Thursday, February 15, 2018

The challenges and advantages of being a photographer at these 2018 Winter Olympics

In many ways, this Olympics is different from all the others I have covered. I thought I would tell you some of the challenges and advantages of covering these Olympics in PyeongChang.


As many of you have heard it is cold here...REALLY cold! The last two Winter Olympics were in Vancouver and Sochi and they were downright balmy compared to this place. I have even spoken to Canadians and people who live in other cold climates and they say that they have never experienced cold like here. I was up at the Ski Jump shooting tonight and it wasn't too bad, but a couple of days ago it was unbearable. I heard of many photographers who dedicated hours preparing to shoot the ski jump only to last 10 minutes and leave.  When the wind kicks up, it just cuts right through you. And to make matters worse, the press buses and many of the media rooms are overly heated and like saunas. So all of us are going from freezing cold to sweating our brains out. I am constantly adding and subtracting layers of clothing.


Also related to the geography of this country is the time zone challenges. Since the American and European markets are vital to the Olympic viewership, the events are scheduled at really weird times. There are almost no sporting events in the afternoon, with the bulk of them in the morning or late in the evening. This is proving to be frustrating to me since many of the sports that I want to cover are overlapping with the USA hockey games (and I want and have to be at those!) I love photographing short track speed skating and it looks like that may not happen this year.


The other challenge is the location of the venues. It seems like everything is at least a 30 minute bus ride, and there are many routes which involve multiple buses and hours of transport time. With time being such a premium at the Olympics, this is a challenge for all of us. I can not go shoot something up in the high mountains without leaving at least 3 hours to get to hockey. And unlike Sochi where the two hockey rinks were right next door to each other, here they are about 45 minutes away by bus. I just shot my last hockey game at the smaller rink, so things should get easier from here on out. The larger rink is in the Olympic Park with the figure skating, short track speed skating, long track speed skating and curling venues.


Things are definitely safer here than Rio, and that is a huge relief.  And they have made some improvements to the security at these Olympics. As we enter each building (venue, media center...) we used to have our credentials scanned. This year they have embedded an RFID card into our credentials so every time we enter a building it automatically identifies us. But there are times when the security lines bottleneck since we have to take our laptops out every time. Just imagine going through an airport security check 8-10 times a day.


With the advances in technology, the competition to post quickly just keeps getting tougher. I am now delivering images to USA Hockey within 8 minutes of the end of each period. But all of the photo agencies have Ethernet lines run right to the photographer's camera so that the images are transmitted to an editor in the press center within seconds. I am a one man show trying to keep up with that!

Photo positions

Each venue has designated positions for photographers. And like previous Olympic Games, most of the better spots are reserved for the big photo agencies. Why? Because they pay big bucks to the IOC for those spots. And the very best spots are taken by the OBS (Olympic Broadcast) for the TV feeds that you are all seeing. So all the rest of us photographers have to weasel our way into the best positions we can get. This is why I have been showing up the hockey rinks 2 hours before every game to lock down a prime spot on the glass.

Lugging all this gear

Each morning I have to determine the proper gear I will need for the day. This usually means that I am bringing at least two Canon 1D X MK II cameras, a couple of long lenses (like the Canon 70-200, Canon 100-400, or Canon 200-400), at least one medium focal length (like the Canon 24-70) and some specialty lenses like the Canon 16-35 or the Canon 8-15 fish eye. Add in some additional batteries, monopods, pocketwzards and other stuff and this gets heavy. Since the Main Press Center is so far from the housing I can not easily go back and forth to grab different gear throughout the day.

With all that said, there are some other really nice advantages to this Olympic Games.

Housing: Our press housing is pretty nice (other than the overly firm beds).  They come and clean the rooms every day and replenish soap, towels, water... I think they did this twice in Sochi!

Internet: The Wireless Internet coverage at this Games is excellent. It is reliable in our housing, the media center, the venues, most of the buses, and even in the outdoor media transport areas.

Food: The pressroom food is not good, but many of the venues are located near restaurants where we can go off the Olympic grounds and get good food. And I really like the food here, since it is mainly chicken, pork and kimchee. Yummy!

People: I can not even begin to tell you how amazing the people have been here. You already heard about how nice the police where to me, but I have countless other stories where the Korean people have bent over backwards to help me out.

OK - time to get back to shooting.

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Ron Lane said...


Thank you for your stories and pictures covering the Olympics games from the eyes of a photographer covering it.

Most of us will never know what it is like but you make use feel a little part of it and give some of us hope.

Best of luck shooting the rest and safe travels back home.


Mike B said...

Sorry about the long lines at security. But, some photographers have been lackadaisical about letting unauthorized roommates take their credentials.

Lasse Lundberg Andreasen said...

Hi Jeff,

Such great inside stories you write. One of my goals in life is to photograph at the Olympics one day so I'm learning a lot from your blog. Keep up the good work. Greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Glenn Hermes said...

I really enjoy the additional information that you are providing outside of the specific olympic events. It adds a lot to the overall experience. Thanks for taking the time to provide us with this "insider" view.