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Capturing Usain Bolt’s Gold Medal Grin Within 1 Second | The Photo To Define The 2016 Olympics

By Shivani Reddy on August 16th 2016

If this image hasn’t crossed your social media newsfeed at some point this week, you clearly need to crawl out from underneath the rock that you’ve been living under. Striking in both its composition and technicality, this image of superhuman Usain Bolt is truly an outlier from images being mass-produced from the Getty photographers documenting the 2016 Rio Olympics. There is obviously a plenitude of iconic moments that will serve as history in years to come, and being privileged enough to bare witness of such a fleeting moment of time is an honor that not many will experience.

Australian Photographer Cameron Spencer, of Getty Images, had the task of photographing the three-time Gold Medal Olympiad in his 100m semi-final heat this past Sunday night in Rio. Being no stranger to the task, Spencer looked forward to photographing Bolt for the third time in his career, telling the Telegraph “when shooting the world’s fastest man, you always need to be on your toes, and ready”. The pressure to freeze a moment in time on such a grand scale is both scintillating and terribly nerve-wracking all at once. With less than 10-seconds to capture a compelling image, Spencer had no idea that the risk he was about to take would pay off in a rather large way.

Surrounded by photographers all vying for a standout shot, Cameron waited for Bolt to take his mark, anticipating that some theatrical behavior would follow once he crossed that finish line. In Spencer’s interview with The Torch, NPR’s Olympic Coverage Station, he states:

“When [Bolt] went past me, you know, this happens in 9 1/2 seconds, and I kind of knew at the 70-meter mark he was going to probably be ahead of the rest,” Spencer tells NPR. “When he passed me around the 70-meter mark, I was infield and I sort of panned my camera with him.”

Spencer looked at his LCD screen with trepidation, a moment we’ve all shared when attempting a risky shot, hoping that it was sharp enough to pass, and indeed it was with the addition that Bolt was looking directly at the camera, with a “big grin going, and the eyes, and I knew that it was special once I saw that.” Video footage of the race even shows Bolt staring over both shoulders as he breezes past the competition, evenutally crossing the finish line with a cheesy grin knowing he secured his place for the final run. The internet immediately took the photo and ran, sparking hilarious memes centered around Bolt’s bold grin.

Spencer could have easily stayed on the safe side and set his camera to a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment, but what’s the fun in that? Using the Canon 1D X Mark II paired with a Canon 70-200mm lens, he zoomed in at 135mm and slowed the shutter speed down to 1/40th of a second. Multiple angles, varied settings, yet, when the decision was made to take the risk, Spencer banked on Bolt to come through, trusted his craft, and produced an image to prove his worth for lifetimes to come.

You can check out the image and more on Getty, and in an interview he did with NPR about the image which seems set to become the image of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Image Credit: Cameron Spencer for Getty Images

Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. charles harris

    great image

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  2. Tom Kuther

    Which one do you like more: Cameron Spencer’s, or Kai Pfaffenbach’s on Reuters here ?

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  3. Kelvin Strepen

    Hi, Reddy. Do you have any unique copy of this picture?

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  4. Bill Bentley

    Great capture. What is the saying? Luck rewards those who prepare, or something like that. The grin makes the photo.

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  5. Karen Borter

    Such a great image and a great example of panning LOL

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