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The weather in Beijing has been hot during my entire stay, but today was the first time I spent hours working in the afternoon sun. And I have to tell you, it's hot and humid, very humid.

The temperature was over 90 degrees today, and it felt like the humidity was about the same. I would find patches of shade to camp out beneath when I felt my core begin to simmer. And once I finished my shooting, I went into an air conditioned building an hour before I was to report for work so I could arrive cool and composed.

But as hot as it is, I'm going out shooting every chance I get. There are just too many opportunities, and I don't want to pass them up because of a little perspiration... OK, maybe a lot of perspiration.

Photo of overheated visitor to the Olympic Commons by Derrick Story. Canon 5D with 70-200mm f/4 L lens.


Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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The hours leading up to the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics could best be described as patient happy anticipation. I was allowed access all the way up to the stadium ticket entrance. At first, this might sound disappointing to not have admission inside. But you needed a special pass even for the common area outside the stadium. The rings of security here in Olympic Village are many and substantial. I didn't get my common area authorization until the last minute.

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But it was worth the wait. I saw the buses of athletes driving by one by one in an endless stream that never seemed to end. Many of the opening ceremony participants were congregating in the common area interacting with visitors, posing for pictures, and making last minute preparations. Everywhere I turned there was something colorful and compelling to photograph.

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Once the event began, there was still plenty of activity outside. The battalions of athletes began to form, slowly marching forward to receive their nation's flag as they entered the stadium. Crowds would line up along the human barricades formed by Chinese volunteers holding hands to create a barrier that seemed to stretch as far as the Great Wall itself. The nice thing about this approach, is that you could see everything going on, yet the athletes were protected.

Then there were the fireworks, so loud and intense that they shook the buildings. I got back to my room after midnight, edited some pictures, and fell asleep twice at the computer. Finally, I gave in and went to bed, knowing that hours later I would be back at work in the Olympic Village.

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Photos by Derrick Story, captured with a Canon 5D with 16-35mm f/2.8 L II and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lenses. ISO 1600.

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As I post this now, it's 8:30 am in Beijing. Tonight the Opening Ceremonies begin, and I suppose that everything is going to change around here.

I captured this image of the Bird's Nest Stadium last night while walking in Beijing. It was one of those magical moments in the city when we were all out strolling along the perimeter of Olympic Village. People were waving little flags, taking pictures, and enjoying being out en masse with their friends and family.

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We were about the only Americans I saw on this walk, which made it even more enjoyable. I felt like I was immersed in what it feels like the moment before the world comes to your doorstep. More to report soon.

Photos by Derrick Story, captured with a Canon 5D and 16-35mm L II lens. ISO 1600.

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I've been depending almost exclusively on the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Lens during my first few days in Beijing. In part, as I anticipated, it's because I'm working indoors as we prepare for the launch of the Olympics. My standard procedure everywhere I go is to carry the Canon 5D over my shoulder with the Sigma 50mm mounted. It's relatively compact, very fast at f/1.4, and has transformed even the most mundane shots into something pretty to look at.

Other photographers have been curious about it too. They've admired its handsome looks and have had fun testing it to see how it performs. Speaking of which, I'm very happy with the autofocus speed in real life shooting. As with my Canon lenses, I just don't think about it much. I compose the shot and the Sigma takes care of its business by the time I'm ready to shoot. It's also very quiet as it focuses never drawing attention to me as I try to grab the shot.

The images are quite beautiful. The color balance is accurate along with the sharpness of where I focus. The thing to keep in mind with a wide aperture lens, is that the focus falloff is fairly steep wide open. So if you're not used to shooting with this kind of glass, it can catch you off guard at first. But in the end, I love the look. It feels very artistic to me.

Everyday that I shoot with the Sigma 50mm, I like it more. And for the moment, it's my go-to lens. Of course that will change when I get out to the events...

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Nikon Center

If you're an official photographer at the Olympics, you have to show the correct credentials, and you'll need your Kodak photography vest. Each vest has an ID number on the front and on the back. So at any time on location, photographers can be identified from a distance.

In general, the shooters aren't crazy about this system. Many of them would prefer not to wear a vest at all. But like many things at the Olympics, there is a system in place to help keep things running smoothly.

Shown here is the Nikon booth within the Kodak Image Center. Since the events haven't really started yet, the shooters are coming in to get last-minute equipment adjustments and to get organized for the busy period ahead. Canon has a similar set up at the other end of the room.

As for me, well it's fairly quiet today at the workstations. We have more than 50 Macs set up with Aperture, Photoshop, Transmit, and Photo Mechanic. During my shifts in the Center, I try to help photographers get their work done. I'll enjoy the casual pace now, because after Friday, everything will change.

Photo of the Nikon booth by Derrick Story.

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Have you wondered if the new DNG Profile Editor might be a useful tool for your photography? It would be easier to figure that out if you knew more about what it really did and the thinking behind its inception.

Fortunately for all of us, John Nack just published an interview with Eric Chan, a computer scientist on the Adobe Camera Raw team. He sheds considerable light on the DNG Profile Editor. Eric is also a photographer, so he knows how to talk to us. It's a good read.

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For the next two weeks while I'm in Beijing, it's monopod time. When preparing for a big trip, I often wrestle with this issue. Should I bring a tripod? If yes, which one? Can I get by with just a monopod? Will I regret this decision no matter what I choose?

This time around, I'm opting for the monopod - to be specific, a Giottos 9780 5-Section Monopod. It's light (1.4 lb / 640 grams), tall (70.8" / 180 cm), and compact (20.8" / 53 cm). I don't have to carry it over my shoulder when it's hot; I can use it as a walking stick. It is the perfect support for my Canon Tripod Mount Ring, it looks cool, packs easily in my suitcase, and I take good pictures with it.

The monopod has been winning out more lately as my ability to shoot at high ISO increases. At ISO 1600, shooting in the aperture range of f/1.4 to f/4, I feel like I can conquer just about any lighting condition with the Giottos. And if you're shopping, a pro-caliber monopod costs far less than an equivalent tripod. My Giottos stick only runs about $48, and it is a quality piece of equipment.

So, will I regret this decision to leave the 3-legged monster at home? I doubt it. But if I do, I promise to let you know in a couple weeks.


Previous Installments of Assignment Olympics

Pulling the Pieces Together
What's in the Bag for Beijing


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In my last installment, I mentioned that I'm traveling light on my way to Beijing. So how does that impact the equipment I'll need to do my job - computer, camera, audio recording? I've spent some time perfecting my system so that everything I need will fit in one bag that fits over my shoulder.

I'll start with the bag itself. I rummaged through my "bag closet" and found an old Bessler carryall that I scored off the bargin table years ago. I've never used it on a job, but it's perfect for this trip. It will hold a 13" laptop and enough camera gear to get me through the assignment. This is exactly why I'm a bag hound.

For my laptop, I'm packing a current model MacBook with Intel processor and 4 GBs RAM. It's light, WiFi adept, and can run all of my photo applications. I'm including a 120 GB FireLite Smartdisk external drive for backups. A power brick with plug adapter for China and that's about it except for a few cables and a FireWire card reader.

My main camera is the Canon 5D with three lenses: 70-200mm f/4 L, 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, and a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. I'm augmenting the 70-200 zoom with a Canon 1.4X tele extender and the custom tripod ring that mounts beautifully on my monopod. With this rig, I have reach (up to 280mm), breadth (16mm on the wide end), and speed (f/1.4 on the Sigma). I'm adding a handful of 4 GB cards, four batteries, charger, ExpoDisc, and microfiber cloth. I always pack Ziplocs... just in case.

I'll also bring the Canon G9 with a couple 4 GB cards and two batteries. It's a great backup camera and is less conspicuous if I'm in a situation where I need to keep the 5D in the bag.

Finally, I'm packing the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 with a stereo omnidirectional mic and a narrow pattern mono mic. That way I can capture big event sounds (great for slideshows) and record interviews for podcasts.

I'll have two phones with me. For international travel, I always take my unlocked Sony Ericsson W810i. Hopefully, I'll be able to buy a SIM card at the Beijing airport so I'll have local connectivity. I'm also taking the iPhone, making sure that I turn off "Data Roaming" in the Network Settings so I don't rack up huge service charges while abroad.

I have added a couple 3rd party apps to the iPhone, since it will also be my portable computer. "Audio Recorder" enables me to capture quick tidbits of audio and save them as standard QuickTime files. The recording quality is actually quite good. I also added "Converter" that makes it easy to convert just about any type of unit for Temperature, weight, etc. The Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook is a must have. Not only does it provide text translations for common phrases, it *speaks* them. Talk about an ace in the hole. And it's free in Apple's App Store. My last new addition to the iPhone is "Stanza," which is a free eBook reader that doubles as a PDF manager. So I can have a few books with me without carrying the weight of paper.

All of this fits nicely in my bargain table shoulder bag. It's not the lightest kit in the world, but it's portable enough so I can have it with me at all times, and hopefully, contains everything I will need for this assignment.

Of course, I'll be reporting on how successful this rig works out. If you're not following me on Twitter, you can find me as Derrick_Story.


Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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FotoMagico 2.5 Now Available

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Boinx Software has just announced the latest version of FotoMagico, and it has some great new features.

Just on the heels of the new Lightroom 2 announcement, FotoMagico 2.5 provides support for Adobe Lightroom libraries, this is in addition to its existing support for media from iPhoto, Aperture, and GarageBand. It also includes a teleprompter that shows notes for every slide on a presenter´s display and a new export option for uploading slideshow videos directly to YouTube.

The update to FotoMagico 2.5 is free of charge to current FotoMagico 2.x license owners at their current license levels. FotoMagico 2.5 Express is available for $49 and FotoMagico 2.5 Pro is available for $129 via Kagi. For all purchase options see http://boinx.com/fotomagico/buy. Commercial multi-user license discounts are available upon request.

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This is the first in a series of posts detailing my assignment in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

SANTA ROSA, CA - As I prepare for my August 4th departure to Beijing, I'm faced with the challenge of gathering together everything I need, but in a package I can have with me at all times. I'm not talking about socks and underwear, those are replaceable most anywhere. The bag that is the center of my universe includes my travel documentation, camera gear, audio recording equipment, and computer.

On the surface, my assignment is simple. Assist working photographers in the Olympic Media Center. My sponsors are Kodak and Apple. While I'm working in the center, I'll be interviewing, photographing, and publishing stories about the people covering the event. It's the classic "story within the story" scenario that I love so much. I'll help set up the media center days before the opening ceremonies, then work a shift that goes through August 14th.

One of the most common questions people ask is, "Will you get to shoot at the venues?" Good question. I have no idea. In fact, all I really know is that I have a flight reservation, a visa, and a media pass. I'll find out the rest in good time.

So you can understand my desire to pack light. If it can't hang on my shoulders, it's not going with me. In my next installment of Assignment Olympics, I'll detail the contents of my kit. I think I have it together, but if I'm forgetting something, I'm going to depend on you to let me know.

I've also just set up a Twitter account for posting "quickies" as they happen. If you like the realtime stuff, you might want to follow along.

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