Monday, June 9, 2014

A Day That Was Awesome, But Wasn't...

Sorry I haven't been around lately, been kinda nuts around here...

Where do I begin?? I guess the beginning is a good spot:

About a month ago, my supervisor at work asked me if I would be available on June 7th to assist a photographer for a potentially big shoot. Of course I was curious, but the 7th was my sister-in-laws baby shower and Kim was going to be out all day, so I said that it depends, and to give me more info.

He forwarded me the email he received, and it was from Al Tielemans, a Sports Illustrated staff photographer. A guy that I admire, a guy whose work I have followed, a guy any sports photographer wants to shoot like.

I responded to Al and he told me that he needed help at the Belmont Stakes, IF California Chrome wins the Preakness Stakes. Well, we all know how that ended up, and after a few days, Al confirmed that we would in fact be working the Belmont. Baby sitters were locked in, and I confirmed my commitment.

HOLY SHIT!!! Not only will I be working for SI, but I will be assisting Al Tielemans, and I would be at the Belmont Stakes, a potential Triple Crown race!! I didn't know what to expect, but I was damn excited to find out!
The creds!!

Fast forward a few weeks later, and I am sitting in Belmont Park in beautiful Elmont, New York talking with Al and his other assistant Jon, a long-time friend of Al's from Pennsylvania. Al received his assigned spot from SI, and we scouted locations and came up with a quick game plan. We were assigned to Turn 4, the last turn before the home-stretch, the last place the horse could either win it, or lose it.


I arrived at the track early, and waited for the crew to arrive, the place was insane already at 7:00 in the morning! Al showed up and we loaded a hand truck with gear and headed toward "security" to get into the building. I put security in quotes, because I really didn't  feel too secure after they "searched" our bags and cases.. this guy had no clue what he was looking at, and one case looked like an IED builders cookbook! But we literally got the thumbs-up and away we went.
The Leaning Hand Truck of Gear

When we got near our corner, a woman came running over to Al and I and asked excitedly, "are you guys in the band??" Al and I looked at each other and laughed like hell!! Our day started off with laughter and remained like throughout!

We unpacked and started staging cameras and lenses where we wanted to put up remotes. Seven remotes in total were going to be positioned around Turn 4!
The Gear

Two camera and lenses from just past the last 1/4 Pole: EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS USM and an EF 300mm F/2.8 L IS USM on EOS-1D X bodies.
Al focusing the EOS-1D X with an EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM

An EOS-1D X with an 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM on a tower pointing deep into the turn:
The 800mm remote

Two more EOS-1D X bodies, one with a 500mm f/4 L IS USM and one with a 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM on an elevated platform looking at the spot where the horses will just clear the turn:
Focusing the 400mm

And a Nikon with a 200-400mm lens pointed towards the end of the turn to get a shot of the horses from behind with the crowd in the background. (We won't talk about the icky black lenses here!) Al was going to shoot with an EOS-1D X with a 200-400 f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4X from the top of the grandstands and Jon and I were going to trigger the remotes when the horses hit a pre-determined spot.

So after running a couple hundred feet of remote cables, clamping everything down, and firing off some test frames we were ready for a dry run!!

We had a little bit of downtime before the race, so I went and found Johnny, one of my best friends who was at the track enjoying the day, although he looked like he should be in Boca betting on JaiAlai or Dog Racing or something!!
Johnny complete with an old-man hat and racing form!!

Then a quick walk to the beginning of the home-stretch to grab a quick pic of Costas:
Bob Costas on the set of NBC Sports

We were ready to go!!! Remotes in place, game plan finalized, cables run, it was race time!!
Al proclaiming: "All this is ours!!!"

Al ran up to the grand stand, and Jon and I took our positions. The sun was dropping fast, and I had to make some last-minute decisions on ISO speeds and exposure-compensation on a few of the cameras, but once I made the decision, I was confident that I had made the right choices. 

Nerves started acting up, and after feeling the adrenaline going through my body, I could only image what those jockeys were feeling like while they were loosening the horses up and parading them in front of the crowds.

The field came by us quickly during the loosen up run and I managed to grab a few shots of California Chrome with my camera before they made their way back to the starting gate:
California Chrome pre-race.


The gate opened and Jon and I had to quickly pick Chrome out of the crowd of horses to determine when we were going to trigger the remotes:

1) If he was way ahead, we start firing early
2) If he's behind, we fire on the leaders, then lay off, then fire again
3) If he's in the middle of the pack, we stay on the group

Turns out, he was right in the mix, and it looked like he was gaining a little ground.. we layed on the remote buttons, watched them go by, and that was it. It was over.

We had no idea who won, but by the sound of the crowd, it wasn't OUR horse. 

No Triple Crown, no 10 page spread in Sports Illustrated, the programs and 10 $1 California Chrome "to win" tickets I bought as souvenirs were useless.

But, we had an awesome day! We left tired, sunburnt, covered in Belmont dirt and aching, but we left laughing! We rehashed some of the jokes from throughout the day, cracked new ones, and felt good about what we accomplished in such short time, even if we didn't capture exactly what we wanted to.

Like I said, a day that was awesome, but wasn't!

Here are links to the shots that Sports Illustrated used on their website:

Low-Level 300mm shot: Sports Illustrated "Best of Belmont"
"Dust and ass" shot towards the crowd: Sports Illustrated "Best of Belmont"
Al's shot from high in the grand stand: Sports Illustrated "Best of Belmont"

It was an amazing experience and I'd like to thank Al for teaching me a thing or two about shooting for a mag and giving me opportunity to work with him!! Hopefully we can do it again one day!

Thanks for looking!

Keep 'em sharp!


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