When AFP photographer Oliver Morin set out to photograph the 100m final in Moscow—and, most notably, the legendary Usain Bolt, a 26-year old powerhouse sprinter who holds world records in both the 100m and 200m—he wasn’t trying to capture a ‘career-defining’ shot or the ‘best sports photo of the year,’ but with strategic positioning and a little help from Mother Nature, he did:
Morin attributes the shot to a little bit of careful planning and a lot of luck.
“Let’s be honest,” Morin wrote in a blog post on AFP’s website. “The only things I was able to control were the framing of the shot and when to hit the remote-controlled trigger. The flash of lighting – well, of course that can’t be planned… So, I only really give myself credit for one percent of this picture!”
Still, Morin set himself up for success by avoiding the ‘herd’ mentality common among sports photographers. Look at them, scrambling over each other along the inside of the track to take stereotypical shots—of runners straining towards the finish line against the blurred background of thousands of screaming fans, and of Usain Bolt striking his trademark pose after winning the race.
No one thought to shoot from the other side, including the banner lettering at the top of the stadium and the skyline to better capture the downpour—no one except Morin.
“The idea was to make a photo of the winner with his arms raised and with the stadium in the background, as well as capturing a little bit of the sky,” explained Morin. “I was thinking more along the lines of an enduring feature photograph, rather than your typical news shot.”
In addition to his hand-held camera, Morin set up five remote-controlled cameras for varying perspectives of the winner, choosing to focus on Bolt’s lane because “it seemed like a fair bet.” The camera that captured this shot was actually his fifth, set about 30 meters back from the finish line to give a wider view of the stadium.”Without the flash in the sky, it wouldn’t really be anything that special, ” Morin explained modestly, in response to his massive popularity since taking the photo.
Indeed, the lightning does add extra ‘zap’ to the shot. Perhaps that violet flash was a salute from Mother Nature—a respectful nod to celebrate mankind’s own lightning Bolt—or perhaps it was a power trip, reminding us that, while Bolt may be the fastest man in the world, Mother Nature can still beat him to the finish line every time.
While we can never know one way or the other, what is clear is that Morin’s careful planning, born from experience and individualism, put him in the right place at the right time.
“This was, I think, a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” said Morin. “In my 25 years as a photographer I’ve never had an uncontrollable external element make a photo like this, and I imagine if I tried again for a similar result for the next 50 years, it wouldn’t happen again.”
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