Category Archives Guest Blogger

A big "Thanks" to Scott and Brad for allowing me to share this shoot with you guys. I am a music and advertising photographer currently living in Nashville, by way of New Orleans, LA. I recently had the privilege of photographing The Band Perry for the Billboard Magazine cover story. In this blog I'll share my experience, thought process and some of the technical details behind this shoot.

Like most editorial shoots, I was given a fair amount of creative freedom. That freedom provided a great opportunity to showcase ideas and unique vision aligned with the image of the magazine and, in this case, the particular image of the talent as well. It's someone's job to brand the band and have them seen in a certain light so it's always very important to understand what such branding might consist of visually. As much as The Band Perry is country, they have an edge to them that I liked and wanted to emphasize – no cowboy hats on this set!! As difficult as it is to have numerous "cooks in the kitchen" as they say, it's important to have an open collaborative relationship with the talent, their manager, publicist, stylist, etc. that are on set.


The shoot consisted of 3 looks that I nicknamed lights, cover and fun while on set so we would all know what setup we were discussing.

Here is a breakdown of those 3 setups:

The first look, lights, was designed to be more painterly and serious than the others.
Lights required the most setup so I planned for several hours of pre-lighting and used every minute tweaking, moving and thinking. For this look we mixed constant lights and strobes.

The constant lights were Mole-Richardson 2000W Juniors. Since these lights were both part of the actual set and functioning as light sources I did a decent amount of research into what would look AND work best while keeping budget in mind. The Juniors were certainly not the most powerful lights we could have rented but their size was right and they would be close to the subjects so the lower power wasn't going to be an issue.

For strobes we used AlienBees and focused on each band member individually giving them their own light sources. I started with one and as I tweaked the look I added one more, then one more, then another and before I knew it there was a beautiful c-stand jungle. I don't recall exactly how many strobes we had for that look, but I remember someone behind me saying something about having 8 or 9.

Throw in some fog for atmosphere, Beyonc© blasting through the speakers, a very talented country trio and POOF! our first look is finished.

Now, the ironic thing about the setup called cover is that it did not turn out to be the cover shot although at the time I assumed it would.

When ideas were first getting tossed around for the shoot between Billboard and myself, it became clear that the cover needed to have color. For whatever reason my mind went almost straight to red then straight to a rich velvet stage curtain. After a day of searching multiple places, my buddy Shane suggested a rental house in Nashville called Drop Everything. They had exactly what we wanted.

We moved the Mole-Richardson Juniors and a few AlienBees over during the band's wardrobe change after lights. The Mole-Richardsons were placed high and above the curtain as both a curtain light and a hair light. One AlienBees unit with a gridded large octobank was used as the key light. With the lighting scheme already determined it was only a matter of a few test shots before we had what we were looking for.

Cue Beyonc©, and we began shooting our 2nd look.

Our last setup of the day was named fun because it was the setup that we wanted to capture a very lively and energetic scene. We used the same setup from cover for this shot, just moved some of the lights around.

My vision, as I explained to Billboard, was to capture your typical brothers- picking-on-the-sister look. In case you didn't know, The Band Perry is made up of Kimberly Perry and her two brothers Reid and Neil. When I explained it to the band they laughed and said "Oh, so just a normal day?"

The scene was of the brothers pointing the Mole Richardson at Kimberly in an annoying brotherly way and them just laughing it off. The storyline behind this image was not quite as important to me as the emotions that play along with siblings being silly together and that is what really came through.

I love what I do and I am passionate about really soaking up every experience I have and every opportunity that comes my way. I am grateful and always excited to be able to execute any job, especially ones as enjoyable as this one. The Band Perry could not be a nicer family; from their attitudes, excitement and cooperation, to their entire team on set. It was a joy to meet and work with all of them.

Check out some of the behind the scenes video from the shoot.

http://youtu.be/VmgXlGsJrzE

Behind the scenes photos by: Nathan Rocky

You can see more of Robby’s work at RobbyKlein.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

The Human Condition

Life has its way of weeding out the weak, fragile and insecure. The problem is, there is not a person on this planet that is not to some degree exactly that. The truth is, the human condition puts us at a disadvantage from the very start.

It is said that if you are lost in the wilderness, the first thing you need to do is recognize you are lost. The great philosopher singer/song writer Paul Simon once wrote, "I am the first to admit it, but the last to know." As a general rule, we are often totally oblivious to our human condition. When it is challenged, we panic, come undone and often just give up. But there is hope.

The single greatest reason we fail in fulfilling our dreams and succeeding in the marketplace is the fear of rejection. To overcome the fear of rejection, we need to understand our human condition, that we are all to some degree easily influenced by other's opinions, and that we are not as strong as we might think. To prove how weak, fragile and insecure we really are let me give you an illustration.

Most of us have posted images on web sites such as Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, etc.. As a general experience, the majority of us receive positive feed back. We read things like, "this image rocks," "love this," "you're the greatest," etc…. Praise after praise. Then there is that one bad critique. Someone sticks the knife in and turns it. They say that, "your image sucks, it's a total bore and you should quit taking pictures and keep your day job." We have to admit, it hurts. When we go to bed at night what do we remember, the ninety nine praises? No, the one critique! Ninety nine praises and we come undone by one critique. You would think that ninety nine praises would easily offset one critique, but it doesn't.

You may think you're tough and maybe you have convinced most people around you that you are unshakeable. But the truth is we all have a breaking point, and in the end, come undone. It is a 100% guarantee that if you present yourself to the real world, you will be rejected. That's right, a 100% guarantee! One person holds the power to steal your dream. One person's discouraging words, one person slamming a door in your face, one person's harsh criticism, and you quit, and give up on your dream.

How then do we overcome rejection? I like to look to music as an analogy to help put things in perspective. If you think about it, look at how many different types or genre of music we have available. No two people like exactly the same thing. Everyone's taste is different. Even if you like jazz, look at how many flavors of jazz are available to us. The point is we all have likes and dislikes.

I have a teaching session called "Country Music verses Rap." I don't know too many people that are into Country Music that are also into Rap. This is life. So when it comes to creating images, why do we come undone when we present a "Country Music" look and a person who is into the "Rap" look, says they hate what we do?

Create anything and you will find an audience that loves it and an audience that hates it. We have to understand that the ultimate goal or end result is not to please everyone. It is a impossible task. The most important thing is whether YOU like the images you're creating and does it fulfill YOUR vision as an artist? Master what you love, do it well and you will find an audience that will love it. To be successful, you don't need the masses to love what you do.

I have included two images that have had many praises, but also have received their share of criticism. The image of Jessica that is extremely blown out would not have received glowing marks back in my college days. Back when creating a picture was more about getting the perfect exposure. But I love it. If fits me like a glove. I relish in the idea of pushing the envelope on how we define a photograph.

The image of basketball player Rudy Gay, where I have cut off his head, is another one of those images that received mixed reviews. When it comes to composition, we have all sorts of rules that we as a culture have deemed as acceptable or unacceptable. Cutting off someone's head definitely hit a nerve with many of my viewers. But challenging the status quo takes a risk. Risk opens the door to explore new ground and gives us the opportunity to fulfill our vision's as artists without preconceived ideas established by others.

So, follow your intuition and create images that you love. For every praise there is a critic. Accept the criticism with a smile on your face knowing that if you love what you are doing, then you are on the right track.

You can see more of Joel’s work at JoelGrimes.com, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and find his classes at KelbyTraining.com

Ok, so when you get asked to be a guest blogger for Scott, one of the first things to do is check out the competition and see what others have done. The top blog posts as far as comments and reshares have been from Peter Hurley⦠Seen here hamming it up in our studio:


Photos by Pete Collins

And Zack Arias':


Photo by Zack Arias

I wanted to be considered as insightful and popular as them. So I did some studying on what they did to get such a good response and it became quite obvious⦠It is all about the hair! If I am going to get the greatest response and win the top honor as the "coolest, hippest blogger on earth," I am going to have work the hair angle hard. So without further ado⦠I give you Peter Bob Ross Arias!

Take that hair club for men!

Now that I have established my hair cred⦠on with the blog!

The opening paragraph was done in jest and a bit over the top (sorry Bob Ross!), but I wanted to use that to illustrate a point. We are killing ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We ask constantly ask ourselves⦠"Am I as good a photographer as _________?", or "Do I communicate like ______?" We find ourselves on the unending treadmill of trying to catch up with this artist or photographer, and feel like a failure because someone we know is doing it "better" than we are. Please stop doing this. If you don't read any further than this, I hope you will take this thought with you. "Comparison is the Thief of Joy."

Warning: If you proceed to read further I will attempt to talk about what hinders us from being creative and alive. I will talk about feelings and ramble on some about our hearts etc⦠because I truly believe that is where our work comes from. So if you aren't interested in any of this⦠no problem, just look at the pictures and perhaps take a look at the list at the bottom as it is a bit more no-nonsense⦠well, sort of. :D  Yes I do realize that some of you are hoping to hear amazing photographic stories or maybe juicy gossip that Scott is really Keyser Soze, but that is for another post⦠this one is a little more about what drives us.

Let me walk this out for you with an example in my own life. I was asked to write this blog, and I got excited and immediately I started to plan what I was going to do. Thoughts start to swim around of all the things that I can talk about or show. Then I get the brilliant idea of doing exactly what I did at the top of the post. Comparing how other folks did their posts. Suddenly, the excitement I had for sharing my heart and idea with you turns into fear of "not screwing up" and not being rejected. Now I start to feel pressure and the idea that I don't have what it takes starts to grow inside of me. The voice in my head/heart tells me that I am lacking and that I should just give up and do something safe and boring, or better yet, find an excuse and not do anything at all. The problem with listening to that voice is that my heart and creativity die a little each time I give into it.

So I try to ignore the lump in my throat⦠and no longer feel excited⦠scared yes, excited⦠not so much. What is safe and accepted? You folks like videos⦠so I should definitely do a video and it shall be really cool! I will create this masterpiece video that shows the behind the scenes here at Kelby Media Group, and highlights the creative process that goes on here and how I get to be part of this. Great idea, but then the doubt kicks in⦠I haven't done a lot of videos and editing on that big a scale, and it won't look as cool as Zack's⦠I mean he had a smoke machine and mannequins! Ok, so let's settle for something safer.

How about I do a neat time-lapse drawing that will amaze and astound all who see it! Yeah, that will be easier I have done those before. But, what should I do? What should my subject matter be? What is normally easy to decide becomes impossible when the pressure of comparison is added to the mix. I need inspiration: that mystical illumination that quiets the voices and brings new wonders to our minds! Desperate, I start to work on playing with words like Inspiration that all have the word ration in them⦠even though I am feeling anything but rational right now. It might be cool to draw these words over time and do some neat stuff with them.

But then I start to worry that this is dumb and suddenly I don't like the order of the words so decide that what I need to do is develop a new creative font. Why? So that I can dazzle you guys with my talent and to make up for my lack of hair. Granted this is already late in the evening, and the blog post hasn't had the first word written. But a cool font is all this needs to make this abomination turn into glory. Hours later I have created something⦠and boy is it something, I just don't know what it is and I am pretty sure it won't work for this. Help!

So now I have spent hours scrambling to find that just right combination of hip creatively breezy elements that will amaze you and have you resharing this blog for years to come. I have visions of folks talking about my blog as The Blog of 2013! Whispering in cubicles across the globe "Hey did you see Pete's blog?" Of course it would be in different languages according to local dialect, but you get the drift. How is that for pressure? This is no longer a blog⦠it is my life's destiny and the fate of the free world depends on my ability to produce something earth shattering. (Please tell me, you have been in a similar situation⦠Letting your feelings overshadow the importance of a task until it becomes all encompassing. Yes, you there in the back, I see that hand⦠thank you for sharing.)

So I step back and try to regroup with a Coke⦠or three and some chocolate. Yep, that calms the nerves right down, don't mind the seizures. But while I stare at the blank screen, my lack of coolness taunts me. I start to think about my situation and how many times I have been in this very same state of pressure when I am trying to be both creative and safe. How many times have I been so wrapped up in trying to be accepted that I lose the ability to fly. By flying I mean to go where the heart and mind take us without the constraints of worrying about what others will think, or limiting our art to what others will like.

I bet you are like me and the best art you produce is when you are doodling while on the phone or waiting for a friend at a coffee shop. Why? The pressure is off and the only reason you are doing it is for the pure joy of it. Life Example: My kids don't make a picture and then throw it in the trashcan or hide it⦠they want us to display it and stick it on the refrigerator because it is something they put their heart into and they see it as good. But, as they get older, comparison creeps in and starts to tell our children⦠"Your sister draws better trees than you," or "That dog looks stupid!" The result is that they stop drawing altogether or they draw "safe" pictures that are acceptable. But their hearts wants to draw wild things. And guess what⦠we are just kids in grown up bodies.

This reminds me of an idea I have for a kids book that deals with our needing to forget our past hurts and failures so that we can be free to live, love and fly. I call it Dilbert the Forgetful Elephant, because the way most of us deal with life is a lot like how an elephant deals with captivity⦠but more of that in a minute⦠I can't talk to you now; I have an idea for this blog! Yes! I laugh at my angst earlier⦠I am now inspired and I start sketching elephants that will amaze you: and to be honest they looked better in my caffeine soaked brain than they do on paper. I need to study how elephants look and how to draw them. But at least I am excited about the direction this is taking.

So I Google "drawing elephants" and God being the gag writer that He is⦠wouldn't you know it, the first three hits to appear are from my friend Aaron Blaise, animator and illustrator extraordinaire who has some wonderful lessons on drawing elephants.

If you haven't seen his work, make sure to check him out at AaronBlaise.blogspot.com

Crap! Just when I was starting to feel ok about what I was doing, now I am going to compare every sketch I do with his. My sketches start to lose all life and joy as I try to sketch like Aaron. I know what he has done is good, I don't know if what I can do is good, so I try to slip on the mask of another that I know is accepted, because that will mean I will be accepted too. Won't it? I have shared this drawing before, but it still is one of my favorites that I have made to remind me of our tendencies to hide ourselves behind masks that in turn imprisons us and keep us from be real and alive.

The problem is that creativity lives in the land of freedom. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and start living. The story of Dilbert is an offshoot of what is probably an urban legend that goes like this⦠"when elephants are very young, trainers use rope to tie them and, at that age, it's enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break the rope so they never try to break free." It is a great illustration of the mental bonds that we can place on ourselves in regards to who we are and what we can do which we place upon ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.

So I wanted to create a story about an elephant that is forgetful, and as a result forgets that the rope is stronger than him and flies away. (Now you will have make the mental jump with me as I use the idea of an elephant as a balloon to represent the natural pull to fly as rope/string dangles beneath him representing what use to hold him back).

If I can stop comparing myself with others, I will be truly free to be creative and the result will be a better me.  It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy⦠the less I worry about others the more of me shows through, and the unique beauty that only I have to offer is seen and cherished by the ones who get to see it, which encourages me to show more⦠etc⦠etc⦠The world does not need more masks and copycats, the world needs more folks that are truly alive and free to create.

Yeah, yeah Pete we have heard this before⦠be free and be real⦠yada yada yada. Well, to be honest, I don't mind repeating it because I need to hear it daily, if not hourly because I forget. I fall right back into the trap of comparing and I shut down and cling to the easy road of mediocrity. The world is filled with mediocrity; we need folks who are brave and reckless enough to be excellent.

Photographers don't' worry I haven't forgotten about you. Below is an excerpt from a blog post that I started a while back that I never finished because something shiny came along and distracted me, but I think will tie in with what I hope is the heart of my thoughts today, which is don't settle⦠don't make excuses⦠fight to go beyond mediocre. Strive for joy and life⦠learn to fly!

"Over the past while I have had the privilege of watching Scott, Matt, RC and others like Joe McNally and Joel Grimes give photo critiques. I have also been able to watch the comments that go on during those critiques and I have noticed a societal trend. Often there is a rush to excuse why something isn’t right, or to try to give the benefit of the doubt due to exigent circumstances. But, is our goal to be ok? Mediocre? If so, then here are some ways to keep attaining that safe yet heart killing standard.

Don’t worry about telling a story⦠who cares if it is boring.

Don’t worry about what is in the corners⦠distractions and lines add excitement.

Don’t change the angle of your shots… tripods should always be shot at comfortable heights that every other photographer uses.

Make the same shot as others⦠You're ok, so I'm ok.

Only shoot when it is convenient and then blame the bad lighting for why it is not better.

Limit your shooting to your surroundings and then ask for a break in judgment because the locations are boring. It takes to much work to go somewhere else to shoot.

Demand fairness and equality even if your images are not good and not special. Your heart was in the right place, even if your camera wasn't.

Mediocrity can be attained by everyone, and that may be why we are not happy with our work when we settle for it. You are created in a dynamic and special way, and when you listen to the voice of comparison and settle for safety and excuses, you cheat the world of the special vision and voice that you have to offer. I need you to fly so that you can remind me to fly. I am one elephant trying to help the next one loosen the ropes that keep us tied down.

The question at the end of the day, and the end of this long post is⦠are you going to stay tied down to that stake of comparing what others are doing, or are you going to forget about what tends to hold you back and fly?

You can see more from Pete at PeteCollins.com, and follow him on Twitter and Google+

With my most humble sincerity, I would like to thank Scott and Brad for their friendship and for allowing me to share a brief window into my life as of late. I would also like to thank my friend Robby Klein for the photo of me above. He is a fantastic photographer in Nashville that you should totally check out.

If you're anything like me, long blog posts just end up getting skimmed through for the highlights (or just to look at the photos) so I'll try to keep this as A.D.D. -friendly as possible.

For those of you not familiar with me and my work, allow me to introduce myself. Two and a half years ago I wrote my first guest blog post here and was able to share my life and photographic journey up until that point.  A lot has changed since then, and I have grown a lot personally and photographically.  Not the least of these changes was a move from Louisiana to Tennessee.  I am now the staff photographer for the University of Tennessee Volunteers, a job that is held in high regard (being one of very few staff sports photography jobs in the world). It's also a job that I never felt like I could actually could get when I heard about it.  I applied regardless, and it is with that in mind that leads me to what I want to talk about.

FEAR

One of the things that has been rattling around my brain lately is the Idea of Fear, and the Fear of an Idea.

It's not the fear of things like my fear of heights, although when I walk out on the 110' catwalk, I'm not exactly comfortable.

It's the fear of putting your name on an idea and having the courage to execute.  It is because of fear that we have committees and meetings. So if it doesn't work out, you can't be blamed for it.  It's skipping out on the guaranteed safe image, and trying something with your camera that, even if you've done it before, is not guaranteed to be successful every time.

It's saying "this is a good idea, and I believe in it", when others might scratch their head because they don't share your vision.

It is my belief that there are t̶h̶o̶u̶s̶a̶n̶d̶s̶ millions of ideas out there that go unsaid out of fear that they will flop, and people will see you fall on your face.

I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, and am certainly guilty of holding back because of fear, but when I look around at industry leaders, you see people taking chances.  Sometimes they flop, but those failures fade off into the darkness of the interwebz and are eventually covered up by a brilliant, more successful idea. And why? Because they were not afraid to let one (or two or three or twenty-six) failures stop them from trying to find the ONE idea that worked.

I look at my own life as a Staff sports photographer, and sometimes I have to decide to leave the field and shoot from the roof.  Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it's a flop.

I've left entire portrait sessions not happy with many, if any, images.  It doesn't mean that my idea was bad or that I shouldn't keep trying, it just means I need to learn and grow and keep going.

Just the other night, while I was shooting a basketball game, there was a monster dunk that was the highlight of Tennessee's win over LSU.  I didn't get a single shot of it because I decided to shoot the whole second half with a 400mm and get tight details and faces. That decision cost me that shot. You live to shoot another day. As a sports photographer, I could make plants grow in the Sahara with my tears if I cried over missed shots.

I'm inspired by people who take ideas and are successful with them. I am also inspired people who chase after an idea and fail.  Because they tried.  There are no participation trophies in life, so trying isn't enough.  But there is no chance of success without risk, and that is the only way to know how great our idea can become.

Move your lights around. Face the other way. Get low. Get high. Shoot tight. Shoot Wide. Set up a remote. Make a Tintype. Use Gels. Go Underwater. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. The 24-70 is the blah of life.

If you have an idea, don't be afraid of it; let it breathe. Let it grow. Let it evolve. Let it be successful.  Let it fail.  But put your name on it and don't be afraid.

As an added bonus for making it to the end, I've also included this short video feature created about my work at Tennessee and my approach to photography in general done by the talented video folks at Tennessee.

http://vimeo.com/59940091

You can see more of Donald’s work at DonaldPage.net, and follow him on Twitter at @donaldppage and @Vol_Photos

We came to Norway chasing the night light. Laura and I have been planning this trip for months. This was more than an assignment, this was a quest. We wanted to make a time-lapse video showing the Aurora Borealis–the Northern Lights.

We thought the light we sought would be green and dancing, and there was some of that. Mystical, almost spiritual waifs.

There is science behind the swirling bands of green. During large solar explosions huge quantities of particles are thrown from the surface of the sun into deep space. When the particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field they are drawn to an area around the magnetic North Pole creating the celestial green streaks of light.

But the real beauty to me was watching the bright full moon travel across the sky illuminating the mountains and fjords.

The night sky above the arctic circle is different. Rich and blue. Dark clouds racing across the night. Peaceful, tranquil, calm, and then the next minute massive amounts of snow and wind pelting us and the gear.

In Northern Norway this time of year the nights are long and the days are short. The sun is up for at most 4 hours a day, but you can only see it shining brightly for 10-15 minutes, if you’re lucky. It’s always night.

We had this well sorted out. We are on the road most years around 300 days and so we are fairly well organized, and certainly accustomed to packing for all kinds of contingencies. But seldom have we had to be concerned with keeping cameras and fingers warm enough to work in temperatures that can quickly drop to 20 below. Did I mention that we are from Florida?

We brought 5 tripods, 7 Nikon bodies, 9 lenses and a bunch of hand warmers. 6 extra batteries per camera. Rain covers to protect the bodies and lenses against the blowing snow. We learned after the first day that snow storms come quickly, sometimes when you are least expecting it.

The bag guys at Kata made some special cold weather pouches for us to protect bodes and more importantly batteries–I’m not sure if the bags made the difference or if the Nikon batteries just function perfectly in the temperatures, but I do know this: we didn’t have any issues with camera power. Even during 5 hour time-lapse captures.

Our buddy Andy Hancock was with us. Being a Texan he always does things a little, different, than we do. We were making most of our exposures for between 2 and 4 seconds, at f 2.8, ISO 1600. Andy decided to try 30 seconds, at f 16, ISO 1600. His images resonated with me–they had a blurred feeling that just worked. Since we had so many cameras running we had plenty of room, and time to experiment. We switched two of ours to 20 and 30 second exposures and loved the results for the time-lapse. As independent still images they are too soft for my use.

We fought the weather the first few nights. Dense clouds dropping heavy snow made it very tough to see the green lights we  came to find.

It would have been easy to be frustrated and depressed. It’s not easy to get to Tromso–we traveled for almost 24 hours, and we had been planning this shoot for months. But it didn’t go that way. The calm, serene beauty and the light from the moon was enchanting. We had the best time, and made gorgeous images.

It’s what makes this job so difficult and so rewarding at the same time. When you are dependent on mother nature to produce, you are subject to her whims. It just reinforces what I have always said, you never know when the muse will strike, and when the stars will align to produce the best images in the toughest conditions.

Our next trip out to nature will be in March when we travel to Nebraska to host a workshop photographing the sand hill crane migration. We are excited to see what the weather has in store. Rain, shine, warm or cold, we are sure to be amazed and humbled.

http://vimeo.com/58436743

You can see more of Bill’s work at BillFrakes.com and StrawHatVisuals.com, and follow him on Twitter

Shooting the Olympic Games: The preparation, challenges, and the advantages!

Hundreds of millions of people have watched the Olympic Games on their televisions or seen the countless images being transmitted online from this epic sporting event, but far fewer have had the opportunity to experience the Olympics first hand. Trust me, being there is truly an amazing experience!

I have been lucky enough to photograph three Olympic Games (Beijing, Vancouver, and London) and I am already preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Since you are reading this on Scott's blog, chances are you have an interest in photography, and maybe even sports photography. I thought you might like to know what it is like to be a photographer at the Olympics.

Photographer Dave Black says that "shooting the Olympics is like photographing three Super Bowls per day for 16 consecutive days." And he is right. At the Olympics, the pressure is huge and the competition is fierceâ”and I am just talking about the photographers!

But let's back up for a second and talk about the planning, since well before shooting the Olympics, there is a ton of preparation involved.

The Preparation
The first and most important part is getting the ever-coveted Olympic photographer credentials. Since most countries only get a handful of these, this is rarely ever a "given" and must be earned.  It took me years of work and building relationships to get my first chance. Now that I have photographed numerous Games and proven myself, this process is a little easier than trying to break into this from square one, but still never a "given."

Then, assuming that I get my credentials, there is the challenge of travel and lodging. I need to find airlines that make it easy for me to carry on lots of gear, since I have no desire to check my expensive camera gear. Before my first Olympics, I lost weeks of sleep just trying to figure out what gear to bring with me. How many cameras? Which lenses? How many memory cards? How many bags?

And, this is the Olympics, which means that hotel rooms are hard to find and expensive. It's imperative to find a place to stay that is close enough to the Olympic Park, with easy access to the press buses, but not crazy expensive. Access to the press buses is key, since this helps me avoid crowded public transportation. Did you know that they have special "Olympic lanes" on the roads? The press buses are allowed to use the special lanes en route to the park, which saves more time, and time is at a premium.

Before leaving for the Games, I need to be "in the know."  I need to know everything I can about the sports I'll be photographing. Having an intimate knowledge of the sport helps me predict the key moments and best shooting locations. I also need to know about the venues. In London I spent a lot of time at the Water Polo venue, so I arrived there four days before the competition started and walked every inch of the building. I learned the allowable shooting positions, the restrictions, possible remote locations, pressroom details, and much more. And, of course, I need to know my camera inside and out. At the most recent 2012 Summer Olympics in London, I was using the newly released Canon 1DX. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a prototype of the camera a month before I left for London, so that I could become familiar with the new user interface and button layout.

The Challenges
Before shooting my first Olympics, I looked at the schedule and mapped out a plan of events to shoot. It was not until I got to the visiting city that I realized that the distance between venues and extended travel time meant that I could only shoot two or three sports per day. Not only are the events in many different locations, but their times often overlap, as well. There were many times in Vancouver when I could not photograph both USA Hockey teams (men and women) because their games overlapped and the arenas were an hour apart. I found a new tool while in London that was a real game-changer for me. For the first time ever, there was an iPhone app for the Olympics, which listed out the events for the day. If my schedule changed for any reason, I could look at the app, see what other events might be upcoming, and change my plan right there and then. It was awesome!

It's also very important to get into a shooting position early. It's not possible to show up last minute to the swimming pool to shoot a medal event. There will likely be hundreds of other photographers there, taking the best spots. It also helps to understand how many others will be shooting with you. The Summer Olympics, for example, might have 2,000 photographers onsite, while the Winter Olympics averages only 800 of us shooters.

Oh, and this is the Olympics. You can't just shoot from anywhere. Most of the time, shooting locations are limited and mapped out by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This makes it even harder to find a unique shot.  Often times, I will walk into the spectator area to try to find a unique perspective, but when shooting up-close to the action, you are generally lumped in with all the other shooters. Each venue will have their own restrictions, so before shooting there for the first time, I stop by the venue press office and ask about their setup. They let me know when I can enter the playing area, where we can stand, if remote cameras are allowed, etc. If I have never photographed that particular sport, I might even ask advice for optimum lens choice. Some events, like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and certain gold medal matches, are what they call "high impact events" and those require tickets, even for us photographers. For those tickets, you must apply to your National Olympic Committee (NOC, or in my case the USOC). Believe it or not, there are many photographers who go to the Olympics who can't get tickets to the Opening Ceremonies.

I mentioned that time is at a premium at the Olympics. This is really an understatement. The typical hours of an Olympic photographer are 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day. This is the one time in my life where I eat to survive, not to enjoy the food. For me, just about every waking moment is taken up by prepping, shooting, downloading, moving from one location to another, editing, posting, and blogging. I was under contractual obligations to go through my images from each game and get them back to Team USA within two hours of the completion of that event. That means that I am going through thousands of photos, finding the best 10 or 15 shots, adjusting them (exposure, white balance, croppingâ”no cloning is allowed), and then sending them through ftp back to the U.S. Most nights in London, I was eating a quick dinner at midnight while posting a blog or the last images from that day.

The key to shooting the Olympics, like so many other photography assignments, is to tell a story. For this reason, I'm always acutely aware of what is happening in front of me as I capture my images. Who is the star? Who just made a game-changing mistake? Who is the most interesting person to the audience back home?

The Advantages
Along with all of the challenges of shooting the Olympics, come the big advantages of being there. First of all, I am at the Olympics! Even though I have photographed three of these events already, I still get chills thinking about the next one. There is a very special vibe at the Games, with most people very excited to be there, and lots of geographic pride. This leads me to the next advantage: I get to represent my country. Not as an athlete, but as a professional who is there to do my job and do it as well as possible. Heck, I'm competing to get that "gold medal shot" that nobody else captured.

As a fully accredited photographer at the Olympics, I have the best seats in the house and often times get a chance to mingle with the athletes. And every shot that I take is another piece of history being captured.

While one of the biggest challenges is dealing with hundreds or thousands of photographers vying for the killer shot, it's also one of the best advantages of being at the Olympics. I get a chance to meet amazing photographers from all over the world, and see them again at the next Games. Spending time together in this pressure-cooker environment makes you a close-knit family in a short amount of time.

Another great advantage of shooting the Olympics is that I get a chance to photograph unique and varied sports. Trust me, there isn't a whole lot of bobsledding action in the San Francisco area! I love the challenge of shooting something different, and often find that my favorite images from the Games are from sports that were new for me.

Shooting the Olympics does provide one large business advantage for me. It helps me to build my reputation within the photo community. And I won't lie; having the Olympic credentials definitely impresses potential clients. In this competitive environment, if this helps me differentiate myself from the other photographers in my area, that's a good thing.

Lastly, and most importantly, shooting the Olympics is fun! Sure, it is a ton of pressure, endless work, and crazy long hours, but it is a blast nonetheless.

You can see more of Jeff’s work at JeffCable.com, keep up with him on his blog, and like him on Facebook.

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