Friday, July 29, 2016

Gearing up for Rio De Janeiro - What I am taking with me to the Olympics

I am now two days away from my flight out to Rio de Janeiro and I am in full blown packing mode. When most people go on a long vacation, all they have to worry about is what clothes to pack. I have that issue too, but more importantly, I have to figure out what camera equipment I need to bring for me to be successful at the Olympics.

You might be thinking "You are just packing now?" and you would not be the first person to think that. But I can assure you that the planning has been going on for months now. Now only for the cameras and lenses, but all of the accessories that I need as well.

So...finally to answer the question that so many people have asked me about in the last month, here is a summary of all the photo equipment I am taking with me.

You can click on this to see the full resolution image

The main cameras that I will be using in Rio are the new Canon 1D X Mark II. I will have 3 of these bad boys with me and plan to put them all to good use. Photographing the athletes at the Olympics is no easy task. All of these people are the best at what they do, and they are usually very fast! Having a camera that can fire off at 14 frames per second will really help me to grab that one image at the peak of action.

For the past 4 Olympics, I have always walked around with the big cameras to take photos around town, but Rio still has it's safety issues (as I mentioned in the last blog post). So, for this trip Canon was nice enough to lend me a Canon PowerShot G5x and a Canon M3 mirrorless camera. Both of these cameras are small and unassuming, but they take excellent photos. I will feel safer walking around with these little cameras, than a big monster like the 1D X Mark II.


The one lens that I plan to use most often at the Games is the Canon 200-400mm lens. I love this lens because, along with being incredibly sharp, it gives me a great zoom range. This lens has a built-in tele-adaptor, and with a flip of a switch I can shoot anywhere from 200mm all the way to 560mm. If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that I prefer zoom lenses so that I can reframe and shoot both wide at tight.

You will notice that the Canon 200-400mm lens is not in my gear shot. The reason is, that lens along with another 1D X Mark II are waiting for me in Rio. Canon was nice enough to ship my loaner units for me. This is very helpful to me, since I already have enough gear to carry as it is.

I am also bringing a couple other longer lenses with me. I am going to bring the newer Canon 100-400mm lens because, although it is not as great as the 200-400mm lens, it is smaller and lighter, for those times when carrying the larger lens is impractical or may not be needed. I never leave home without the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens because it is my all time favorite lens and perfect for the sports where I am close to the action.

For medium and shorter focal range photos, I am bringing the Canon 24-70mm II and Canon 16-35mm lenses.

I am even bringing the Canon 8-15mm fish eye lens for those times when I want to get even more creative.


I always go to the Olympics with a lot of memory cards, and this year is no exception. But for the first time, I will be taking along a whole bunch of Lexar Professional 3500x CFast cards, which work in the new 1D X Mark II cameras. These things are smoking fast and will allow me to shoot faster and download in half the time of the traditional CompactFlash cards. To support those cards, I will have 4 of the Lexar CR2 card readers which connect to my computer using Thunderbolt or USB 3.0. Those will be plugged into my trusty 15" Macbook Pro.

Since the MacBook Pro only has a 512GB SSD, I am bringing a bunch of Western Digital 3TB and 4TB Passport drives to hold all the images I will be capturing. I am a firm believer in having my images in more than one place, hence the reason for having numerous external drives. And just in case something were to happen to my laptop, I just cloned the SSD onto two Lexar 512GB Portable SSD units to keep in safe places. If the laptop were to get lost or stolen, I can re-image the drive and get back up and running quicker. It is sad that I have to take these precautions, but better safe than sorry!

Since editing is so much easier using the Wacom Intuos Pro tablet, I am going to take my small one with me. I actually prefer the medium size tablet, but don't have the space to take it with me.

Handling all the gear

One of the most important pieces of equipment in my arsenal is my Gitzo monopod. Being that I will be shooting with the big lenses for 3 weeks straight (and my back already hurts from everyday life), I rely on the monopod for any time I am using the 200-400mm lens. It is so imperative to me that I am bringing a second backup unit just in case anything happens to my primary monopod. (And yes, I actually left my Gitzo monopod on a press bus at the London Olympics, but was VERY happy that someone found it and returned it to the press center. I didn't have my name on it at the time, but I do now!)

I am also bringing my Gitzo travel tripod for any night shots that I might take. I don't expect to use this a whole lot (since tripods are not allowed in any Olympic venue), but I hope to get some nice night shots of the venues in the Olympic Park if I have time.

For everyday shooting, I will likely switch off between using the BlackRapid straps and the Spider Holster. Once again, this will take some of the weight off of my back.


I guess it goes without saying, that with all these cameras, I will have a bunch of batteries and chargers with me. I will have 4 batteries for the 1D X Mark II cameras, two each for the G5x and M3 cameras and AA cells for the pocket wizards (which I use for firing my remote cameras) and one Canon 600 EX-RT flash that I will have with me. And, of course, I have to have my charging cables for my phone and other gadgets.

To protect my lenses from the elements, each of them will have the Tiffen HT UV filters in front of them. With the speed that we are working, it is not uncommon for me to drop a lenses at least once during the Games. I would rather crack a filter than the front element of my lens.

How am I transporting all this gear with me? I am packing all the camera gear in two ThinkTank bags. I have the ThinkTank rolling bag and a Thinktank Streetwalker HardDrive backpack that will be completely filled. And no, these will NOT get checked as luggage. These will go onboard with me while my big suitcase of clothes goes under the plane.


You know what? It's Rio in the summertime and my wife will not be there to tell me how to dress well. So I will take a bunch of shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes. Not much else! Clothing is much less important to me than the camera equipment. And I will not be bringing any hair product. :)


There are two very important documents that I have to have with me. These are my passport and my Olympic credentials. Both are needed to get into the country (since the Olympic credentials also act as my visa for Brazil). For redundancy sake I have extra photo copies of these and I have scanned them (along with my credit cards) and put those in the cloud for emergency access if anything were to happen to the originals. Hey, it is all about redundancies, right?!

Other stuff

There are some other other items which will be packed in my camera backpack:

* Aspirin for those aches and pains
* Melatonin for the flight down and back
* Over the ear noise cancelling headphones for the long flight
* A small pair of in-ear headphones for daily use
* Power adaptors and a small extension cord
* A Qubie light cube for fill light and as a flashlight (which is really helpful during Opening and Closing Ceremonies)

A link

B&H Photo was nice enough to create a page on their site with most of the equipment I am taking with me. You can access that page from the banner at the bottom of this blog.

Ready to roll!

I think that covers just about everything I am taking with me. I hope that this helps you understand the thought process and packing challenges. It is a lot to take on a trip, but I hope that all of this helps me create some really nice photos to share with all of you.

The next blog entry will likely be from Rio. Stay tuned and Obrigado!

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The 8 challenges of an Olympic photographer in Rio

The Summer Olympics are only a little more than a week away, and no doubt you have seen the endless news reports about the lack of readiness, the Zika Virus epidemic, the financial crisis, the substandard housing, and the safety issues in Rio de Janeiro. Even with all of this going on, it is my job to travel south and photograph this worldwide event for Team USA, specifically USA Water Polo, and I am looking forward to it. With so few credentials available, it is a huge honor to photograph the Olympics. For the fifth time, I will have a chance to photograph some of the best athletes in the world in one of the biggest sports competitions there is. Along with all the excitement of photographing the Olympics, I also face many challenges every two years. Most of these are recurring at each Olympic Games (Summer or Winter), while others are unique to this year’s event. So…as I prepare for the upcoming Games in Rio, here are my 8 biggest challenges:

Planning – gear and logistics

Before flying out to my first Olympic Games, I remember losing many nights of sleep, trying to figure out how much, and what, photographic equipment to bring. Not only do I need the right cameras and lenses, but I also need all the other accessories, like memory cards, readers, mounts, monopods, wireless triggers, bags, straps, etc. I fill a large Thinktank camera backpack and a large Thinktank roller bag, both of which go on board with me on any flight. This means that I have two full bags, not including the clothing and normal luggage requirements for a month-long trip to a foreign country.

Oh - and the next blog post will be all about the equipment I am bringing to Rio. Stay tuned for that one. 

Lodging, transportation, and food

About a year before Opening Ceremonies, I have already selected and paid a deposit for my press hotel room. This can be a challenge, especially when I don’t know exactly where most of my events will be located in the city. In the case of the Olympics in Rio, they ran out of time and will not be building the water polo venue (my primary sport to shoot), so they moved all water polo to two new locations. Those happened to be in a different part of the city, making it necessary for me to change hotels at the last minute.

All of my transportation will be taken care of by the Rio Organizing Committee. At each Olympics, the organizing committee provides press buses to take us to all the venues. But it’s up to me to determine distances, travel times, and other possible issues when planning my photography schedule.

When I work the Olympics, it is probably the only time in my life where I eat strictly for fuel and not for pleasure. Time is so tight, that there is rarely ever time for me to sit down and enjoy a long meal. It is usually a matter of slamming mediocre food so that I am not over hungry when working. The Main Press Center (MPC) usually has a food court to feed all of us tired and hungry media. But I cannot rely on that food. If it is anything like the choices we had in Sochi, Russia, I will be in trouble. At least there was a McDonalds at all other prior Olympics, but they will not be at the 2016 Games.

Time and schedules

Time is probably the biggest challenge at the Olympics, with a typical day starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3 a.m. Do that every day for three weeks and see what this does to your body and mind! If you need to get a solid eight hours of sleep every day, being an Olympic photographer is not for you. I usually come home from the Games and spend a week catching up on sleep.

A couple of months prior to my trip, I log into the Olympic Intranet site and download a venue map and schedule of events. Even though the times are not exact, they give me a rough idea of my schedule for the month. Since I have contractual obligations to be at certain events, I need to make sure I arrive at the venue well in advance of the competition in order to prepare my gear and get a good shooting location. Before or after shooting my events for USA Water Polo, I am free to go capture images of any sport I want. There are different levels of credentials for the Olympics, but my all access pass allows me the freedom to photograph anywhere, other than the Olympic Village where the athletes live.


Rio de Janeiro is proving to be a little more challenging than other Olympic locations in respect to safety. I have been to Rio numerous times in the last 10 years and it is not the safest of places. I never wear my wedding ring, and usually travel in bullet proofed cars, which are not uncommon in this region. I am taking extra steps to stay safe, especially since I will be walking around with more than $30K worth of camera gear. This means being more diligent when going from one venue to another, even in the press buses. It will also be the first Olympics where I will take a smaller camera, like the Canon G5X and Canon M3 mirrorless camera for shooting photos outside of the Olympic Park. These cameras are very small (therefore not drawing attention to myself) but take excellent quality images. I also increased my insurance policy to make sure I was covered for the excessive amount of equipment I will be carrying.

The Canon G5X
The Canon M3 mirrorless camera

Rules and restrictions

Being a photographer at the Olympics comes with a lot more rules and restrictions than I have when shooting almost any other event. In many venues, we are restricted to certain photo positions, and cannot move from them. Depending on the event, there might be restrictions on when we can enter and exit those shooting positions. We are not allowed to use flash or tripods in any Olympic venue due to the safety of the athletes and spectators. We are even restricted from taking live video, since we are not broadcasters. Even my photos, which I own, are restricted in how I can sell them.

Tight Deadlines for Team USA

When I photographed my first Olympics, my deadline was 12 hours. My second Olympics, the deadline was brought in to 4 hours, then 2 hours, and now I have to have images back to the team in 15 minutes. The world has changed, and there is now an immediate need to get images on social media sites as soon as possible. This is always a challenge for me, as I have to go through hundreds or even thousands of photos, find the best selection for the team, retouch them (mainly for exposure, white balance, and cropping), resize them, and get them sent back to the U.S. Since I do all of this on my own, this is always nerve wracking, but fun! For this reason, it is imperative that I use the fastest memory cards, card readers, computer, and software. This year I will be using the new Lexar Professional 3500x CFast cards in the new Canon 1DxMark II camera. These new cards used in conjunction with the Lexar ProfessionalWorkflow CFast readers will allow me to download images twice as fast as I did two years ago in Russia. That is huge!

Keeping up with the blog and social media (Behind the scenes)

Not only am I posting all the images for the team, but I usually post at least one blog entry, sharing my photos and stories from each day with all of you. This can take more than an hour per entry. My goal is to share the photos, how I took them, and even camera settings, when time allows. And I love posting photos showing what goes on behind the scenes at the Olympics. This was a huge hit when I was in Sochi. People back home were really eager to see what it was really like over there.

Workflow and Backup

With such limited time each day (for three weeks straight), it is very difficult to stay on top of my workflow. By the end of each day, I need to go through that day’s image collections and purge the duplicates and rejects to optimize drive space. I then need to back up the “keepers” to my portable SSDs and hard drives. At Rio, I plan to have no fewer than four backups of my images on different WD Passport drives, and my favorites will be remotely uploaded to my Drobo 810n at my house.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will prove to be an interesting adventure, but even with all these challenges, I am still very excited to be attending this exclusive global event. Make sure to follow along here on the blog to stay up-to-date with my photos and stories as they unfold in Rio De Janeiro. The best way to follow along is to enter your email address at the top of this blog. Then you will receive an email each time I post a story from the Games. 


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Eight photos I want to capture at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

Whenever I teach photography, I encourage people to challenge themselves to capture photos that go beyond the obvious. know what? I actually practice what I preach! With that in mind, I decided to make a challenging list of the photos that I want to capture in Rio during the Summer Olympics.

The following list includes both "self assignments" and challenging shots which put me outside my comfort zone. And since the Olympics is one of the more hectic months of my life, it will be good for me to have this list to go back to for inspiration. (Note: You will see example photos in this blog from previous Olympics, but my goal is to take each of these to a much higher level.)

So, without further ado, here is my list:

Create art with the camera

I want to capture a photo that is more artistic than realistic. It other words, I don't want to just capture an athlete in action or use motion blur to do something different. I want to really push myself and the cameras to create a photo that is art.

A great shot of local environmental flare

I have not left for Rio yet, and not exactly sure what to expect when I get there, but I am hoping to capture a really nice photo showing the excitement of the Olympics. In my mind, I can see people celebrating in the streets with Olympic decorations surrounding them. Will I see this and capture it? I am not sure, but it is on my list.

An environmental shot from the London Olympics in 2012

Some spectators having fun around the Olympic Park

Photograph a new sport

Since this is my third Summer Olympics, I have been lucky to photograph many different Olympics events. When in Rio, I want to photograph some sports that are new to me. At this point, I am thinking about photographing boxing, archery, sailing... And of course, I want to come away with some solid photos from these events.

The 2012 Games was the first and only time I have photographed woman's weightlifting

Capture emotion

During my extended stay in Rio, I expect to see a lot of triumphant moments and also moments of defeat, and of course, I will do my best to capture some of those to share with all of you. But for this challenge, I want to capture emotion away from the athletes. Maybe a very excited fan or a family member of an athlete. When at the London Olympics 4 years ago, one of my favorite "emotion" shots was when Jesse Smith (of USA Water Polo) was handed his baby from the stands. It was a great moment and I captured it and shared it with him.

I caught this shot of Jesse Smith (USA Water Polo) and his baby at the last Summer Olympics

A key action shot

I are thinking "you are at the Olympics, how can you not get a good action shot?" But I am talking about really high action! Something that goes beyond the typical action shot. Undoubtedly this will involve my skills and a little bit of luck. A will need to be at the right place at the right time.

High action at Grecco Roman wrestling

Multi exposure shot

When in Sochi, I used the multi exposure mode of the Canon 1DX to capture photos of the ski jumpers. I am hoping to try that mode again with some of the athletes in Rio. I am thinking that Fencing or Weight Lifting could be really cool when captured using this technique.

Multi exposure mode in the camera. This was not created in Adobe Photoshop.

One great night shot (if safe)

If you have been following the blog for a while, then you know that I love night photography. At each previous Olympic Games, I captured some nice night photos of the Olympic Park, Olympic Flame and cityscapes. I am hoping to do this again in Rio, if it is safe. From previous trips to Brazil, I learned that having a camera on a tripod signifies that I am a professional photographer, presumably with more expensive gear. For that reason, I have been advised against taking night shots around the city with this setup. Even with this in mind, I am hoping to get some night shots within the Olympic Park, which should be well guarded. Once I get onto the Olympic grounds, I will determine the level of safety, and make the call from there.

Opening Ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008

I want to shoot for 2 Gold Medal teams

The primary team that I am covering during these Summer Olympics (as I did in London) is the USA Water Polo teams. In London 2012, the woman won the gold medal for the first time ever, but the men did not fare as well. I am hoping that this year I can photograph two gold medal games with Team USA coming out on top for both. Yes, it is more pressure for me (being their only photographer), but the excitement is through the roof. Once again, only time will tell whether this happens or not.

The women of USA Water Polo celebrating their gold medal win in London 2012.

Stay tuned, because after two years of preparation, I am now only 11 days from flying out to cover the Games. I hope that I can come home with most or all of my goals met.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Olympic workflow - How much has technology changed in the last 2 years, and how much will it help me in Rio?

It is a little less than 3 weeks before I leave for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and I am doing final testing of all the new equipment I will be taking with me. This testing will help me determine the best settings, the best file formats and the best workflow to deliver images to Team USA faster than ever. And yes, they want the photos REALLY fast!

Just as in previous years, the 2 years in between Olympic Games has provided enough time for technology to advance enough to make a marked difference in my workflow. This is true for the cameras and memory cards and even the storage devices I will have with me. In this blog post, I look at each of the technology advancements that have occurred since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Since the camera is the single most important piece of equipment that I will be using everyday at the Olympics, I will start with this. I was happy when Canon released the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II a couple of months ago. This new camera brings me big advantages for the Olympics, with many improvements over the preceding 1DX. The dual DIGIC 6+ processors help the camera function and focus faster.  And even more importantly to me, this is the first Pro camera from Canon in many years that goes beyond Compact Flash and offers the new CFast memory card format (along with a CF slot).

Why is CFast important to me at the Olympics? I will be shooting the 1DX Mark II at 14 frames per second, which creates a lot of images. I need to capture all those RAW files (and yes - I shoot all my images in RAW format) with a camera that can clear the files from it's buffer to the memory card as fast as possible. BUT more importantly...after capturing the photos, I want to be able to download them as fast as possible. My deadlines are no longer measured in hours, but minutes. Every bit of time that I can save is huge to me.

Here are the cards I will taking with me to Rio. Lots of Lexar Professional 3500x128GB CFast cards for my primary storage.

Actually, my plan is to write RAW files to both a CFast card and CF card in the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, more for insurance than anything else. It will slow the buffer clear a little bit, but give me the peace of mind knowing that the images are stored in two places. I tested this scenario a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to capture about 800 RAW photos when shooting to a CFast card only. When shooting to CFast and CF, I was able to capture 80 RAW images without any pauses in the camera. Although this sounds like a major speed degradation, I can not imagine any time when I would shoot more than 80 RAW photos in a row. I am going to have a large 256GB CF card in each camera acting almost like an in-camera SSD. I don't ever plan on downloading from the CF cards, since the faster CFast cards will be my primary storage devices.

For the first time, I will be using memory card readers with Thunderbolt connection. The newer Lexar CR2 CFast card reader has both a USB 3.0 connector and Thunderbolt 2 connector on the back. My goal is to have two of these CR2 readers velcroed to the top of my MacBook Pro, and connected using the two Thunderbolt ports.

The one piece of equipment which has not changed since the last Olympic Games is my MacBook Pro. I was hoping that Apple would come out with a new model before the end of July, but that does not look likely at this point. And even if they did, I would probably not have time to get it ready with all the software in time.

Since I mentioned software, I should probably tell you what I plan on using in Rio. Like all my previous Olympics, I am still planning on using a combination of CameraBits Photo Mechanic for all my culling and ranking, and Adobe Photoshop CC for retouching. This has proven successful in the past and I have not found anything new that is faster for my workflow.

After I have captured and edited all of the photos, I need a safe way to store them. I am using a combination of 512GB Lexar Portable SSD units (for daily backups) and Western Digital 4TB drives for the mass backups. And since I want to make sure that my favorite images are stored remotely, for even more peace of mind, I am using remote storage. In the past I have moved those images to my Dropbox account. But even better, now that my Drobo 810n allows for remote access, I am going to be backing up directly to the server in my home studio back in CA. How cool is that?

And now that I have remote access to every digital image I have ever taken, which are all stored on the Drobo 810n (on a combination of WD 8TB and WD 4TB Red drives), I am covered if I have a client who has an urgent need for an image.

Well...there you have it. I think I have covered all the new technology in this blog entry. But as I sit here and look at the words and photos, I am sure that I am missing even more. I guess I will have to give you all an update from the Olympic Games. The clock is ticking!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.