As the Rio Olympics comes to it’s end, I have been looking at some of the photographs which have been taken during the games – some real highs, some epic lows, but capturing it all are the photographers and film-crews, creating some powerful images.

Cameron Spencer’s photo of Usain Bolt at the 100 meter men’s semi-final at the Rio Olympics is one of the most shared and memorable images of the games. The timing, the expression, and the creativity produced an image which stands out and separates it, for all the right reasons, from the thousands of other photos taken in the last fortnight.

Time magazine produced an article about how Cameron Spencer took that image and why he decided to try creating something a little different – please read the interesting article in full at Time’s website.

So what can we learn about photography which we can apply to our own creative processes?

There were many things which sprang to mind when I saw the photo of Usain Bolt (“Wow!” being just one of them!) and I have two thoughts which I would like to share with you about creating ‘the’ photo which you can apply to your own photography.

The first is that you have to be there to take the photo. Somewhat obvious I know!

Cameron Spencer must have taken many hundreds if not thousands of photos during the Olympics. This was not the first photo he took, or even the second, or… You see where I am going with this? You have to be out there, taking photos and putting yourself in the position for taking them, and probably taking very many photos until you get ‘the’ photo which you just know is ‘it’ – The One you had imagined you might take. If you don’t set out to take photos and actually take them, maybe many hundreds of them, you’ll never get the one you want. So get out there and practice – look, see, and take photos.

The second thing is that it is strikingly different from many of the excellently crafted but similar photos which we have seen of the athletes from all the different sporting disciplines.

Cameron Spencer set out to create an image which was a little different from the others which had been taken so far. He says himself that putting himself in a slightly different location from normal and using a technique which is a bit risky with a subject which moves as fast as Usain Bolt does, could have resulted in him missing the shot altogether. Sometimes we need to think through the ‘ordinary’ image which we are about to take and have a think about have we can create something which is visually exciting – which grabs the attention, which conveys a quality, which tells a strong story. None of us need or should put ourselves at physical risk to take photos – by ‘taking a risk’ I mean, as Cameron Spencer says, that perhaps we risk missing the moment, that the image doesn’t work at all for that subject, and we feel a bit daft for having tried doing something different.

Let’s face it, not every image which we try to take in a thoughtful, creative manner is going to turn out as well as the one of Usain Bolt’s ‘smile’ as the other competitors try their very best to beat him (just look at those faces of concentration and the effort in their strides!) – but what if a little bit of magic happens? Being in the right place at at the right time is magic in itself – when it happens, you know it and you feel it – and you have to be out there, taking the photos, being creative with your thinking, to be in a place where that magic just sometimes happens.

I hope you have been inspired by the awesome athletes during the Rio Olympics, and I hope you have also been inspired by the photography as well to get out there and to create the kind of photos of the subjects you like which also contain that kind of ‘creative magic’.

I can’t wait to see the Paralympics now and to take even more inspiration from their endevours, as they compete to win medals in the next few weeks, and use that inspiration to strive to create magic in my photography and filmmaking.

Cameron Spencer has been a Staff Photographer with Getty Images since 2004 and has covered many assignments worldwide with them – his website has fantastic images and links to his social media accounts which are great to have a look at and follow his work.


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