Picture power: Running for gold

Great Britains Mo Farah heads down the home straight to win gold in the 10,000m at the London 2012 Olympics

In the final of a series of five articles where photographers are invited to talk about the back story to one of their pictures taken this year Owen Humphreys of the Press Association offers the story behind his award winning photograph of Mo Farah on his way to one of his two gold medals at this year's Olympics.

The London games was captured by a vast number of photographers, who for much of the time would be tied to their allocated position, with only a few allowed to roam. Despite the volume of pictures taken there are some that stand out and convey something of the determination required not just to compete, but to win.

This is one such frame.

Owen Humphreys

I have been privileged to have been a Press photographer for nearly 24 years, but by far 2012 will always stand out as the highlight of my life behind a lens.

It won't come as a surprise when I say that the London Olympics were absolutely unforgettable. To have the Games in one's home country really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every snapper dreams about.

The Press Association, for whom I have worked for 16 years, threw everything at it with a huge team of 18 photographers, two editors and a host of reporters. We had a number of photographers assigned to certain sports and a smaller team floating between different events every day, making sure that wherever the medal story was, we had double cover.

The one night which really stands out for me was "Super Saturday" in the Olympic Stadium during the athletics, on the night Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and, of course, mighty Mo Farah all won golds. After Jess won gold I was sent around to cover her being presented with the medal from a position down on the back straight, near the finishing line. By this stage we had several photographers positioned around the track covering Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres from all angles.

Owen Humphreys

Owen Humphreys

Humphreys has worked as a photographer for 24 years and spent the last 16 years at the Press Association. He began his career as a tea boy at the Derby Evening Telegraph before moving into the darkroom to learn printing.

After working for news agencies he joined the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal newspaper before his move to the Press Association in 1996.

Here he has travelled the world covering major news and sport stories from World Cup Finals to the conflict in Afghanistan.

As I wasn't at the finishing line for this event I decided we could do with a different image. I wanted to create and show the amazing speed at which the runners were travelling, and the way to do this is known as panning. This is always a gamble because technically you are moving your camera on a very slow shutter speed shooting at 1/50th of a sec at f/16 on a 300mm Nikon lens on a Nikon D3s camera. The aim is to freeze the runners, but at the same time blur the background with a streaky effect to show speed.

As the race went on I knew as a team we were covered on all angles, so when Mo Farah came down the home straight I panned with him and got a great effect, with him showing incredible determination, gritting his teeth and really pushing for the gold medal dream.

As he ran past me in the earlier laps I had spotted the Olympic rings on a board so I framed my picture with these. After he had gone past me on the last lap that was my job done in this race. I had just two frames, but it was well worth it to see the image afterwards as it had worked out perfectly - the effect of speed, a look of utter determination in his face and the Olympic rings at his feet.

As soon as I saw the image on the back of the camera I fired-up my laptop and quickly wired it to our editors with minutes to spare before I was needed to photograph Jessica receiving her gold medal.

This image of Mo was my personal favourite from the Games, but there were many more memorable images taken by the whole Press Association Olympics team. I entered this image of Mo into the British Picture Editors' Guild awards as my single image from the Games and I was lucky enough to pick up the winning trophy despite very strong competition from top photographers at Reuters and AFP.

It was an incredible experience to cover the London Olympics. The whole country got behind the British team in all sports, giving all the venues an amazing atmosphere and one that will forever live in my memory.

And since the Olympics I have managed to pick up the Barclays Premiership 2011/12 Photographer of the Season award - making it a fantastic end to a great sporting year.

And here's that shot of Jessica Ennis collecting her gold medal.

Jessica Ennis collecting her gold medal.
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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I was there for the 5000m final and I can promise you everyone was behind Mo that night without daft comments we hear here. I've never heard noise like it, the excitement was more than a feeling, it was a wave of emotion that you could almost touch. I know it's gushing, but I coulnd't be prouder than to say we are a country to embrace difference and promote hope and opportunity. Perfect photo too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.


    What does British Born mean? Does it invoke some extra privilage over those of us who are just plain old British citizens?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.


    You may not like Squiz of Islington's comment; this does not make it any less TRUE. I am sure that my comment will be disliked too but ask yourselves;
    *IS Mo British born?
    *Does he train in the UK?
    *Was the track built by Brits? Do you know?
    *Was everyone in the UK cheering him on?
    I wasn’t even interested but I don’t criticise those that were.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @ #8 CFD

    The foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens has made the crowd seem closer. You can see the grass of the infield and the opposite straight of the track between the low hoarding and the crowd. I think the effect is to bring the crowd closer to Mo, not just visually but in every other sense as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    CFD you clearly haven't spent much time on a track. Squiz of Islington your comment is worthless and unecessary if you don't like sport don't comment on it. It was an amazing achievement which made sports fans proud!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Well done, a number of great achievements and mentioned with humility. When I finally got stadium tickets I went out and bought a new camera & lenses to capture such moments (though sadly not to the same level!!) It's perfect panning, crystal clear face with a blurred background and a slow enough shutter speed to show the movement of the legs, the whole force of the essence of the photo. Perfect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How can Mo be "gritting his teeth" when his mouth is wide open?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @8 The clue to the image of Mo not being inverted is the grassy field behind him and then the other side of the track behind that. If you can't work that out, the real giveaway is that it says 'Great Britain', 'Farah' and 'Adidas' on his clothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    CFD, the only schoolboy error is yours I'm afraid. This is the home straight....if it had been inverted Mo would have had to be running in lane 8!

    Great picture, and fascinating to get the photographers thoughts and comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    CFD it's you. Check your glasses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.


  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    it astounds me that anyone could find Mo and co's heroic efforts boring, I would be fascinated to know what scintillating activity your were partaking which you deem to be more interesting "gsum".

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Is it me or is the BBC image of Marvellous Mo inverted? Looks like he is running clockwise round the track with the crowd so close in the background... Schoolboy error somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Amazing picture of an amazing athlete...Squiz of Islington-
    Mo came here as a refugee at the age of 5. If you ask him he thinks of himself as British and the fact he trains abroad is irrelevent, as all athletes do.
    If you aren't interested in Sport why comment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @Mark L - what does "a true reflection of what this great nation can do" mean ? He is a somali born in somalia living and training in the US effectively running under a flag of convenience. If you mean the track he was running on that was more than likely built by non-Brits and cost a fortune. And plenty of the nation were not on their feet cheering as not everyone is interested in sport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The art of taking a photograph is dieing due to the ability and ease to do so on a mobile phone. Its great to see such ability keep doing what your doing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Sheer mastery of technique here, well done!

    I once managed a smiliar shot, of someone on a trampoline, but by multiple sequential shots and a large measure of sheer luck. That's whay I'm an amateur and Humphreys can earn his keep with a camera!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Nice gear and good photos but wasted on boring subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The photo of Mo Farah sends a shiver down my spine. A wonderful model of dedication and determination, a true reflection of what this great nation can do. I would guess that at the moment that photo was taken the whole of Britain was on their feet and shouting as one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Amazing photo's of an amazing time in our proud nations history. Have kept so many papers and magazines for the kids to remember so thanks to the guys who captured those images. Think the fans photographed every part of the olympic park to capture the moment.


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