Commons Picture of the Day: Flèche attack in the Trophée Monal

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Looking at today’s Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day (POTD), it may come as a surprise that the photographer, Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), is not a specialist in sports photography. In fact, Nguyen had never even shot at a sporting event prior to the day she took this amazing picture at the Trophée Monal, an event of the 2012 Fencing World Cup circuit.
Nguyen took this photo during the final match of the tournament. “The audience was plunged in the dark while the piste was brilliantly lit, naturally providing a dramatic lighting,” she said. “I was lying on the floor propped on my elbows to get a good angle, with my photo backpack used as a bean bag to support my camera. To change position I had to military crawl on the floor.”
Since fencing is such a fast-paced sport, Nguyen had to shoot at a shutter speed of less than 1/640 sec just to catch the movements without any blurring. During the match, she usually focused on the glove or the bell guard of one of the contestants using continuous autofocus mode.
Nguyen had the advantage of having some knowledge of fencing, since she used to fence as a student. “Though I was useless at it, it helped with understanding what kind of action was going to get interesting,” she said. “The key was to spot the beginning of an attack, press the shutter-release button long enough to get the whole action, and hope for the best.” She took approximately 100 pictures in just the final match alone, and her POTD came from a single burst of 8 shots. The action depicted in the photo is a flèche attack, which she had several bursts of, but she especially likes this one because of the “nice symmetry in the bend of the blades. I hope [the photo] reflects the speed, accuracy and elegance of a fencing bout.”
She got the opportunity to photograph this sporting event through the support of Wikimédia France, the national Wikimedia chapter. She is a member of the Paris “cabal,” a joking designation for the informal local chapters. At one of their meetings, they discussed the success that the Swiss chapter and the Toulouse cabal had in gaining official accreditation to do sports photography for Commons. These successes and others are reflective of a growing trend toward recognizing Wikimedians as storytellers, allowing them the accreditation to attend events as photographers or reporters. The Paris cabal had never tried anything of the sort, but Nguyen had no trouble getting accredited for the Trophée Monal just by mentioning her affiliation with Wikimédia France.

“I don’t usually take the kind of pictures that get nominated as a QI [quality image] or a FP [featured picture],” said Nguyen, who typically takes photos of museum objects. “I’m glad this one made it, as it’s the result of a collaborative process” with assistance from other Commons users, Wikipedians, Wikimédia France, and the French WikiProject:Fencing. “I’m aware I’m lucky to get a FP for my first sports event. I learnt a lot covering it, and the FP is great encouragement for me to keep doing sports photography.”
Nguyen first started taking pictures in 2004 using her 1.3 megapixel compact camera. She was a contributor to the French language Wikipedia at the time, and she noticed that there was a severe lack of quality pictures in her field of interest–ancient Greek and Roman history–so she went to the Louvre to take some pictures. She quickly developed a greater interest in photography and bought an entry-level DSLR. Nguyen now owns two Nikon DSLRs (a D300s and a D200) and “a whole array of lenses,” and her primary project is now Commons. She estimates that more than three-quarters of her photos are shot for Commons.
“Beyond its use as a common repository for Wikimedia projects, I see [Commons] as a project in its own right,” she said. “I believe Commons is a great way to increase academics’, teachers’ and students’ awareness about free content, and to get them to contribute to all Wikimedia projects.”
(View more of Nguyen’s photos)
Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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