Lucy in the sky with diamonds

August 11, 2008

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was my nickname yesterday.

My Olympic opening ceremony endurance test began with an 8am call to be on the roof of the Bird’s Nest stadium for a meeting of photographers.

I began my first of three climbs through the maze of steep, narrow catwalks with IOC pool photographers from AP, Getty, AFP and Xinhua. On either side of the path were sheets of glass through which the colored lights of the stadium are projected.


We were told to wear fireproof suits, helmets and climbing harnesses over our clothes.  The Chinese fireworks technicians on the roof had sensibly chosen to wear t-shirts and shorts.


It was 90-something degrees Fahrenheit and humid on the ground, but felt a lot hotter on the roof. — especially after lugging 3 camera bodies, 5 lenses, a bag of magic arms and 50 meters of remote cable up there.

The door to the catacombs of the roof was barred by Chinese police who confiscated any water, food, cigarettes and cell phones. 


The show was filled with interludes of fireworks, and we were told to crouch on the floor every time another burst came. So I quickly mounted a wide angle Canon 5D with 15mm lens on the edge of the stadium, which I could fire remotely every time we had to duck.


I set the camera on aperture priority at f8, 200 ISO.


REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

We were told we would have to crouch in a sunken part of the roof when the main fireworks and cauldron-lighting occurred, sometime after 10.30 pm.

So we mounted a couple of pool remote cameras to be triggered with zip cord to shoot the Olympic flame being lit. The Chinese police said it would be fine to clamp onto the pole holding their video security camera, so I trained a 70-200 in the direction of the torch, and Ezra Shaw from Getty put a wide angle very near the flame.

“Top secret, no-one will know until the last minute,” was the response from everyone when we tried to imagine how the flame would be lit, so we could frame it correctly.

Julie Jacobson from AP suggested we put our Canon Mark IIIs on monopods while we were stuck in our ditch, so we could hoist the pole and shoot using the camera’s Live View.

As we huddled and waited for the grand finale, a policeman came over gesturing and shouting in Chinese for us to go down the stairwell and shut the trap door over our heads.

One of the fireworks technicians translated and told us the rail we were sitting next to had been electrified to carry a trolley that would transport the athlete carrying the Olympic torch around the inside rim of the stadium.


 REUTERS/Shaun Best

We huddled on a 6×6 ft platform above the stairs. Below us were sheets of glass and below that sat the world leaders watching the extravaganza, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

A Chinese policeman who looked barely 20-years-old stood on the stairs. We had a narrow slit through which we could watch the rest of the ceremony. The cop grabbed my arm as the parade of athletes progressed.

“China’s coming!  China’s coming!” he said as we heard a huge roar from the crowd of more than 90,000.  I could barely make out any of the athletes but saw Yao Ming, who is probably visible from space.

The torch bearer glided around the top of the stadium, passing inches from the narrow gap we were looking out of.  He ignited the flame with a long fuse, outside the frame of my vertical remote which was trained on the massive cauldron. 

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The final firework explosions reverberated around us in our metal cage. 

I had met the head pyrotechnics engineer when I first came on the roof.  When he found out I was from London, he said he really wanted the contract for London 2012 and asked me to put a good word in for him. He didn’t seem convinced when I told him I didn’t have that kind of clout. I hope he gets the gig.


REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

Beijing, August 9 2008

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