PHOTO ASSIGNMENT BLOG:
I was fortunate to recently photograph Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker at a then yet to be announced secret training facility in Perth, Western Australia.
Following Steve’s huge successes in recent years, his story resurfaced in the media over past months questioning his ability to defend his Olympic title following a sever case of ‘the yips’ that had Hooker doubting himself and his ability to compete on the world circuit.
The secret training facility was purpose-built to allow Hooker to ‘re-boot’ his psyche and get back on track for his Olympic Challenge in London 2012.
Flying into Perth, I knew the challenges to this project would not only involve low-light but also the limited potential to shoot action. Unlike many other sports where a training day may involve many multiple repetitions of a key activity, the impact on the body of a pole vaulter from each attempt ensures only limited vaults per session. combine this with an indoor setup in an old warehouse that offered a unique ‘but visually extremely busy’ location and I had a task ahead of me.
My brief was to capture dynamic action imagery of both the facility and Steve Hooker’s training, whilst also securing background imagery to tell a story.
Immediately I began thinking slave flashes and dramatic atmosphere, but a few meetings later and it was clear this was not a reality…. instead the only real option was to go to the other extreme and shoot available light only (and there wasn’t much), in a real photo-doco style to compile ‘a day in-the-life of Steve Hooker on his comeback trail’ essay.
As the only photographer selected visit the facility before it’s announcement, the pressure was on to secure enough lifestyle, documentary and action footage for the imminent global press release of the secret training facility and Hookers intentions to rejoin the athletics circuit and defend his Olympic title in London 2012.
Being the only shooter ensured I entered the project with a little trepidation, simply wanting to secure the goods as soon as possible … just in case! (In my world people injure themselves, others throw tantrums, agents get in the way, security try to stop you for no reason, the weather creates chaos… and a thousand other variables) ! …but fortunately the day ended up being fun. It certainly was a challenge and my ISO hardly dropped below ISO3200 for the duration of the session, but we nailed some great results.
Upon conclusion of the shoot, as expected, ‘secret op’ mode was instigated with embargoes on all imagery and video footage until the announcement… it is these time when you hope your secure transfer of photos and footage are in fact ‘very secure’.
With some great results I walked away content and was nicely surprised to find Hooker a super amicable and laid back guy, with a flexibility to help achieve our results outside of his training. Additionally, he unselfishly opened up his purpose-built facility to fellow athletes, allowing them to also enhance their abilities to achieve their best results possible.
Tomorrow I fly out to once again revisit Hooker and his facility, but this time in a competition scenario – at night… so I expect even more challenges, even less light and to add to the pressure, Hooker may qualify for the Olympics with one of his three jumps.
What does this mean: Three vaults to tell the story, and of these one may just be a qualifying jump… so I have to get ‘the shot’ and it better be damned sharp and well exposed (Thankfully I own a Nikon D4 which as fellow ambassador Jasin Boland states “sees like a cat full of carrots” – or else I would be up a certain creek)…. oh the fun of shooting sports, indoors, at night, in a warehouse! …