I’m on my way to covering my first international sports event with my camera bag fully equipped. Let the games begin!

Welcoming the baby — Sony 400 f/2.8 GM

The Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM arrived at my home for its 10-day loan. It felt like a dream in a case — a HUGE photographer’s dream in a proportionately HUGE case.

I’ve been working hard these past years on my photography and to get to photograph with this super-telephoto for a few days has been one of the coolest and most humbling rewards I’ve got so far. I promised myself I’d make good use of it and come back from the World Masters Weightlifting Championship with the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Excited female photographer holding 400mm f/2.8 ready to cover her first international sports event
On the left: A very excited Michèle packing her stuff. On the right, a side by side comparison between the sizes of the 135mm and the 400mm (which weighs six pounds, by the way).

Getting installed — a sport in itself

The big day had finally come and I get to the gymnasium venue with all my bags. As I’ve been warned by the organization, the setup for this international event was special: It had two platforms — a first for me. I learned later that one of these platforms was the same one that had been used for the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Two platforms meant two athletes were lifting at the same time — not just a single one as it is usually the case. I knew I had to sit in front, equally in the middle of the two of them if I wanted to get the best images. That left me in a delicate situation.

International sports event World Masters weightlifting championship venue
THIS is where I HAD to be. Not in the back, not on the side. Right there in the front row, in the middle of the two platforms. EXIF: Sony a9 + 28mm f/2 at f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 1250.

Recovering my poise

Olympic Weightlifting (O-Lift) is a very formal sport that involves precise time, distances and judging. I couldn’t (and wasn’t allowed to) sit anywhere I wanted — even though I was officially covering the event. I had to be granted the authorization to sit in front of the judge’s table,  which hadn’t been a simple thing.

Judges aren’t very inclined to have anything or anyone between them and the lifting athletes. I am not the kind of person to battle my way to get something. But this time, I’d fought to the death for that spot. One thing was clear: There was no way for me to take pictures from anywhere else.

I felt a bit like panicking and wanted to tell the judges there was no other option for me but to be there. A little calm, composure and politeness went a long way. After reaching out to some key players in the organization, I had been granted the right to sit at the spot I had to be. That is, as long as I was making myself verrrrry small. Make myself small to potentially get some of the best shots of my career? Yeah! You bet I could do that! Even if that meant sitting on the floor 12 hours a day for nine consecutive days.

Female photographer installed on the floor with camera gear for her first international sports event coverage
If I wasn’t sitting on my foldable camping chair (or the 400mm case — let’s keep it between both of us), I would lay on the floor. Behind me was the judge’s table, live streaming cameras, printers, power supplies and microphones. I HAD to make myself VERY small, but I got the best view!

Weapon of choice and settings for coverage

Sony a9

I installed two tripods for my two a9 camera bodies (my dear Mr. A always follows me everywhere I go). They always have their battery pack on, but this time I knew this I’d really use the extra power for the upcoming 12-hours shooting days.

85mm f/1.8

The 85mm allowed me to get head to toe shots, including the background and the athlete’s information from the screen behind them. Most of the time, my settings were f/1.8, 1/800s and ISO 1250. The goal was to get the fastest shutter speed without bumping up too much my ISO, which allowed me to keep the highest image quality possible.

International Olympic Weightlifter sports on the platform smiles to the crown the barbell in front of him
Yves Carignan himself, the main organizer of the 2019 World Masters, lifted on day two of the competition. He used to perform as an Olympian on the exact same platform, 43 years ago, at the 1976 Summer Olympics. EXIF: Sony a9 + 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8, 1/800s, ISO 1250.

135mm f/1.8 GM

The 135mm allowed to get slightly closer portraits — the ones I personally love most — with the emphasis on the athlete’s face and expression. It’s also my best bud hands down. My settings while covering the event were usually: f/1.8, 1/1000s and ISO 1250.

Interestingly, you can see that while I had an equivalent aperture and ISO to my 85mm, I was able to pick a faster shutter speed to get the same exposure. Thanks to the high quality built and glasses of this G Master lens. (To learn more on my favorite lens, read this full article I wrote while covering another great sports event!)

International weightlifter athlete Chad Vaughn doing a squat clean at the 2019 World Masters Weightlifting sports event
USA athlete Chad Vaughn at the bottom of the squat clean (the first movement of the “Clean and Jerk”). See the bar bending and the chalk in the air? I absolutely love to capture this moment. EXIF: Sony a9 + 135mm f/1.8 GM at f/1.8, 1/1000s, ISO 1250.

The best for last

And here we are left with the ultimate weapon. The cream of the crop. The 400mm. Stay with me because, in this last article, I bring out the big gun!