As a photographer I greatly look forward to the opportunity to shoot something new and different, in as many new and different ways as possible.  So when USA Today asked me to shoot the P&G Gymnastics championships here in Indianapolis I was not only excited but I was also a bit unnerved as I’d never watched gymnastics before, much less shot the potential future USA Olympic gymnastic team members.   For years I’ve read Dave Black’s blog and admired his imagery knowing he used to be the photographer for the United States Olympic Gymnastics team and now I was going to be tossed into the wolves of shooting for national publication not only a brand new sport for me, but arguably the best athletes in the world at it.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Aly Reisman who went on to win the overall Bronze metal competes in the on floor Exercise at the P&G National Gymnastics Championships in Indianapolis.
Nikon D4s, 5000ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR, 1/2000th@F2.8)

My goal in an event such as this is always to make an image that is different than anybody else at the same event.  This is where depending on how you look at it I either had an advantage or I had a distinct disadvantage since as far as I could tell I was the only one there who had never shot gymnastics before.  (At least out of the folks who set up camp in the media room anyway).   I had an advantage since I could look at things differently than everyone else having not been jaded by past experience, but a disadvantage as I hadn’t had any trial or error as to what did or did not work to that point.  This is not to mention the fact that I did not have any knowledge of the athlete’s routines, nor who was who without their numbers on.  The first day was pretty tough, but there was a lighthouse in the storm that I’ll talk about in a bit.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Nikon D4s, 5000ISO, 400mmF2.8VR, 1/2000th@F2.8)

It was an incredible experience watching Simone Bile and Sam Mikulak both take their hat trick, or third time national championships in gymnastics at this event.  I likely wouldn’t have watched it on TV had I not shot the event but it was incredibly exhilarating just like watching Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck throwing that game winning touchdown from on field level.  The athlete’s are larger than life, yet at the same time on field level seem very human (at least to me).  Being on “field” level , or the level of competition was also quite a different experience than any other high level event I’ve ever been at.  All of the athletes were beyond friendly and happy we were all there.  There were numerous occasions where Simone could be seen giving high fives to young fans, it almost looked like she went out of her way sometimes to do so even.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Sam Mikulak who went on to win the overall Gold performs in the on floor exercise during the 2015 P&G Championships in Indianapolis). 

(Nikon D4, 5000ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR@116mm.  1/2000th@F2.8)

Really it was an eye opening experience for me to watch these men and women in person do these incredible feats of strength and agility.  It really does sadden me that today’s society is so “churn and burn” with images and image consumption that in a week or two (at best) that these images will likely get lost in the shuffle; only to get pulled off the wire by someone looking for a “stock” shot of one of the athletes for a story about something that they might have done outside gymnastics, OR (God forbid) if one of them gets in trouble.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Gabby Douglas waits for her turn during warm ups before the P&G Gymnastics Championships here in Indianapolis)

(Nikon D4s, 12,800ISO Nikkor Reflex 500mm F5, 1/2000th@F5) 

I said earlier however that I try to make the best effort to make some photos that are different than you would normally see, that others can’t or won’t make in the same day.   My attempt at this can be seen above made with the trusty 50cm/5 Nikon Catadioptric (reflex) lens that I’ve mentioned from time to time before.  I DID shoot some shots of the girls competing using this lens, but I ended up burning a lot more frames than I was able to make keepers, and the ones that were keepers weren’t of the more notable of the competitors.   That said, there are quite a few ways to make images that you won’t normally see.  Prime example can be seen below.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Kyla Ross competes in the uneven bars during the P&G Gymnastics Championship in Indianapolis)

(Nikon D4s, 12,800ISO, 400mmF2.8VR with TC20eIII making 800mm@F5.6.  1/2000th@F5.6)

With only 5 shooting positions on the floor options were limited.  Most of the shooters on the floor had from wide angle out to 400mm lenses, but in some occasions 400mm wasn’t enough unless you cropped in quite a bit.   For the image above I decided to go all out knowing that the female gymnasts would sometimes jump from lower to upper bar in the uneven bars sometimes face forward, instead of doing back flips front flips or other magical movement mere mortals are incapable of doing in such a way.  At 800mm this image isn’t cropped a whole lot meaning the chalk bits you see are actual chalk bits and not grain in the image. That and the distance I was at meant that my angle was practically straight into the bar.  At 800mm, I’d venture to guess it’s also a  shot that’s different than anybody else got.

Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Bailey Perez competes on the high bar during the first day of the P&G Gymnastics Championship in Indianapolis)

(Nikon D4s, 12,800ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR with TC20eIII making 800mmF5.6.  1/2500th@F5.6)

It was an incredible event and everybody I met was exceptionally gracious and helpful for someone who had never shot gymnastics before much less gymnastics at this level.   In fact that’s the lighthouse in the storm that I mentioned earlier.  The first day was pretty daunting but the group of photographers from around the US that came in for the event were all incredibly gracious and helpful over the four days.  Photographers like Peter Bick with Indiana Sports Corp, Amy from Inside Gymnastics,  Melissa from Cal Sports,  along with John and Lloyd with US Gymnastics were all incredible and I was beyond fortunate to have run into them early in the day the first day in the editing room.  On the first day they pointed out who I should look out , and gave me who they each thought would be the top finishers.  With almost deadly accuracy may I add.  It was really a breath of fresh air honestly as there are lots of events I’ve been to where the other shooters are NOT AT ALL helpful, seeing each other as competition.  Not every event of course, but some.  I digress though, the attitude of the gymnastics folks allowed me to focus on making imagery during my first and thus far only time covering gymnastics and I am eternally grateful.  Thanks to USA Today who sent me the event also, it was a great experience and I can only hope that someday I have another opportunity to shoot Gymnastics again.  More Soon.

 Gymnastics: P&G Gymnastics Championships

(Marvin Kimble competes on the high bar during the first day day of mens competition in the P&G Gymnastics Championship in Indianapolis)

(Nikon D4, 5000ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@180mm.  1/2000th@F2.8)