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....


Anonymous said...

Take More patiance with you... You'll need it in Sochi. And good luck at the Olympics. Konstantin, Moscow

Kostey said...

Take more patience with You, You'll need it. And good luck at the Olympics.
Waiting for good photos.
Konstantin, Moscow.

Tom Collins said...

Jeff, thanks very much for these enlightening posts.

I wonder if you could do a post on the business side of shooting the Olympics. I assume you are not affiliated with any publication or news organization on these shoots. Is that right? If so, how do you make money with your photos. Is it lucrative? Or are you doing it more for the challenge?