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|| News Item: Posted 2012-10-01

LONDON CALLING - (Part 2) - Cheng
“Not only did I document history with many firsts…I scored my first image on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box!”

By John Cheng

Photo by
Finally, I can check off “Olympics” from my bucket list! Ever since I came on board with USA Gymnastics in 2007, I had been bugging my editor Luan Peszek to be sure and include me in the budget forecast for 2012 Olympic Games. I can still remember the day and my excitement when I got the email in early January that read: “You’re in!”

My job at the Olympics was to document gymnastics for USA Gymnastics. There were high hopes on both the men and women’s teams with the amount of talent we had going into the London Games, so I knew I was in for a treat with opportunities to document history.

Not only did I document history with many firsts (first team gold since 1996, first Africa-American All Around Gold Medalist, first image of the four American All Around Gold Medalist together for a picture), I scored my first image on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box!

Luan and I had strategized on how to team shot was going to happen should any of the teams medal. The issue was USOC mandated the athletes to wear these grey Nike glow-in-the-dark warm-ups during awards ceremony, and because Adidas is a major sponsor of USA Gymnastics, it creates a conflict for many things down the road and the shots in the Nike warm-ups will likely be useless in the foreseeable feature from marketing perspective.

If I wasn’t able to get the athletes to take off their warm-ups on the podium (which is almost impossible), plan B was to take a team shot in the Mixed Zone after the interviews were done without the Nike gear. Well the Mixed Zone at the North Greenwich Arena was more likely a dark alley with these amber vapor lamps that give you 1/60 f/2.8 and ISO12800 at best.

Definitely not the best location for a team shot that USAG planed to use on posters, autograph cards, magazines…etc. until the next Olympics or even further down the road.

After the Women’s team won gold, I made some nice images of them in the arena during and after the medal ceremony all the while thinking “if they can only take off the warm-ups for 5 seconds”, but with literally hundreds of photographers screaming at them to pose for pictures, it was just not possible. So it looked like plan B was going to take place.

After award ceremony was over I grabbed my SB-910 and rushed to the Mixed Zone and waited. I signaled Luan to let her know I didn’t get the girls to take off their warm-ups. While the interviews were taking place, I scouted the place out for a good spot. I settled on a location with a black backdrop by the exit door and took a few test shots with my Nikon D800, 24-70 zoom and SB-910 speedlight.

Normally in these situations, I setup my Elinchroms for these types of shots, but I didn’t bring them for the Games and there was no space. So the SB-910 would have to do.

After the interviews were done, Luan stepped in and gathered the girls for the team shot before they were rushed off for TV interviews. At this point they were already late for the trip to the International Broadcast Center for Bob Costas. Pressure was on as I literally had only 5 seconds to make the shot. I set the SB-910 to 1/32 power and quickly fired off one test shot while the gymnasts took off their warm-ups.

To save time Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber rolled down their pants bottoms to above the knees. With their gold medal in hand I fired off 5 to 6 more shots and then the girls were rushed off. It didn’t dawn on me until afterwards that I have the only shot of the 5 gold medalists in their red competition leotard with the gold medal around their necks.

Being the staff photographer for USA Gymnastics has its perks, but none bigger than able to maintain the rights to my images. A few days later I received an email from the President of USAG Steve Penny asking me to forward the team shot to Kellogg’s for consideration on the Corn Flakes box.

I was a little concerned at first on its usability because most of the ones I’ve seen vertical shots were better suited for this, and the team shot was horizontal with Aly and Jordyns’ pants visible from knees down. It was a huge sigh of relief when I received the feedback that was overwhelmingly positive from the graphics designer: it was sharp, bright and a 36-megapixel files didn’t hurt either. The mock up looked absolutely stunning! At this point I could barely contain my excitement, but how much to charge? I ran the numbers through fotoQuote and came up with an amount that I thought was reasonable. But will they pay that much?

Before I could even make a proposal, the marketing company made the first move and made an offer that was even better than the number I had in mind. Sweet!

The next morning I received another email from the marketing agency wanting to use the same image for three other uses, tripling the original amount … even sweeter!

The negotiation was finalized on Saturday, but it was killing me that I couldn’t tell anyone about it until the following Wednesday when Kellogg’s and USAG surprised the girls with the box during their London Tour. Of course I called my wife right away and had her sworn the secrecy!

A week later, another image was added to the box for the backside, adding more to the total!

What did I learn from all this? Maintain your rights. Know the value of your work. And keep it simple! I’m grateful for this opportunity and I look forward to Rio in 2016!

(John Cheng is a freelance photographer based in Connecticut. You can see examples of his work at his Sports Shooter member page:

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