What It's Like To...

What it's like to Photograph the Olympics

December 08, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12
What it's like to Photograph the Olympics
What It's Like To...
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What It's Like To...
What it's like to Photograph the Olympics
Dec 08, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12

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Photographer Jeff Cable has had a front-row seat at the past seven Olympic Games--although his seat is cluttered with cameras, lenses, and laptops.  As the photographer for the United States Olympic Committee, Jeff has an all-access pass to any event he chooses.  In this episode, he shares: 

  • how he edits 2600 images down to 10 in a matter of minutes
  • how social media has changed the pace of his job
  • how he stays focused (literally and figuratively) from 9:00 am to 2:00 am every day for nearly three weeks straight
  • what Simone Biles and her teammates were talking about in those minutes before the world knew why she pulled out of the Tokyo 2020 Games
  • the best angles to shoot a water polo game
  • how photographers deal with bathroom breaks (or the lack thereof) in the middle of certain events
  • the importance of mastering the Olympic shuttle bus system
  • and much more.

There's a whole lot more to photographing Team USA than just settings and shutter speeds.  It's an exciting, exhausting gig, and Jeff approaches each Olympics like it's his one and only.

Want to know more about Jeff?

Want to know more about The Experience Podcast?

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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Photographer Jeff Cable has had a front-row seat at the past seven Olympic Games--although his seat is cluttered with cameras, lenses, and laptops.  As the photographer for the United States Olympic Committee, Jeff has an all-access pass to any event he chooses.  In this episode, he shares: 

  • how he edits 2600 images down to 10 in a matter of minutes
  • how social media has changed the pace of his job
  • how he stays focused (literally and figuratively) from 9:00 am to 2:00 am every day for nearly three weeks straight
  • what Simone Biles and her teammates were talking about in those minutes before the world knew why she pulled out of the Tokyo 2020 Games
  • the best angles to shoot a water polo game
  • how photographers deal with bathroom breaks (or the lack thereof) in the middle of certain events
  • the importance of mastering the Olympic shuttle bus system
  • and much more.

There's a whole lot more to photographing Team USA than just settings and shutter speeds.  It's an exciting, exhausting gig, and Jeff approaches each Olympics like it's his one and only.

Want to know more about Jeff?

Want to know more about The Experience Podcast?

  • Sign up to be on our Insiders' List to receive our newsletters and insiders' information! Go to theexperiencepodcast.net (sign-ups are at the bottom of the page)
  • Follow us on social media:

Support the Show.

There's a matter of staying very focused to make sure that I'm getting with the team wants, what I want, but the athletes want, and also making sure it's in focus. I've got good backgrounds, the lighting is right my shutter speeds, right.

Clearly, there's a lot to consider when you're responsible for capturing images of Team USA athletes at the Olympic Games. I'm Elizabeth Pearson Garr, and this is the Experience podcast. On this episode, we get to experience the Olympics through the lens of Jeff cable, who has photographed the past seven Olympic Games for the US Olympic Committee. And he's getting ready to head to Beijing for the upcoming 2022 Winter Games. Jeff is the official team photographer for the men's and women's water polo and ice hockey teams. And as you'll hear, he gets to spend the rest of the games taking photos of whatever events interests him. 

Hi, Jeff, thank you for joining me on my podcast.

It's nice to be here.

I am really excited to talk to you because you have such a fascinating job. On the one hand, it sounds like a dream job. Because you have a front row seat to the Olympics, something that I feel like all of us would love to have. But it is hard work. What you do is is probably really grueling.

It isn't it's combination of the excitement of being there. And I've done seven Olympics. And I mean, the first one, obviously, it was amazing. And the second one was like incredible. And it becomes more work over time. But still, it's a combination of excitement, but also knowing and planning and prepping for three weeks of just full on no rest. Go go go.

How far in advance. Are you starting to prepare, say for the winter 2022 Olympics? Are you already getting ready for that? Do they send you a schedule? Obviously, you cannot shoot every sport every event?

Well, pre COVID A typical planning process would start about two years in advance. It's a long process. The credentialing process is the first part. So will I get credential? Which you know, I've done so much for team USA now that that is no longer really a question, which is a huge luxury. Because you know, any photographer would love to shoot the Olympics. So there's very few credentials. I'm lucky that that is now kind of a given as opposed to a question. That's the first part. And then part of the credentialing is security clearances, and all that kind of stuff. And that happens really far in advance. But then typical Olympics, the next part of that process is trying to figure out, well, there's the contract with the team that I'm shooting for. And then there's the things like housing, airfare, logistics, and that kind of thing. In normal times, there's a lot of planning that goes in my first Olympics, I didn't sleep for like six months, because I was so nervous about, you know, knowing what to do. And there's a lot of logistics that when you get to the Olympics, as a first timer, you don't know what to expect. So you think you're just gonna go to opening ceremonies and you find out even though you have an all access pass, that doesn't get you to open air closing ceremonies, it doesn't get you any high impact event. In the days when Michael Phelps was swimming, every photographer wanted to be there. So they can't allow that. So you have to be specially ticketed for that. Until you know all the protocol. It's it's a bit daunting. I've done so many. Now I know like when I got to Tokyo, I got to my hotel, went to sleep. And the next morning, I got up, went straight to the press center and started getting my photography, you have to have the best, getting lockers, checking in with all the right people to make sure that I had the right things I needed for internet access, and then going straight to the water polo venue to get a locker there to talk to the venue manager. Like all the things I knew that I had to get in place. But if you've never done it, or you've only done one, you're thrown in the deep end, and it's a bit scary.

So all access does not mean all access. 

It really doesn't

mean all access means and I'm lucky to have that credential. There's different levels of credentials. But yes, I have full access other than the Olympic Village. We're not allowed to go into their living space under normal times, not during COVID. There is a tour that goes in when you can tour the Olympic Village. I've never done it and don't have time for it. But yes, it means I can go to any venue, any sport and shoot whatever I want, which is pretty cool.

But obviously you don't have time to do that either. I mean, so are you given a schedule by the US Olympic Committee say you're going to do these water polo games and these gymnastic events and that sort of thing? Or do you just decide what you want to shoot?

Yeah, so I'm the I think I'm the only independent photographer for team USA, which is a huge luxury, it means that I can determine my own schedule. So what I do is I shoot for USA Water Polo in the summer. So Summer Olympics, I shoot for men's and women's team, every game. Those are about An hour and 20 minutes for a game and then you've got time for me to get their prepare before the game starts. And also to get images to them, it says the game is over. So it's about a three and a half hour window. And the rest of the time, I can go do whatever I want. So once I'm done shooting water polo, or if I want to pose an evening, I can go somewhere in the morning and go shoot. And then Winter Olympics, I shoot for USA Hockey, as my primary team, so men's and women's ice hockey. So I again, I'm there for all those but then any other free time, I can just wake up in the morning and say, Gee, the game is not till 7pm I think today I'm go shoot sailing or weightlifting. And go do that. And I love that because I'm such an add person. I don't want to shoot just hockey as much as I love hockey or water polo. I want to go shoot other things that are really fun and interesting and, and a challenge.

So let's say you get to the pool or to the rink. Are you supposed to go to a specific spot? Or do you have free rein of the whole arena? Like, can you? Can you shoot from any angle? You want to?

No, no, no, I mean very much the opposite of that at the Olympics. It is very regimented. For a lot of reasons they don't I mean, obviously COVID They don't want us getting too close to the athletes. Of course, as their photographer, I tend to get closer than most. But yeah, they've got very specific places to stand because it's all about television. And the last thing they want is someone being in front of a camera that's not supposed to be there. So even in Tokyo, where there's no one in the stands, right, there are no spectators, we still were limited. We weren't allowed in most places, which is very strange, because it was wide open. But they didn't want us roaming around in the background of a TV shot. But even in a typical Olympics, it's very strict. So for instance, for ice hockey, there's only a certain amount of seats on the glass down at the rink level. And you have to put in for those. Again, as a team photographer, that's pretty much guaranteed for me. But then I get to the rink early because they don't put holes in the grounds like when we shoot an NHL game. So I'm here in the Bay Area, I'll shoot for the San Jose Sharks, I can shoot through a hole at the Olympics, there's no holes you shooting through plexiglass. So the first thing I'll do when I get to the rink is I'll go say, okay, which way are we shooting first. So I'll be on the on the offensive side for two periods defensive side for one period. And I walk around and try to find clean Plexi. So I'll look and say, okay, position 56, 62 and 81, I've cleaned Plexi then I go back to the media room there and say, I want one of these three spots, some venue managers will say fine, and some venue managers will say sorry, we don't reserve spots, you have to wait to 10 minutes before the game and you get what you get. And that's a bit of a challenge. So it's making nice with the venue managers a lot. And like water polo. I was there every day because I shooting for the team. And they alternate one day as men one day a woman they know me or an old who is the venue manager, photo manager. He and I became friends and talked every day and and we worked well together. There's something called OBS, which is an Olympic broadcast and Olympic broadcast system. They own the world. So every television feed that you see on NBC is coming from obs and they sell that video to all countries. So there's no NBC cameras there because of course, can you imagine if you had a camera from every country, so water polo, one of the OBS cameramen told me as soon as the game starts, I move in about eight feet this way you can stand in my spot, which is a great shooting position. So I went back and I talked to Arnold and said, Does that work for you? He goes, Yeah, if it's okay with them. It's okay with me. So every game, that was my spot, I kind of commandeered that spot. And so it is a matter of planning and treating people with respect and working the system of relationships. Big time. Yeah, but Right. It's not true in any business, sir. Yeah. 


how many other photographers are there usually at an event that or does it just 


it depends on the event. I mean, like water polo, if it's a prelim game, you may have six photographers their, you know, gold medal game, then all sudden you have 50 photographers all vying for the same position. But you know, certain events when Hussain bolt would run or Michael Phelps is in the pool, kiddie Adak, he is in the pool, you're going to have 500 photographers or more all trying to get a shot. So like for swimming. I remember shooting Phelps, when he is in the heyday. And every photographer wanted to be there. Well, Summer Olympics, you got 2200 photographers, there's not space for 2200. So they'll have four shooting positions. One will be at the Diamond position. So that's where you get them going in the pool. And you'll have one position on this side of the pool, which is midway along the pool to get pitcher them mid stroke, you have another one at the other end of the pool where you're facing them. So you can see the reaction if they win or lose. And there might be a high position from you know, up where the spectators are sitting and that kind of thing. And that's it. And so everybody tried to be there. And even though you've got the full credentials, you still can be taken to get into that event.

So that's the kind of thing you would have looked at your schedule and you would have gone To the media center early that morning and said I want to go to that Phelps 200 Butterfly final, and just hope that you are one of the first couple 100.

It's not a hope thing, and it's not a first come first serve. It's my Organizing Committee is the US Olympic Committee. So I go to the USOC office, and they get a sign in board for every high demand event. And I'll say to them, I'd like to go to opening ceremonies, I know to do that right away. And so I'll go there and say, hey, I want to go to the men's butterfly at eight o'clock tonight. And I'll put my name on the list, or used to put my name on the list and hope to get one now I'm they'll pretty much me one. And so it is a pecking order. If I'm shooting for the team, and I know them, I'm likely to get one. If I'm shooting for a small local newspaper in Arizona that no one reads, you probably won't get one. It's just it's that's kind of the way it works.

What are you looking for? I'm not a photographer, I'm just a point and shoot. But you know, I'm trying to look for composition. I'm trying to look for lighting or angles. And but so much is happening in these sporting competitions, things are moving there, as I've looked at a lot of your photographs, and they're incredible. Just walk me through the changing cameras that you're using. And I do shutter speeds.

Oh, yeah, I mean, in every event that people ask me all the time, like, what's your setting simple depends where I'm shooting, if I'm shooting indoors versus outdoors, or I'm trying to shoot with a really fast shutter speed to freeze the action of a gymnast on the balance beam midair, that I'm shooting at a 1,000th of a second. But a lot of times I push myself and try to create something different and more artistic and then it's slowing the shutter speed way down. So instead of being a 1,000th of a second, I shot equestrian for two and a half hours a 20th of a second, where I'm moving my lens at the exact same speed as the horse and rider trying to create some art. And so the advantage of shooting that way? Well, if I'm not contractually obligated, if I'm contractually obligated to deliver images like for USA, water polo and Tokyo, I'm not gonna get too artistic, because it's not what they want. And so in a water polo game, one is knowing the sport and anticipating what's going to happen, I usually want to be really low to the action. So I'm at the same level as the athletes. So even when I was on the pool deck in Tokyo, a lot of times I would get down on my knees and shoot low. Because now I'm in the faces of the athletes, which brings you in into this sport, and it makes it more personal. But it just changes at every place I am lighting at the Olympics is amazing because it's lit for television. So it's kind of cheating in a way it's shooting at a local high school is much harder in some respects, than shooting the Olympics. I've got great lighting, I get the best athletes in the world. And I have really nice backgrounds.

So I've never thought that it was lit for television. I never thought that they even did a whole lighting setup. But of course,


Yeah, hundreds of millions of dollars of testing and lighting to get it as good as possible. And so I'm able to shoot, in many respects easier than I can hear, then the challenge is how do I come up with images different from the 2200 other people that are there. And so you know, I use the best equipment I am sponsored by Canon I use, you know, Apple, the fastest laptops, I've got the fastest memory cards, because my deadlines, and this kind of blows people away, but my deadlines are 14 minutes for in Beijing.

So after the event finished, let's say it finishes at 8:32pm 14 minutes later, you're expected to deliver images.

Yeah, so if I shoot like a typical water polo match with a new camera, when I'm shooting, sometimes at 30 frames a second, I may have 2600 images. At the end of the game, I have 14 minutes to go through those 2600 Find the best eight to 10 images, retouch them, resize them and get them back to the team. Because of social media. I first started shooting the Olympics years and years ago, it was a 24 hour deadline, then it went to 12 hour deadline. And then with social media at went to to our deadline. And now they want stuff immediately. If you look at something like for USA Hockey, the minute they're off the ice at the end of the first period, they want some images to push to social media say us is up over Russia two to one tune in for the second and third period and they want some images to support that. So that's why that deadline is so tight.

So in the middle of the game, are you having to go through your images in the middle of the game?

Yes. So when I shoot so water polo goes straight through, there is no logical break. So I am shooting the whole way through water polo and then I run down to the press room. And first thing I do is just open the laptop jam my memory cards into the reader download as fast as possible. Start looking and I've already got in my mind, who I remember there's a great shot of the goaltender stopping one there. And again, the job of a photographer is to tell a story. So I've kind of have that story in my mind. Like if it was a shutout. I better have a great shot of the goaltender stopping something. If one particular athlete scored five goals I'd better have a great shot of that person scoring a goal. So I'm already thinking what is the story I'm trying to tell and what are the best image is to support that. And so as I'm shooting, that's in my mind, and then when I get to the press room, I'll do that, on ice hockey, that 15 minute break between period one, period two and period to period three, I have my laptop sitting next to me on the ice, the ice actually goes underneath the rink under our feet, which is really cold by the way. And so my laptop is sitting there with me, and the minute the buzzer goes, or if the play is at the other side of the rink, and I know there's only six seconds left, it's not going to come back my way that buys me an extra six seconds. So I'll open my laptop and start the download process as fast as I can. And I will literally edit on my lap, and then upload images from the rink I never leave. And so really, I even have to go to the bathroom and plan that because I don't move for four hours. And so


grace under pressure. I mean, you really have to stay focused.

Yeah, I joke about taking drugs, and I never have in my life. But I drink a lot of Diet Coke. And I say my brain has to be as fast as all the camera equipment, computer equipment, everything else. I'm using the Olympics. We're working down in the morning till two or three in the morning, every day for three weeks. And so trying to keep your brain sharp is a challenge at times.

But you can't drink that Diet Coke before the hockey game. 


I try not to right before what supposedly an hour and a half match and I can't make it work. But I've seen photographers, there are certain venues where we're not allowed to leave at all, like speedskating. I remember in Vancouver, we walked through the athletes, and what they called the flood zone where the Zamboni came out. And they said, What's your shooting position? You cannot leave. And there were guys that had to go to the bathroom? And they were asking the fans Hey, are you done with your bottle of water or whatever? And hiding in a corner? And like, yeah, it's it's crazy.

You do what you need to do. So that's an amazing schedule–9am to two or 3am to keep that up for sort of three weeks. How do you do that? I mean, is it just kind of adrenaline after a while, and it's just fun and exciting. And you just keep going?

Yeah, I mean, it's I'm very type A anyway. And so for me, it kind of works. But sure, it's still exciting. And the thing is when you're there, especially with my situation where I'm contractually obligated to shoot some things. But then the rest is just for fun. And building a portfolio someday, maybe a book. And I blog every day from the Olympics. And the blog is a big part of when I go there. It's a huge thing. So I was going out and shooting things that I thought would be interesting to the readers as much as interesting to me. And then the problem is trying to pace yourself because I get done shooting water polo. And all I think about is I need to get something to eat and I be eating and looking at the screens in the press room was a meeting, thinking Darn it, I should have been over at fencing to get a great shot of that or you because they actually simulcast a lot of the video feed throughout the restaurants and press rooms so you can see what's happening at other venues. And it's like, Man, this is frustrating. Something amazing is happening at boxing and I'm not there. I'm just sitting here eating. I try not to eat for a long time I usually slam food and get the heck out of there as fast as possible. And you really don't walk at the Olympics. I run almost everywhere. Just I'm always moving.

And you're carrying all this heavy equipment or you mentioned there's lockers at certain venues.

Yeah, rarely is the lockers are more for keeping the laptop and stuff in between. Like when I'm up on the pool deck shooting, all my other gear is locked up that I'm not using. Yeah, I'm carding on stuff with me. The good thing is, as opposed to the Olympics I shot years ago, I use rolling bags most of the time now just to save my back. But I'm still hoping large lenses and big cameras, it does get heavy and awkward, especially a Winter Olympics because you're also just in all those heavy garments. And then you get on a press pass and it's 90 degrees. I don't know why they do that. So now you're trying to dump all your gear and shut off on this clothing. Then half an hour later you get off and it's minus four outside, and you're trying to get everything back on again. Yeah, it's, it's, it's fun, but it's not sometimes.

So you stay in a hotel and then you take press buses from venue to venue, or how does that work?

Yeah, typically, we're either in a hotel or like in Pyongchang when we were there in Korea. They had press housing buildings and all this were in those. It depends on the city in Japan, I was in a business hotel that was like, seriously that my room is like the size of my bathroom here at home. When I first walked in there, I was like, Oh my gosh, like there was no closet. It was crazy. So you don't know what you're gonna get.

So you're getting up at whatever eight in the morning after five or six hours of sleep and you get something quick to eat and then you have a press bus and go to your venue and then you're just sort of off for the day you have a little schedule that you know what you the things you have to shoot and then from there you kind of just wing it about what

Yeah, well, any hotel hosting Olympic media has to provide breakfast. So it's good because normally we can Just go down and we get our free breakfast and then go. In Japan, every breakfast was fish, I'm allergic to fish. So I got there. And I said, I can't eat this and they didn't understand and I said, Is it fish today and he goes, Oh, fish every day fish every day. And they're like, that's not gonna work. And so I got them to switch out and I had teriyaki chicken or hamburger everyday for breakfast, it was very bizarre. And had miso soup. And but it was still breakfast. And I was okay with that. I got used to it. But normally, we have a regular kind of Western breakfast where they'll have eggs and sausage or whatever. And the first day like, Oh, this is not bad. And by day 21, you're like the same thing. I eat that, and then the press bus. Normally, it was not in Tokyo, but normally it's to the minute. So if the press bus says it'll be there at 838, it's there at 838 and out. So I'll leave at 8:36 from breakfast and run to the bus, hop on the bus, go to the main Press Center, usually, and then all the other transportation spiders out from the main Press Center. So it's one bus from wherever I'm staying to the Olympic Park. And then I'll say, now I gotta get the bus from there to whatever venue I'm going to, and that could be anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, depending on the venue, and you can't get there five minutes before it starts, because you have to figure out where you're gonna shoot from. Or it might be a pecking order where it's first come first serve. So you're trying to get there early, and then I shoot the event. And then I either stay in the press room for a couple minutes, or I go right back to a press bus. And I do all the work on the bus. So I'll break out the laptop and the reader and I'll download on the bus when I'm going back to the press enter to then take another bus to where I'm going next. And so figuring out the bus system can take sometimes days,

you mentioned having to go through those, you know, maybe 2600 shots in 14 minutes. I assume you don't just get rid of the others. Do you ever go back and then say, Oh, I really missed some good ones here. And then what do you do with some of the discarded ones,

I keep a lot of images, you know, when I'm shooting 2600, there's a lot of those that are either not peak of action, or I thought something amazing was going to happen and didn't. And so I've got stuff that just either doesn't tell a story or doesn't really mean anything. I also have some Yes, I'm not perfect, there's some that are out of focus, or the ref got in your way, and you have the back of a strike Jersey instead of the athlete or whatever it might be. So there are lots of those. And I will try to purge through and get rid of those. And again, that's done on a press bus, or while I'm slamming dinner, or it's done at two in the morning. And that's why even though I get back to the hotel at one in the morning, if I haven't purged those images, I need to do that. Because I don't want to fall behind. So typical 2600 image game, I might keep 1400 of those images, even though I've only delivered 25 to the team. And yeah, sometimes I'll go back and look at them again. But honestly, most of them, I don't have time.

And so you said you deliver a lot of them to the team. And then you sometimes give them just to the athletes later kind


yeah is surprisingly, I remember when Shawn Johnson was doing gymnastics in London, and I was on the same flight with her in the team. And we're talking a little bit. And then she went and competed and did great. And I didn't get a chance to talk to her after that. I didn't see her again. And then she was in Vancouver Olympics a year and a half later, doing something for NBC. And I saw her and we were talking and I said, here's some photos that I have of you do you remember this? And somewhere like getting off the plane somewhere here competing? And she says, Oh my god, I'd love to have those. And I said, Wait, you don't have images of you competing? She has no Where would I get them. And I realized that, you know most of the people shooting there are media outlets like Getty or Associated Press or a newspaper, where they don't give images to anybody, right, you have to buy them for use. And so I said to her, I'd love to give them to you. So I emailed her a dropbox link to a bunch of images of her. And I do that for the athletes. I was on a flight home from Tokyo with a bunch of medalists from Team USA. And I did the same thing. And I think it's a shame that these people compete and don't have photos of themselves because it's not like their mom and dad could be in Tokyo because they didn't even have spectators, they really had nothing. I feel so fortunate to do what I do and to do what I love. That, to me, it's an honor to be able to give those images to those people.

Well, it's so nice of you, because even if their mom and dad were there, they wouldn't have that same angle, or obviously the same skill set to get the equipment images. 

Yeah, yeah. 

And I was also thinking about any most of us just see it as moving images, you know, TV, and that's probably what they have, you know, they have recordings of their routines or their games or their matches. And so it must be so cool for Shawn Johnson to see like that shot of her doing the flip in midair or getting off the bus. I mean, these things that she's probably like, wow, it's just really captured that that moment that all she has seen is the video.

Yeah, and it's It's fun. Actually, there's a great story on that too. Because when I gave her those images at the time, my nephew is in love with her. She was very cute and, and so I texted my brother and said, I'm hanging out with Shawn Johnson. And he said, You know, it's Blake's birthday today. And I said, Oh, my gosh, I said, Shawn, I'll give you these images. Can you do me a favor and call my nephew and wish her happy birthday? So I was like, uncle of the decade? Yeah, it was really funny. Yeah. So that I get some payment for that one. But

everyone wins. 

It was


Can you talk a little bit about shooting the opening and closing ceremonies? How that must differ so much from shooting the events? Because, you know, you're in these ginormous stadiums. And what Where are you shooting from? And do you use zoom lens?

Yeah, yeah, big lenses there. You know, the opening ceremonies is always a cover marquee thing for me, because it's the start. It's the official start of the Olympics, even though Believe it or not, they actually have some competition the day of opening ceremonies,

sometimes even a few days before I remember reading. 

Yeah, so we're actually

shooting potentially figure skating and some things prior to, but the opening ceremonies is like kind of my kickoff like, okay, here we go, get ready for three weeks of just no rest, gogogo. And opening ceremonies, there's a lot of trepidation getting there. There's 1000s of media. And there's 10s of 1000s of spectators and 10s of 1000s of people who are in the show. And so it's a daunting task to get in. And that process can take about five to six hours just to get in the stadium and get in position. Wow. And we have to be there three to four hours before it starts. And it's one of the few places where we're not on the deck. So we're sitting in the stands with the public. So they have usually six to seven sections of photographers. So when I go to the US Olympic Committee and say I want to go to opening ceremonies, and they say, okay, great, we have a ticket for you. What section Do you want? And I'll look and say, Okay, where are the dignitaries sitting? Okay, they're sitting there, so I want to be near them. Because that way, everybody will be facing the dignitaries. Now security will be a little higher, because, yeah, and so but it's also different. There's some people who don't want to be there, they want to be lower, so they have a different angle. And so it's kind of a risk that you take. And then like in pinching, it was minus four degrees Fahrenheit. So I'm like, Where can I sit where I can also go get warm. The one great thing about Tokyo was because of social distancing, we had seats open next to us. So I can put my gear down. Normally we're crammed in, and we have all our gear and we're sitting next to each other. And you're trying to carry two or three cameras and your lenses and laptop. And it's like you can barely move. And so that can be tough. But it's a great thing to shoot, we do use long lenses, it's fun, because it's somewhat entertaining, you're waiting for your team to come out. And of course, Summer Olympics, that there's every team of all these different countries, and that can take hours. So you know, once I shoot the Team USA come in, I'm just sitting there for sometimes two hours, I might go get a hot dog or do something or walk around. And if you can trust your gear, I know a lot of other photographers, because we've worked the Olympics so many times, hopefully I'm sitting next to someone I know. And I say you go walk, I'll watch your gear, I'm gonna go walk, you watch my gear, we're really looking for our team to come in. And we're looking for like the fireworks or the drone show, in the case of recently where they doing cool patterns with the drones. Those are the things we're looking for those key moments, then the biggest challenge is getting the heck out of there. I've had times where it's taken me five or six hours to get home because of traffic and trying to get onto a press bus that doesn't have a long line. And so you're home at four in the morning. And that's really frustrating. And so I usually try to run and get on the first bus I can. But now you're running with all that equipment is sweating your brains out, but I got home by one in the morning. I was thrilled.

 It sounds stressful.

I mean, oh, it is. 

A lot of this feels like you got to get at home. So you get some sleep so you can get up so you can make sure you get to the next event and the next morning. And you know and be focused. It's not like you're just getting to the event to go sit and cheer. I mean, this is a job where you're on?

Well, yeah, and there's a lot of pressure because you have to get the shot that the team wants. You have to make sure that you're telling the story. But it's not just telling the story. It's also the team will tell me like we need number nine, we don't have enough shots number nine, or this person's a sub and hasn't been in the pool or on the ice at all. If you see that person on the ice, get some shots of them like the backup goaltender during the gold medal game they USA women and waterpolo were dominant. And they had like a six point lead. And toward the end of the game, they pulled Ashley Johnson who's our goaltender out and put the backup in. I knew immediately that I had to key in on that backup goaltender four minutes to wait for her to get a killer stop. So I can get at least one great image for her and the team to have for the bio for her marketing for the website. And so I'm thinking that through so it is A matter of staying, as you said, no pun intended, staying very focused, to make sure that I'm getting with the team wants what I want, but the athletes want. And also making sure it's in focus, I've got good backgrounds, the lighting is right, my shutter speeds, right. And I'm not over shooting, because if you hammer the shutter at 30 frames a second, now you end up with 5000 images during that game, it's even harder to meet that contract. So is a lot of pressure.

So can we just use that as an example? So you know, you need a shot of the goalie. So your aim down there, but there's a lot of action going on the whole rest of the pool? What if a goal is going to happen at the other end? I mean, how are you actually handling those minutes?

Yeah, and this is where I mean, knowing the game, and understanding the game is really important. I play ice hockey, it was very easy to predict the game because I know the game for water polo, I'd never played the game. So I had to learn the game. So before I shot for USA, water polo in London, I went to high school games, college games, and I have someone who really knew the game sit next to me and explained to me as I'm shooting, for instance, one of the things that happens a water polo is it's not just the person with the ball. But there's people fighting for position in front of the net called the two meter position. And it can get bloody in there and they're scratching and clawing to get position. There's a lot of good shots in that action there. And so you have to be cognizant of that as you're shooting. And so what I do, and I shoot events here in the Bay Area, I don't just do sports. So it's no different than shooting a Bar Mitzvah or wedding or what have you. You need to keep your eyes open and your head on a swivel all the time to see what's happening. If I'm shooting a personal event, and Grandma is sitting down, and has not been on the dance floor the entire night. And at the end of the night, grandma decides to be on the dance floor, I better get a shot of grandma on the dance floor. And the same thing holds true with the Olympics. If something's happening, I'm trying to be aware of everything. Even though I'm focused on the pool. What's the coach doing? Is he mad at the restaurant backhoe and you get a shot of him yelling at the refs and then a gold medal game. The shot isn't really the action in the pool. It's the reaction of the athletes, when a goal is scored. What are your teammates doing that are on the bench, they're going crazy. So I'm looking for that, or in the case of ice hockey, they jump all over each other and go crazy water polo, the kind of maybe a fist bump turn around, keep swimming each sports different, like I noticed in beach volleyball, every point, they go crazy, you know, they give you a lot of reaction. So it's very easy in volleyball, they're getting really great reaction shot less so and waterpolo. But you have to be cognizant of all of that when you're shooting. And so it's just keeping your eyes open and your brain firing all the time. And it is exhausting, because you have to stay mentally on physically on for three weeks, all the time on lack of sleep.

And almost like you need eyes all over your head, you know, like on the side of your head looking over there. And on the back of your head looking, you know, like it really is thinking through a lot of angles, you know,

things I'll do when I go to an event. And let's say it's Team USA playing against Japan. When I get to the event, I'm looking at the fans. Okay, who's wearing lots? Well, of course, this didn't happen because there were no fans in Tokyo, which means we lost a lot of really good photographic opportunity. But what I'm doing is I'm looking around in a normal Olympics, and looking for the people that have the American flags or the face painted with Team USA, Go Team USA, or your family members. And I know where they're sitting. So when I shoot that say so in scoring a goal. I'll follow up with good reaction from the athlete and then quickly turn around to where I know, people are sitting. And I want to get reaction shots of them.

Yeah, I remember Aly Raisman’s parents became sort of superstars for their reactions to her routines. 

They were so nervous always wouldn't even look right. 

Yeah, they couldn't even look. So that was part of the story was their involvement in their daughter's gymnastics routines.

And I think you know, it's also it personalizes the story that her parents are there, their friends are there. And it was one of the things that really was a letdown for Tokyo and will be as well in Beijing. I'm friends with a lot of the athletes and their families after doing this for so long. It's not have them there and to not have a team party with the families and stuff. It definitely lost some of the personality of the Olympics.

You mentioned that prior to shooting water polo, you didn't know the sport well, so you educated yourself about it. But you must show up at some events that you're not an expert on. So is it difficult to shoot them?

It's a little bit more difficult. Like I remember shooting like Judo or wrestling. I don't know when they score point and when they don't. And so I'm just shooting looking for great action, great expressions and you know, shooting boxing I want blood. Yeah, good stuff like that. And I show up and I'm just looking for, how can I get a great image? How can I push the envelope like I shot a shot at fencing? It it's a multi exposure shot, probably my favorite shot from Tokyo and it was literally firing off four shots on top Have each other to get really cool motion in the athletes. And I went there knowing that I don't know the sport very well. But I knew how is lit. I've shot it before in Rio. And I knew how I wanted to shoot it with this multi exposure mode. And so I went there with a goal in mind, just like I went to that equestrian and shot everything at 20th of a second. I knew I wanted to motion pan that and create something artistic. So I'll go there with that in mind, but don't know the sport as well as I probably should. It would make life easier.

We at home see a lot more of the events than you do there.

You know, when you're watching television at home, you guys see way more the Olympics than I ever see. I'm lucky to see two events or three events a day tops.

But what are some of the things that you see that we don't see?

Oh, there's lots. You know, there are things like when Simone Biles was supposed to do the balance beam in the team's competition. And then she stopped. And we didn't know why she stopped. But I was standing two feet from her and listening to them joking around and I could tell she wasn't hurt says like, Why is she not going? Her name was on the board. She's still in a warm up, sit on like she's not going. So we were confused. But we heard them talking. And I can hear what they're saying. And they're joking around. And we forget that these girls are young girls are teenagers. And they sounded like teenagers, they're making fun of certain people or you're commenting on what someone's wearing. Those are the things that most people don't hear. And I've been in situations where like, for instance, they banned all alcohol drinking and Tokyo because they didn't want someone getting drunk and then having some COVID spread. But when the woman won gold, now after the water polo match was over, I said to the team, we should get portraits of all the the woman with their gold medals. We've never done that at previous Olympics. So I was on the pool deck. This is now you know, good hour and a half after the game is over. And the medical team shows up with their ice chest. You know, generally it's for icing down, you know, all their wounds was all margaritas and stuff. So tequila shots. So obviously, it was not until vision and we didn't publicize it too much. But we had a big old party, and it was a blast. So there was the fun part like that, where you get to experience it almost like the athlete. And they did the team picture and said, Jeff, you're in this shot. So get someone else take the picture because you're part of the team. And those are the moments where it just warms my heart that these people treat me like that. I remember being in Pyeongchang and Korea and the woman from USA Hockey one gold medal. And as a big deal. They beat the Canadians. They don't allow photographers on the ice. Typically you have to shoot from behind the plexi. But as a team photographer, I was allowed on the ice to shoot the gold medal celebration. And I was on the ice with them for probably an hour. I mean, they were ready to turn the lights out in the venue. And they were still celebrating. And Hilary Knight is one of the athletes. I said Hillary, he'll kind of borrow your gold medal. I want to get a picture with it. And she's like, Yeah, so she skated over and she put gold medal on my neck and I got a picture. Well, I didn't realize that there will be security every time you're handing out gold medals. There's security there to make sure that no one takes that metal. So this guy comes over to me and he I can't repeat what he said on your podcast. He yelled at me like get that blinking blink, you know, metal off. And I was like freaking out. Luckily, we'd already gotten the picture. And Hillary skated back over. And he's yelling. I mean, she's like, No, no, no. Yeah, good to me. He's our team photographer. And then he came over to me after he said, I apologize. I'm so sorry. I thought you were just like a normal photographer. And I said, I am a normal photographer. I just happen to be their photographer. But it's fun to go to the team parties when they win. And a lot of times teams will say to me, don't take pictures. Just enjoy it with us, which is really special. Yeah, those are the things that make it fun, or even more fun than being there.

How about the times that an athlete doesn't succeed? I mean, to just qualify for the Olympics is such an incredible accomplishment. And have you seen somebody, especially if there's high expectations for them, and they don't get to that round? Or they don't medal when they're expected to? To Have you ever had to sort of take a photo or kind of be in their face and it gets really awkward?

Well, you do you go for the you know, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, right? Yeah, you do have to photograph that. And yes, I've done that where, you know, either a particular athlete or a team fails to medal. And sure there's frustration, there's sadness, tears sometimes. But that's still as a job of photographer we have to tell a story and that's a part of that story. I will say going back to what we just talked about, with women's ice hockey, in Sochi in Russia, the women from Team USA were up by a goal with a couple minutes left IRA's already changing lenses to go on the ice to shoot the gold medal celebration. And Canada pulled their goalie and scored a goal that tie it. They went to overtime, and then Canada one and I can tell you that that was like watching someone die. Because if you win a bronze medal, you're in a bronze medal match You either win a medal or you don't. So you're thrilled to win a bronze. When you're in a gold medal game, you either win a gold or you lose a gold, no one says I want a silver, right? We

almost seems better to win a bronze than to get a silver because obviously, losing the gold or 

depends on the sport.

After that game. I'm in the press room, sometimes for three, four hours working on images for the team, especially for gold medal game. So I left the arena, probably around one in the morning, I walked outside, in all the the woman from USA Hockey, were outside crying with their families still. And this is three, four hours after the game. And it literally it was like there had been a death in the family. And I did not photograph that because it was a personal moment. Anyway, it was too dark, anyone to plus, I don't think they would appreciate that. But the team party was the next day celebrating their silver medal. There were a couple of the ladies who would not even speak, there was one person who didn't show up to the party, it was really devastating that they didn't win that gold, there were some that were fine with it. And as I told them, you know, you're lucky to win a silver medal. It's amazing accomplishment. But they lost a gold. I did take some photographs there. But I didn't photograph the girls who were distraught. I just felt like that was their own moment. There's an invasion of privacy. And even though I know them, and they know that I have their best interests in mind, when I'm taking those photos, you have to figure out that line. And sometimes that line does get crossed, I hopefully not by me. But I've seen it where you know, you get the photographer who jumps in on a shot, I'm trying to get a gold medal shot of the team, they know to look at me, because I'm their photographer, you know, I'll get them lined up in the way I want them. I'll get ready, take a picture, and somebody from another country will elbow his way and in front of me. And then you have to get aggressive and like yell at them get get on my shot. So there's some of that, but I mean, I try not to invade anybody's privacy and and I try to keep it as positive as I can.

In general. Is it a pretty collegial atmosphere? There among the press corps?

Very. Yeah. I mean, we all work together. I mean, yes, there are some you know, like any group of people, you can have some individuals who don't want to play by the rules or, but no, it's really, it's great. I mean, we try to help each other out. I try to do that. Because again, we're stuck with the same people for three weeks, every two years, miles will become friends with them. I've seen photographers get kicked out of the Olympics, we had a woman, I believe she's from the UK. We're shooting bobsled, in Russia. And we're all using wide angle lenses because it was where they jump into the bobsled at the beginning as they're running and then getting outside. That's a really, that's a it's really exciting. And it's a wide angle shot. So everybody's lined up along that little slope of the ice as a running. Well, one woman went ahead of everybody, even though we'd all been there for hours waiting for it to start. She went ahead of everybody to shoot and choosing everybody's photos every said, Hey, get out of there. And she wouldn't move. And the venue manager said, Is this your team? That's going to be the next Bob said? And she said yes. is fine. I'll let you shoot this one run up. And then you're out of here. Well, she did the warm up. And then she kept shooting. And they went over to her. And he took her credentials, ripped them off her neck. And that was it. They sent her home. You know, they're very strict about it. Because you have 2200 photographers, and you have another 3000 writers or whatever it might be. You have a lot of press there. You can't be lenient in someone breaks the rules. They have to be strict about it. Like we're not allowed to ask for autographs.

Yeah. Yeah. And don't be selfish.

Yeah, we're all selfish in a way like, you know, when I want to get my shot, and I have that position by the pool. I'm not giving that up for anybody, right? There's a little bit of that, where you're, you're looking for the best angle or the best position and you have to kind of be a little selfish. That does happen. It's just you try to be nice about it.

Yeah, I guess I was thinking of the woman, the British woman in front of everybody, at the expense of everybody else. It's different than you going early and finding your spot.

True. I mean, look, we've all gotten everybody else's shot. I did this at BMX in London, or Rio, I used a wide angle lens, and I put it out in front of me to get a cool wide angle shot. And I put my camera right in someone else's shot. And the guy was from Russia, and he started yelling at me in Russian. And I just looked at them like I'm so sorry, like, you know, I'm sorry. And I was careful not to get in the shot next time. We all make mistakes and we all bash into each other. And honestly, after two and a half weeks of being the Olympics, you see the wear and tear on everybody and nerves get a little bit frayed at times. It happens to be as on lack of sleep and eating the same crappy food for three weeks and they're ready to go home.

Yeah, by the end you're really ready to wrap it up.

Yes, because it's just exhausting. You know, going at that pace the whole time. And at the same time, sometimes it's sad because the Olympics are over. Now I've done so many of them. It's kind of like another one in the bucks. And it feels cool to know that I survived it and did it well. I'm much pickier about my images than I was when I first shot. Yeah, now I'll come home go I don't know if I got anything good. It's harder to best myself every time.

Before we wrap up, can you just reiterate for me how you became the Team USA photographer.

So I was in Beijing in 2008, I was not shooting for team USA. I was there partially credentialed, not even fully credentialed. And I got a chance to shoot some limited events. And I came home from that. And I said, I have got to do this. I want to become an Olympic photographer, I saw what the other photographers are shooting, and just thought, like, Gotham looks amazing. And so I came home and I worked, like tirelessly trying to find an inn. How would I get to Vancouver to shoot the Winter Olympics? And everywhere I turned, I hit a no, I tried different newspapers, different magazines, I thought, Oh, I'll become a team photographer thinking they had them. Like each sport would have their own photographer. Well, they don't my called USA Hockey, because I thought I play hockey, I love the sport. And I offered to shoot for free and didn't even get a return phone call because they're probably think this guy's a lunatic. So eventually, but I did some a lot of work with the San Jose Sharks. And I knew all the top people, the sharks, the President, CEO and others. And I said, Do you know people USA Hockey, this, of course. So they put the good word in for me with the right person there. And then that opened the conversation. And then they said, We're willing to work with you. Let's give it a try. And I did it for free, and prove myself. And remember, it cost like 10 grand to the Olympics. So it's not an easy decision. And then for my first summer Olympics, shooting for team USA, at that point, I got to know the people at the SFC. And they have connected me up with USA waterpolo. And they're like, we'd love to work with you. I told them, Don't worry, I'll learn the sport, you know, we had a couple years before the games. And I shot that almost for free as well for them to prove myself. And again, this is all part of that, you know, working myself into the system. And now I've been doing this, this will be my eighth Olympics. So they they now consider me part of the family for team USA, which is again, a huge honor. And it makes my life so much easier. Because I know that when I asked for credentials, I'll get them. And so it was just that kind of process of putting myself out there using my contacts and willing to prove myself.

It's great that you had this desire and this dream and you made it happen. Like you didn't just say, Oh, that looks fun. You work the angles, you put in the hard work you You did it.

Yeah. And I treat every Olympics like it's my one and only I remember going to my first Olympics, 14 USA that was in Vancouver. And I really was like pinching myself, like I can't believe I'm here. And I'm shooting this. This is just incredible. And then I went to my next Olympics in London, and I did the same thing. And I still today do the same thing. I'm so lucky to be there. I don't take it for granted. Every week I get an email, how did you get to the Olympics? How do I do that? I want to do that. And I know that the odds of that happening for most people are really slim. And so I do feel really, really fortunate. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, there's a little bit of luck involved. But what a great thing. It's just a huge honor. And I'm capturing history for these athletes and for these teams, that those live on forever.

It's great that you're doing it. And it's great that you appreciate it so much. Yeah, you don't take it for granted, and you enjoy what you're doing. It's hard work and you appreciate it.

Yeah, it's hard, but like to do something you love is I again, like I just feel so lucky. It's work and it is a ton of work. But when you love what you do, it's not really work.

Thank you so much, Jeff. This has been really interesting and inspiring. And I look forward to the next Olympics and see more of your images.

You're so welcome.

Most of us can't attend the Olympics, but I think we can all relate to parts of Jeff's journey. Here are my takeaways from our conversation. Number one, arrive early with a plan. This can be especially helpful if you need to do something like find clean Plexi to shoot through during a hockey game, to treat other people with respect and play by the rules, just because, but also, what comes around goes around. Three, make good use of your time. Whether it's six seconds at the end of the game, or 20 minutes on a shuttle bus between venues. A lot can get done when you commit to being efficient for keep your eyes open and your head on a swivel. Sometimes the most interesting thing to see isn't the action, but other people's reactions. And finally, number five, if you have a dream, go for it. Put yourself out there work for it. Even Olympic sized dreams can come true with a lot of effort. I'm inspired by Jeff's story, and I'm grateful to him for taking the time to share his experiences with me. If you want to see some of his incredible photographs, including the ones he mentioned in the interview of the fencers and the equestrians, go to his website, Jeff cable comm and click on the blog link Please check out our website, the Experience podcast dotnet. To explore other episodes, sign up for our insiders list and newsletter and find out how to follow us on social media. And if you liked what you heard, please rate review and subscribe to this podcast. It helps others discover us. I'm Elizabeth Pearson. Gar thanks for joining in the experience