Guest Blog: Olympic Sports Photographer Jeff Cable
It has been a long time since I have been a guest blogger on Scott’s blog, and it’s fun to write a blog for someone else for a change. I just returned from photographing my 6th Olympics for Team USA and was writing blogs at least once a day from PyeongChang.
I have been home for two weeks now and I am finally recovering from the month-long marathon that is the Olympic Games. The days there are crazy long with many of us photographers pulling 18-hour days full of shooting, editing, and moving from venue to venue. But I am not complaining at all! Even though this is my 6th Olympics, I am always excited about the opportunity to photograph some of the best athletes in the world and from the best spots one could ask for.
People often ask me, “What is your favorite sport to photograph?” I usually answer that it is anything new. I live near San Francisco and we do not have a whole lot of bobsled or speed skating in our area. Having a chance to photograph these sports is really fun for me.
The sport I am most invested in during the Winter Olympics is ice hockey. Not only do I shoot for USA Hockey (both men’s and women’s teams), but I play the game as well. This helps me predict the plays and know where to focus my camera during the action. I also get to know the athletes pretty well which makes it more personal for me.
So this leads me to the highlight of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, watching the women of USA Hockey win the gold medal. You see, I photographed for the team 4 years ago in Sochi and watched the ladies lose the gold medal game to the Canadians, even though the U.S. had a two-goal lead towards the end of the game. It was one of the hardest things to watch as the women cried while receiving their silver medals, knowing that the gold was almost in their hands. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Before I left for these Olympics, I told my friends and family that the one thing I wanted more than anything was to watch the women get redemption for that loss in Sochi.
So that you all can get a feeling of what it is like to photograph the Olympic Games, I am going to take you through my day when I shot this epic battle.
I got to the Gangneung Ice Arena around 10am to photograph the women’s locker room before the big game. After shooting for 15 minutes, the ladies were arriving and I hightailed it out of there to edit the images and post them to my team contact. I then prepared both my Canon 1D X Mark II cameras for the upcoming game. On one camera I had a Canon 70-200mm lens with a rubber hood (which is great for pressing the lens up against the glass), and the second camera had a Canon 8-15mm fish eye lens for getting shots of the athletes if they were right in front of me. I also made sure to bring my Canon 24-70mm lens for a potential gold medal group shot if the ladies won. Even though the game did not start until 1:15pm, at 11:30am I made my way from the press tent to the ice to scout out the cleanest glass panels and request my shooting location. Since I was the official photographer for the team, I got preferential treatment in getting my choice of shooting locations.
Before the game started, the women would come out for their warm ups. The team had requested images from before the game and really wanted a shot to show the intensity on their faces so that they could post a shot on social media leading up to the big matchup. Before they got on the ice, I ran over to the tunnel where they entered the ice and got this shot of Maddie Rooney exuding that intensity.
The game started off great with Hilary Knight scoring a goal at the end of the first period of play. I would always position myself on the side where the U.S. was shooting twice, and so I was there to capture the shot and the celebration from Hilary. My camera was set to ISO 2000, f/4, with a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec to freeze the high-speed action and reactions.
As the first period came to an end, I reached down and grabbed my MacBook Pro, downloaded the images from my CFast cards and edited the best 10 for the team.
The WiFi was jammed with all of the media in the building trying to post at the same time. I was having problems getting Dropbox to upload my images, so I left my laptop open at ice level while moving and shooting the 2nd period from a higher position (to get both offense and defensive shots in one period).
The Canadian’s answered back in the second period, scoring two goals to take the lead. I was totally frustrated at this point, not just because the US team was losing, but because the WiFi in the building was still down and I could not post any images from the 1st or 2nd period to the team. I have a contractual deadline of 15 minutes and I knew that they wanted them badly, so that they could post images on social media. I sent a text to my team contact (expecting him to be upset with me) only to find out that he could not even sent one tweet. I came up with a Plan B and had him meet me in the Mix Zone (where the athletes get interviewed after the game) to get a USB drive with the images. I picked the Mix Zone because most people, including my contacts at the team, cannot get access to the ice level where I was shooting, and it was the one place we could both get to easily. That worked and I ran back to my shooting position for the third period.
Much like the American team in 2014, the Canadians had the lead mid-way through the 3rd period of the gold medal game. I was shooting at ice level and, while doing my best to capture the peak of action and maintain good focus on my subjects through the Plexiglas, I was also stressing about the outcome of the game.
I was thrilled when Monique Lamoureux-Morando scored on a breakaway to tie the game and force the game into overtime. Not only did she score the goal right in front of where I was positioned, but she turned and celebrated in front of me as well. For me as a photographer, this was a double bonus. The reaction was so great that I remember texting my contact at the team and said “I have your cover shot for USA Hockey Magazine”. But I had no idea that the game would go on to become even more of a nail biter.
Both teams fought it out in overtime, but neither could get the puck in the opposing net, and so the game went to an overtime shootout. While the Zamboni’s came out to do a dry ice cut, I prepared for the upcoming action and for either the highest of highs or the lowest of lows. (At this point, you may think that nobody should be upset about winning a silver medal. But when these athletes are in this final game, they don’t really win a silver, they see it as losing a gold.) I was not prepared for another Sochi outcome, but had to be ready either way. I held my breath as the women skated one on one against the opposing goal tenders.
There was a lot of pressure for me at this point, knowing that each of these skaters were taking turns determining the outcome of the Olympic Games for these two rival teams. I keyed in on each of the American ladies as they took their shots.
Gigi Marvin scored the first shootout goal, making her “Ooops, I did it again” shot where she faked a shot and then took a second swipe at the puck to put it between the pipes. It looked like a mistake, but when talking to her after the game, I found out that it was a planned move.
When the opposing team shot, I would run to a different panel of glass and do my best to get a long shot all the way down the ice to capture a shot of the action far from me.
Canada answered Gigi’s goal and then the goaltenders made some nice stops on both ends. Canada took the shootout lead with a pretty goal past the American goalkeeper.
Shortly after, Amanda Kessel roofed a shot over the glove of the Canadian goalie to tie it up.
Then Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson made a spectacular move to get the puck around the outstretched arms of the goaltender. This is where having the 14 frames per second speed of the Canon 1D X MK II really came in handy. I was able to capture numerous shots of this key goal…
…and the celebration!
It was up to the 20 year-old American goalie, Maddie Rooney, to stop the Canadian shooter to win the game, and she did just that.
At that moment the bench erupted with players flying out to celebrate.
At this point, I was still shooting through the glass. I knew that I had access to go onto the ice as soon as the game was over, but did not want to miss any of this elation. I shot from my spot for 3 minutes (I found this out by looking at the meta data of the images) and then ran as fast as I could to get over to the door to get on the ice.
And, of course, the shots were much cleaner and easier to shoot without that extra sheet of glass in my way.
A good photographer needs to look in all directions when shooting. I was taking a portrait of one of the ladies with her gold medal when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bunch of the women taking a selfie.
Minutes later, after the staff had put down the carpets, the medal ceremony commenced. Since we were standing pretty far back from the ladies, I decided to continue using the camera with the Canon 70-200mm lens, even though I had both cameras with me.
I was keying in on the Americans and their reactions when I looked over to see the reactions of the Canadians. Even though this is a depressing image, I took this photo for two reasons. Firstly, it is part of the story and that is the job of a photographer, to tell the story in photos. The second reason is, it reminded me of what our team had endured 4 years before.
Then it was time for the American’s to get their gold medals. I used the long lens to get tight shots of the ladies, but quickly switched to the camera with the Canon 24-70mm lens to get the full group in the shot.
I then got all the ladies grouped up for their team gold medal shot.
One of the great things about knowing all of them, is that I could group them up but also get some nice portraits for them as well. I also took numerous photos with the ladies and their family members (who had actually found a way onto the ice).
I even borrowed Hilary’s gold medal and asked one of my photographer friends to get a shot of me on this momentous day.
The ladies were so excited that they stayed on the ice for almost an hour celebrating with each other.
Right before they left the ice, I got them together for one more shot with the American flags.
I think they were already turning off some of the lights by the time the ladies got off the ice and headed to the mix zone. Normally I would go to the mix zone to photograph the ladies being interviewed by the media, but the team was waiting for the gold medal shots.
I packed up my gear as quickly as I could and ran for the media tent. At this point, it was somewhere around 5:30pm and I had a ton of images to edit and get to the team. And yes, at this point the WiFi was accessible and the team was getting the photos. I had not eaten since the morning (other than a banana, some cookies and coffee at the press center) and was wanting some dinner. I offered to pay for McDonalds (which was in the Olympic Plaza and near the venue) if another photographer would grab it. They got the food while I cranked on images. At this point it was around 7pm and I got confirmation that the ladies would be on the “Today Show” around 9pm. There was no time to head back to my apartment, so I stayed and edited photos until 8:45pm. I then walked over to the Today Show studio to get photos of the ladies there.
Before taking any photos, I checked with the director of the show to make sure it was OK to shoot stills while they were live on the air. I did not want the noise of my camera shutter to disturb them. He assured me that this was not an issue. (Always good to check first!)
I took a bunch of photos as they went live and did the interviews. When they were off the air, I asked if I could get a group shot with the Today Show crew. They were very accepting of this, so I moved into place.
The studio was really tight, so I was glad that I had switched to my Canon 16-35mm lens. I stood in between the TV cameras to get this group shot. I asked everyone to loosen up and have some fun, and voila!
I had been talking to Lindsey Vonn (who was on the show at the same time) in the green room and we both thought it would be cool to get a photo of her with the whole hockey team. I told her that I would make that happen. Here is that photo.
At 9:45pm we were done and I made my way back to the hockey venue to clear my locker and grab a press bus back to media village.
I left the media village at 9:30am that morning and got back to my apartment somewhere around 10:30pm. It was a really long day with many thousands of images captured, but it was everything I had wanted!
The next day I met some of the key team members at the Main Press Center where they had their press conference. I don’t think they had slept much that night, but their adrenaline was keeping them going.
The people at Canon Professional Services, who were located in the Main Press Center, were nice enough to make some enlargements for me, and I gave them to the ladies.
Phew! Sorry about the super long blog post, but I guess this gives you an idea of what it is like to be a photographer at the Olympics. There is a ton to photograph and stories at every turn.