Here we are with the big gun and a few of my favorite images taken with the Sony 400mm f/2.8. Let me tell you, covering my first international sports event with such a beast has been unpredictably more challenging than I thought it would be!

If you missed part one or two, be sure to check these out to learn how I got ready for the World Masters, installed myself to get the best spot and chose the best settings for my other two lenses of choice.

The 400mm f/2.8 GM

I was so proud and humbled to have this lens with me for a whole 10 days! I couldn’t wait to use it. Soon enough, I realized I was very (very!) close to the athletes. I had head to toe shots with the 85mm. I had closer portraits — from the knees up — with the 135mm. Anyone else could’ve been 70-200mm from where I was and have more than the needed focal length. And here I was with my bazooka, WAYYYY overkill and still WAYYYY too excited to use it.

85 year-old male international olympic weightlifting athlete overhear snatch Marcel Perron
85 year-young athlete Marcel Perron — the eldest athlete of the World Masters — completes a successful Snatch. He has also been crowned the best overall male lifter across all ages and weight categories. EXIF: Sony a9 + 400mm f/2.8 GM at f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 2000.

Facing reality

Because I was so very close from the platforms (remember how I almost killed someone in order to be the closest as humanely as possible in front of the judges?), it ended up pretty much as a shoot and miss experience. I would try to anticipate the exact second the athlete would pull or catch the bar.

The thing is, at this distance, a fraction of a second too early or too late would make me lose my subject in the viewfinder. That made my quest for the coolest shot ever so exciting. It put my photography and Olympic Weightlifting skills to the test, and I was up for the challenge. As you can guess, I didn’t get as many keepers as I did with my 85mm and 135mm. But let me tell you, the ones I got turned out to be the most satisfying of all.

A weightlifting coach helps his athlete focus before his liftA weightlifting coach helps his athlete focus before his lift

The above is the perfect example of this — with a Lebanon athlete and his coach, Mohammad Nabil El Jlailati. I love to get athletes in a moment of focus and concentration right before an attempt. This small instance where we can see the unique bond between a coach and his athlete.

You can see the 400mm lives up to its reputation with mind-blowing image quality, color rendering and delightful details — even when zoomed in on the coach’s face. EXIF: Sony a9 + 400mm GM f/2.8 at f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 3200.

My strategy

After trial and error, I decided to use the 400mm for moments prior to the lift (when athletes are chalking and mostly standing in the back of the platform) and for the first Snatch attempts.

First attempts are secure bars that most athletes successfully lift. That allowed me to get their victorious expression while they held the bar overhead. I started by using it on a tripod but I quickly decided to handhold it. The athletes were moving very fast and I felt I was more precise when I had it in the palm of my hands. A little less convenient, but I wasn’t there to find the easy way out.

USA female lifter breathes focus before her attempt at World Masters international sports event
USA lifter Giselle Araüjo takes a deep breath before her first Snatch attempt. I love how close portraits get us in sync with the subject’s emotion. EXIF: Sony a9 + 400mm f/2.8 GM at f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 3200.

I case some of you have been wondering …

I haven’t got a dime from anyone to write this series. I own my gear (besides the 400mm that’s been landed for a review). I switched from DSLR to Mirrorless a year ago and I’ve constantly been crazy happy with the choice and investment I made.

For the past 12 months, I’ve never got so many great shots in such an enjoyable way. I am deeply enthusiast by the amazing opportunity I have to do what I love as a full-time job. I love sharing my experiences and favorite shots. That’s all there is to say. Now let’s go back to the wrap-up of this whole thing, shouldn’t we?

International emale weightlifter pulls a heavy snatch at the 2019 World Masters Championship sports event
Ernestine De Veyra, from Canada, pulls a Snatch. This image hasn’t been cropped. You can see how little of a window I had to frame the shots. EXIF: Sony a9 + 400mm f/2.8 GM at f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 4000.

What I’ve learned from this experience

The greater the risk, the greater the reward. With nearly 800 athletes from 34 different countries, I committed to photographing at this event every single one of them. I committed to deliver fast high-quality images. My first international sports event — the World Masters — was definitely my biggest challenge (and gamble) of 2019.

Was it worth it? Boy, it was! I learned so many things, both in photography and in business. I met hundreds of amazing persons and incredible athletes. I took dozens of thousands of pictures and delivered over 8,400 of them — only the cream of the crop. I’ve kept my standards — even of that meant sorting, cropping and editing shots 12 hours a day for 14 days with sleepless nights. I learned about myself, and how I could push my boundaries.

I also learned that keeping a positive mindset allowed me to do a lot more that I thought I humanely could. And even more, I realized that multiple positive mindsets working together can conquer anything. I wouldn’t have gone through these nine days without the help of all those amazing volunteers, judges and caring members of the organization. It’s definitely been a challenging nine days for everyone but together, we made it a reality. I feel more ready than ever to take on my next international challenge. Bring it on, 2020!