Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What is it like to be a photographer at the Olympics? - Packing up and heading out!

Here it is, the last post from home before I head off to the Olympics. It is weird how fast this moment has crept up on me. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was shooting photos at the Summer Olympics in London. But indeed, I am at that point where all the planning is complete and it is "go time".

In these final days of preparations at home, there is a ton of stress. Am I bringing the right gear? Do I have enough backup gear in case something breaks? Do I have enough clothing? Do I have too much clothing? Do I have all the travel documents? And this time, for the first time, there are a lot of concerns about safety. I have to say that, at this point, I have a mixture of excitement with a bit of trepidation. The Olympics for me has always been about the overwhelming positive attitude of all the attendees. To think that anyone would want to jeopardize that really makes me sad. I hope that this experience turns out to be like the last 3 Olympics, with everyone safe and able to relax and have a good time.

Enough of that. Let's get back to the packing process.

Packing my camera gear is much more important to me than packing my clothes. I can always buy more clothes in event of my luggage being lost, but replacing this camera gear would be too expensive and almost impossible in the remote area of Sochi. So...I always pack my camera gear to go on-board the airplane with me. This consists of two camera bags. The most important camera bag to me is the LowePro Pro Roller x200. I can fit a ton of gear in this case, and because it has wheels, it saves my back. I am not sure of the actual mileage that I have on this case, but it has to be well over 100 miles. My second carry-on bag is the LowePro backpack, where I have more camera gear, my laptop and one of the Wacom Intuos tablets.

As you can see, I am bringing 3 Canon 1DX camera bodies and a Canon 5D Mark III with me with a wide assortment of lenses. You might be thinking, "This is the Olympics, where are the big lenses?" Well...the largest lens that I am bringing with me is the Canon 100-400mm, because Canon is nice enough to bring LOTS of loaner gear for us to borrow when we need the really big glass. Even if I had bigger lenses, I would not have any way of transporting them with me. I already have two rolling bags (camera gear and clothes) and the backpack. (And on the way home, I usually purchase a duffel bag to fill with goodies for my family and friends).

Here is the camera gear I am bringing with me:


3 Canon 1DX cameras and a Canon 5D Mark III


Canon 100-400mm
Canon 70-200mm
Canon 24-105mm
Canon 24-70mm
Canon 16-35mm
Canon 8-15mm fish eye
Canon 1.4x teleconverter

And once I get to Sochi, I have a Canon 200-400mm lens waiting for me to use during the Games.  I used a prototype of this lens at the London Olympics and it was AMAZING!

For shooting specific sports, here is what I am thinking about gear at this point:

* I know that for hockey (shooting through plexiglass and no holes, since the Olympics don't allow holes in the glass like the NHL), my best choices will be one Canon 1DX camera with a Canon 70-200 2.8 lens and one 1DX with a fisheye lens. I am planning on trying a lenskirt to help block the reflections in the plexiglass. We will see how that works.

* For figure skating, speed skating and other indoor sports, I can probably use the 70-200mm for a lot of the photography. If that is not long enough, I can either use the 1.4x teleconverter on the 70-200 or bring the Canon 200-400mm lens.

* For ski jumping and half-pipe (provided I get up to the mountain cluster), I will need a longer lens. For these outdoor sports, where the athletes are farther from us, I will definitely use the new Canon 200-400mm lens, with the built in 1.4x teladapter..

* For bobsled, luge and other sports on this track, I would use a shorter length lens, like a 24-70mm or even a 16-35mm, since we are allowed to walk right up to the track.

* Tripods and flashes are not allowed in any Olympic venue, but I will bring my Gitzo travel tripod for night shots around the grounds. I will also bring a Canon 600 EX-RT flash for use during the team's private parties.

* I am bringing my Gitzo GM5561T monopod which is an absolute necessity at the Olympics. There is almost no way to handhold one of the long Canon lenses (300mm or greater) for 3 weeks straight, without breaking my back. This is one of my favorite pieces of camera equipment for sports. This monopod is really light weight and collapses to a tiny size. I LOVE this monopod.

* You will also notice that I have some Pocketwizards in the bag. I use these to fire a remote camera. I am hoping to mount a camera in the rafters at the hockey arena to shoot images straight down on the goalie. These Pocketwizards are a little different than your off-the-shelf units in that they have a special tweak to the frequency. This custom wireless signature was created and loaded by the good folks at Pocketwizard, making sure that I am the only one firing my remote and that I am not interfering with any of the other photographer's remotes. To mount the camera safely in the rafters, I am bringing a Manfrotto Super Clamp and security cables.

* I know I will be shooting 100,000 photos or more, so I need a lot of memory. I will be bringing a whole bunch of 64GB and 128GB Lexar Professional 1000x CF cards. My plan is to have two CF cards in every camera, and shoot to both for redundancy. I will also be using Lexar Professional USB 3.0 readers to download my photos. These things are wicked fast and help me make my deadlines. They are pictured above in the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket case which is my favorite.

* For all my editing needs, I am bringing my MacBook Pro Retina 15" laptop. This computer is really fast, with an internal SSD and USB 3.0 ports. Since the SSD does not have near the capacity that I need, I am bringing 3 of the 2TB Western Digital Passport Ultra drives. I am going to backup to all of these hard drives and even use one of them as a "Time Machine" drive to backup the laptop on a daily basis. The other key piece of hardware for my editing process is the Wacom tablet, and I am bringing a couple of those with me, and also the new Cintiq Companion Hybrid . This way I can have one that I leave one at my hotel room and one at the hockey venue, and have one that travels with me to each venue. I find that the Wacom tablet saves me a ton of time when retouching my photos.

* I will travel with my iPhone 5S and an iPad Air, both for communications, and entertainment on the long flights. I am also taking a couple pair of headphones. I have the Sennheiser PXC-450 noise canceling headphones, which are a must for long flights and long bus rides. Not only do they sound great, but the headphones drown out all that background, so I can relax, or concentrate on my editing.

* And, lastly, I don't go anywhere without my Fitbit. This is the first time that I will be wearing this device for an Olympics and I am very curious to see how much walking I will be doing per day.

* As for clothing, I have to dress for different climates. I am first stopping in London, where the weather will be a fairly comfortable 40 degrees F. But after a brief stay in London, I head to Moscow for 3 days, where the temperature could easily dip below 0F. Then I have to plan for the mild climate in Sochi (around 40 degrees F) and the colder temperatures in the mountain area (not sure about this one). This means that I need to pack for all situations. And...all of the clothing needs to fit in one large rolling suitcase, since I still have all the camera gear. (The good news is that all this clothing makes for good padding around my Cintiq and other fragile equipment). Sadly, I need to make sure not to wear any clothing that marks me as an American, for security reasons.

The hardest part of this trip is being away from my family and friends for so long. For the next 4 weeks I will be relying on Skype, Facetime, iMessage and other forms of communications to check in back home. It isn't the same as being there, but it is better than nothing. The Internet at the Olympics is usually very fast, due to the requirements of the media that attend. The two big challenges at this Olympics, is the big difference in time zones between Russia and California, and with a back-to-back schedule all day, every day, finding free time to connect.

Now, I am taking off, and we are less than 2 weeks from the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Yep, the Games are just around the corner!

The next blog post will be coming from London or Moscow. Stay tuned!

Oh - and for those of you who have not done so, you can put your email address in the field above, so that you will be notified any time a new blog has been posted.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What is it like to be a photographer at the Olympics? - Schedule planning

It is now Thursday, January 23rd, which means that I am less than a week from my trip to Europe. London will be the first stop, and Moscow my second stop, on my way to Sochi, Russia. The flights and hotels have been booked for quite some time now, but the real scheduling challenge is for the Olympic games.

I talked about the air travel challenges in the last pre-Olympic blog post, but even more daunting are the internal travels from one Olympic venue to another. Most cities that host the Olympic games will use existing buildings for their venues, which means that the venues are spread across the city, In Beijing, Vancouver, and London, there were many times when a trip from one venue to another could take 2 hours. For those of us trying to photograph as many events as possible, this means that you have to plan very carefully, allowing for bus schedules, traffic and other possible issues that can not be foreseen.

If you look at the map above, you will see that the UBC Thunderbird Arena (Women's ice hockey) was very far away from the Canada Hockey Place (Men's hockey) which was downtown.

Image from Google Maps
The great thing about the Olympic Park in Sochi, is that everything has been newly built for the Games, with all the buildings walking distance from each other.

Before my first Olympics, I had no idea what to expect when it came to travel, so a month before the Games began, I made a spreadsheet with the times and locations for the sports I wanted to capture. Well...that didn't last very long. By the third day of the Olympics, I realized that my planning was not realistic. There were days when I planned on capturing 3 or 4 events, but often times I could only capture two events in a 24 hour period. At that point, the spreadsheet was then crumpled up and thrown in the trash. After that, I had to wing it, which is not an easy task, with so many things happening at one time. Remember, it is not just the sporting events happening. There are press interviews at the venues, press interviews at the Main Press Center (MPC), concerts, public events...

Some people might think that with each event being a couple of hours long, it would be possible to see 4 events per day, but for us photographers who are capturing the sports, we still have to download, cull through the thousands of photos, find the best, retouch those (exposure, white balance, cropping), and then upload them back to the U.S. This can take a couple of hours per event. And yes...I will be working hard to blog every day with my favorite images and stories. This takes another hour a day.

Something amazing happened in 2012 and it was a real game changer! For the first time, I was able to use an official Olympic app on my iPhone to see what was happening each day. This made a HUGE difference! I remember one instance, in London, when I went to the MPC to catch the press bus to Wimbledon. All the press buses depart and return to the MPC, and as it turned out, there were very few buses going out to Wimbledon and I had missed the one I needed. Shooting tennis was not a contractual obligation, so there was no need to panic. Instead, I looked at the app on my iPhone, to see what else was happening in that time frame. I saw that there were numerous events happening at the ExCel Center (wrestling, fencing, weight lifting...) so I headed that direction. I love the fact that, during the time when there are no USA hockey games (which I am contractually obligated to shoot - happily I might add), I can pop out the iPhone and see what interesting events are coming up. My goal is to photograph as many different events as possible.

This year, there is an official app for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and you can find it here.

The next pre-Olympic blog post will show all the gear I am taking with me, and talk about the challenges of packing and traveling with so much equipment.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Polina Edmunds (USA Figure Skater): San Jose, California's new hometown star

Today is Martin Luther King day in the U.S. and most kids have the day off of school. Most 15 year olds are going to the movies, heading to the mall, or hanging out with friends. But, for Polina Edmunds, this 15 year old spent her lunch time at San Jose's Sharks Ice for her pre-Olympic media event. A little over a week ago, Polina did an exceptional job at the Nationals and earned herself a spot on the US Olympic team. And now she is in the spotlight for sure.

Being that she lives and trains right in my hometown (and practices at the same rink where I play hockey), I really wanted to shoot photos of her before we both head off to Sochi. I contacted her family and, through the help of US Figure Skating, was able to attend the media event and shoot photos of Polina this afternoon.

(Canon 1DX, 70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 2000, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec)
Here is the 15 year old practicing her routine, while being watched by her coach.

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 2000, f/2.8, 1/640 sec)

All smiles today...

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 2000, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec)

I photographed Polina for an hour, and watched her fine tuning her program. (Photographer's note: The athletes need to warm up and so do us photographers. For each sport that I shoot, I find that my first images taken are not nearly as good as my last. There is a trial and error to this profession. I started on one side of the ice, with all the other media, and then determined that the shots would be better from the other side of the rink. I also tried different camera settings to yield more interesting images.)

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 2000, f/2.8, 1/500 sec)

This is my favorite photo from the day. On a previous routine, as Polina skated past the plexiglass, I noticed her reflection and thought that it would make a cool photo. The next time she came by that same area, I was ready for the shot!

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/40 sec)

And...after shooting action photos of Polina at high shutter speeds (mostly between 1/500 and 1/1000 sec), I decided that it would be fun to slow the shutter (between 1/40 and 1/25 sec) and do some motion pan shots.

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/25 sec)

As always, when shooting motion pan shots, not all of them come out. But when they do, they are really nice.

(Canon 1DX70-200 2.8 lens, ISO 640, f/2.8, 1/160 sec)

This last photo was taken of Polina in a makeshift photo studio at the rink. I grabbed a couple of photos of her before heading out.

I hope that she does really well in Sochi, and I am hoping that her figure skating routines do not happen at the same time as the US hockey games, so that I can be there to capture her in better light and with nicer backgrounds. Good luck Polina!!!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What is it like to be a photographer at the Olympics? - The logistical challenges

The preparations for most Olympic spectators is setting your DVR, or making plans to be home to watch your favorite sport on television. For those of us lucky enough to be photographing the big event, it involves more than 18 months of planning.

In the last Olympic blog post, I talked about the credential applications and securing the proper clearance to shoot the Games. That application process can be really nerve racking, as hundreds of photographers, publications and agencies are all hoping to get named to a very limited of credentials.

Once we get the nod from the appropriate committee, usually a year prior to the upcoming Olympics, the logistics and planning begins.

There are lots of online applications to fill out. These are cross referenced from the countries Organizing Committee (in this case, the Russian Olympic Committee) to my local National Organizing Committee (NOC). This process can take months, as all the paperwork is processed and our backgrounds are checked for security purposes.

Once all that is approved, it is time to figure out housing. For the last 3 Olympics, I chose to go with my own housing. In Beijing, I stayed in a hotel with a bunch of the Kodak people. In Vancouver and London, I rented a large condominium and shared this with some friends. But early on, I felt that arranging housing in Sochi would be too difficult. I saw the following challenges ahead of me:

1. Sochi is in a more remote location, totally unlike Vancouver and London.
2. This is not an English speaking area, with too many language challenges.
3. The cultural differences are more difficult to navigate.

I felt that my only real option was to use the Olympic press hotels. So, this will be the first time that I am living with the other photographers, editors, TV crews... The good news is that the hotel costs are subsidized (making it more affordable) and the press buses, which take us to the Main Press Center (MPC), will stop right at our hotels.  There were different press hotels to choose from, some at the coastal cluster, and others at the mountain cluster. Since I will be mainly shooting hockey and other indoor sports, I selected a hotel in the coastal cluster, to be nearer to those venues.

The funny things is, I emailed the housing committee and asked about the different hotels. Their reply was, "they are all brand new, so they are all equally nice." So I took my best guess and will take my chances. Hey, as long as they are comfortable, quiet, safe, and have good Internet, then I am all good. Since we work crazy hours every day, we do not spend much time sleeping anyways.

After picking the hotel, I had to arrange payment. This was not easy as they do not take credit cards or checks, so I had to have the appropriate amount sent to them in Russian Rubles.

Once housing was figured out, it was time to call United Airlines to arrange my travel. I choose United since I am a million miler with them, and because they are the official carrier for the US Olympic Team. Well...when I called them six months ago, they said that there were very limited flights in and out of Sochi, and they recommended waiting for another 3 months before trying to book. I did wait 3 months, and found a better selection of flights in and out of the Games. But, since I waited a little too long, I could not get a flight out the day after closing ceremonies, and will have to stay for two extra days before returning home. On my way out to Sochi, I will be visiting my last Olympic home in London for a couple of days, and also stopping in Moscow for a couple of days. I promise to blog photos along the way.

I have requested upgrades from coach to business class for two reasons. You might think that the first reason would be comfort, but actually that is the second reason. The first reason to upgrade is so that I have more room for carry-on luggage. My goal when traveling to any photography location is to carry all cameras and lenses on board with me. It is much less expensive to replace clothing than cameras and lenses!

What equipment am I bringing, you might ask? Well...that is coming up in another blog post.

In the next week, I will be packing all my gear including cameras, lenses, tripods, monopods, pocketwizards, memory cards, readers, editing equipment, clothing, and more. I will show you photos of the travel bags and take you through the packing process. Until then, the planning continues....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bodie - A rare winter visit to the famous California ghost town

If you ever have a chance to visit Bodie, CA, you should take the time to do so. Bodie is located near Mono Lake, in the general vicinity of Yosemite. It is not easy to find, nestled away in the middle of California, accessible by dirt road only (for the last 3 miles), and not near any major cities. But, for those of you who love to take photos, and appreciate history, this is a gold mine! Yep - pun intended - this was a gold mining town in the 1800s.

So join me on my photo tour of the ghost town.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300 lens, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
This is a wide view of Bodie, which can be seen as you first drive into the area. We arrived late in the morning and the sun was hitting the buildings just right to show off the colors in the wood and metal.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/1600 sec, -0.7 exposure comp)
I have been to Bodie once before, but not in the winter time. Normally at this time of year, there is a lot of snow in the area, and the town is not open to the public. So, I went to Bodie with Moose Peterson and his family, hoping to get some photos of the town with some snow on the ground. As you can see, there was not much snow left. Currently, California is having the most dry winter ever!

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/5, 1/1000 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
As I walked around the town, I was drawn to the cool details.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/60 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
This photo was taken through a window. (Photographer's note: When taking photos through windows, especially dirty ones, it is best to get your lens right up against the glass, and to shoot at a wide aperture so that you are not focusing on the dirt on the window. I usually shoot with my lens hood on, but in this case, I removed the lens hood so that I could get the lens flat against the glass.) 

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 500, f/4, 1/80 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
Another shot through the glass. One of the things that I really love about Bodie, is that they are not trying to restore the town. They are letting it age without much interaction.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/250 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
This is one of my favorite shots from the day. I was walking around looking at different details of the town, when I came across this spring. As you can see, the sunlight was side-lighting the spring, and it just caught my attention. I moved to a spot where the spring would be side lit, with a building in the background. I shot this photo at f/4.5 to have the spring perfectly in focus with the building defused in the background.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 800, f/4, 1/80 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
More details...

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)
It is hard not to be intrigued by the remnants of the old cars.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/800 sec)
We had a cloudless sky, which was not what I was hoping for, but in this case, the blue sky made for a nice background. This was the jail of the town.

(Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105 lens, ISO 400, f/4, 1/3200 sec)
As I mentioned, they are not actively trying to restore the town. Instead they are making minimal efforts to keep the buildings intact. As you can see in this photo, the park service has propped up this building, which is leaning heavily to one side. As of now, the buildings that remain represent 15% of the original town. Make sure you visit before this amazing place is gone forever!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Some of my favorite photos from 2013

To keep my annual tradition, I created a short video to share some of my favorite photos from 2013 (in chronological order). As I look back at the year in review, I am reminded how fortunate I am to travel the world , seeing so many amazing places.

Now that we are in 2014 and a month away from the Winter Olympics in Russia, I have a bunch of new experiences to look forward to. I hope that all of you have your own fun experiences ahead of you this year and that you have an amazing 2014!

For best viewing, click on the "YouTube" logo. 

Happy New Year!!