use the high ISO ratings (2000+), but with the same results as if we were shooting a lot lower ISO (640-1000) in years past. Myself and other colleagues that have seen the results from the new cameras have been blown away by the advancement in this area.

To focus, I positioned the camera underwater and then focused the lens via Live View on a spot outside the pool (i.e. above the water). [Testing this focus point] is done the old fashioned way, and somebody usually has to get wet [i.e. a test subject simulates the athletesí dives into the pool].

Q. How did you time it so the swimmers' hands are just entering the water?

Again, now with the EOS-1D X shooting at [up to 14 frames] per second you really canít miss your moment. With synchronized swimming, most teams start their routines by entering the water in a group formation of some kind. Where they start in relation to where your camera is AND if it makes a good picture comes down to knowing the routines and working out which one will work and which wonít. Very few take off from the same place, so you have to pick your spot carefully and plan for it. Like the famous Ansel Adams quote: "A good photograph is knowing where to stand." Never is that more true than in this scenario.

Q. What kind of preparation was required to get this picture?

Generally speaking, there is a lot to think about when it comes to underwater photography at sporting events, and I have found personal experience is key. Taking the picture normally turns out to be the easy part (or should be). Getting your camera into a competition pool, especially if itís televised, is not as easy as you might think.

First off, you need a scuba diving license. You wonít be able to place your camera without one. Normal pools are around 2m deep. Olympic pools are a regulation 3m deep. That would stretch most peopleís breath holding and snorkeling skills (mine certainly), and you would be fighting your natural buoyancy to stay down long enough to position and focus your camera.

You need a decent underwater housing and a mechanism to trigger it remotely, not forgetting a solution for keeping it fixed to the bottom of the pool. Most of the guys tend to use a small base plate weighted down with diving weights. For the London Olympics everything has to be colored white to match the color of the pool, so as not to show up on TV -- thatís housing, cables, plate, and weights.

Hauling everything into and out of the venue can also be a major challenge. Itís fine when itís your local pool and you have your car. But when the event is on an island in a foreign land, and you have to somehow get your standard camera gear plus lenses, underwater camera gear, and scuba gear/tank/weights to one place, it can be a logistical nightmare.

Access times to the pool are also very restricted. Quite often at competitions we have to install late at night, after competition, as this is the only time the pool is empty for a sustained period. Prior to competition, and between day sessions, the athletes train in the pool, so we have to wait for them to finish before we can get in. This increases the pressure because if anything goes wrong with the camera after you finish setting it up, it will stay wrong. You wonít get an opportunity to get in and sort it out until after.

All of the guys that shoot underwater action will tell you theyíve all been through the pain barrier of spending hours working out and setting up a shot for next day only to have the camera not fire or have been kicked during training. Reaching the back of the camera on the bottom of the pool to see an error message flashing back at you is also another heart breaker.

Frequently you have one shot at a picture.  Your day is based around this ONE person in ONE race in ONE lane at ONE time of day (if the light is good), and you end up with nothing. Thatís pain right there, I can tell you.

Like most things, though, experience helps cut out these occurrences, and you tend to draw on your own personal experiences with trial and error where shot selection and execution is concerned. Time in swimming pools with cameras helps. Trying to compose and focus shots wearing scuba gear and wearing a mask isnít easy. At least with experience you learn to fix in your head what you want prior, and this helps you focus to get some sort of result and then refine it for next time. Like with this shot, itís been done before by others and by myself, so you review what happened last time and look at what you could have done better and try to cut that next time.

Q. Where did you get the idea for this image?

Like a lot things in photography, especially sports photography, due to the restrictions you have to work under, most things have been shot before. And those restrictions at major sporting events also inevitably shape the way you work and what images you can produce.  Safety for the competitors is always paramount. We have to be very aware of where the camera is positioned, so it doesnít get accidentally hit and maybe cause injury. You can imagine how that would go down in an Olympic final. Not good.

Here at Getty Images, and before that Allsport, the likes of globally respected photographers Adam Pretty, Donald Miralle and Al Bello have pushed the boundaries in this field for many a year. They very much started the ball rolling for these kinds of shots, but different venues and scenarios offer up variations on the theme. Iím also sure that they themselves would pay huge respect to Heinz Kluetmeier of Sports Illustrated who is widely credited for pioneering the use of underwater cameras at sporting events way back in the day.

Amazingly, ALL of these guys are still shooting and will be poolside at one time or another in London for the Olympics. For the younger generation like myself (even though Iím no spring chicken) to have these guys around to bounce ideas off is absolutely invaluable.

Q. Did the photo work out the way you had hoped?

I think basically, on a technical level, yes. I donít think one is ever completely satisfied! I really wanted to catch the swimmers in the middle of the lights and make sure everything was centralized, and I think its been achieved here. Maybe if their costumes were a different color it might have added something else to the shot Ė who knows? Thatís the beauty of sports photography and maybe photography in general. Thereís always something you might be able to do better or change if you could rewind.

I donít recall too often (if ever) standing back and thinking, 'That shotís perfect! Now for my next trick.'

This is an angle we will be looking at for sure during the Olympics. Whether [the camera rig] is put in the same place or not will be very much decided at the time. If I were a betting man, Iíd expect there to be some sort of evolution of this theme, to be honest.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your path to a career in photography and about your job at Getty?

Born and educated in London, UK. I graduated from college in 1994 after discovering photography as part of an Art & Design course.  A love of sport, particularly motorsport, pushed me to pursue a career that tried to combine both.

A chance encounter with well-established Formula One photographer John Townsend led (after a more than a few phone calls) to a full time position as his assistant. During the next four years he taught me from scratch and gave me some great opportunities that a kid starting out could only dream of. (Along with some nasty working hours to redress the balance!)

Fast forward to 2003. After 9 years involved with F1 photography, the opportunity to work for Getty Images came along, and I jumped at the chance to work alongside the big names of the sports photography industry. With Getty, Iíve covered multiple Olympics (Summer & Winter) and numerous sporting World Championships, including last summerís Football World Cup in South Africa.

Iím based in London, and I work very much on normal day to day sports coverage in the UK. Whilst not specializing in any one particular sport anymore, I guess itís fair to say that, coming from a motor racing background, I do drop into the odd Grand Prix here and there when required.

More recently, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I have concentrated on shooting a lot of aquatic sports (swimming, diving, synchro and water polo) both on the surface and underwater, which I really enjoy. Itís given me the opportunity to learn a lot of new skills both inside and outside of photography -- scuba diving being one of them.

(Roseís answers have been slightly edited for clarity and length. Two more of his underwater pictures from the same event are here.)
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