The Art of Sports Photography: Shooting the Olympics with Adam Pretty

Hey everyone! I'm Reese and I'm excited to be a part of the Fstoppers team. My segment, The FS Spotlight, is a new weekly Q&A session with professional photographers at the absolute top of their field. The interviews are going to touch on everything from how they reached rock star status to their shooting style to what cameras they shoot with as well as their advice to all aspiring photographers. This week's feature is Olympic photographer Adam Pretty; enjoy!

Adam Pretty has taken sports photography to an absolute art. The Australian photographer has a unique ability to think outside the box (or viewfinder) and push the limits of conventional sports images, and his portfolio is filled with photographs that are equally suitable for the cover of a sports magazine or a contemporary art museum. Pretty, with Getty Images since 1998, has photographed the last five Olympic Games, as well as shooting assignments worldwide for Sports Illustrated, Life Magazine, Time Magazine and Harpers Bazaar. Pretty took a moment out of his frenetic schedule to chat with Fstoppers on shooting the Olympics, creating a great image, and his recent shift to advertising photography.

Adam Pretty, Getty Images, Motorcycle Grand Prix, Reese Moore, fstoppers
Valentino Rossi of Italy and the Fiat Yamaha team on his way to pole position with a mono at the Motorcycle Grand Prix of China at the Shanghai International Circuit May 5, 2007. (Credit: 74079294, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)

Fstoppers: What first attracted you to photography?

Adam Pretty: I have always loved the magic of the darkroom, from the first time I went inside my school darkroom at the age of ten: seeing an image appear on the paper, and printing an image exactly how I wanted, sculpting the light under the enlarger. Of course, in order to use the darkroom you need photographs, so I had to take pictures! After I saw an exhibition of sports photographers Craig Golding and Tim Clayton when I was 15, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I also really enjoyed reading about different techniques and styles, and the things you could do with photography seemed endless. As soon as you think you have mastered one thing, there is always something new to try to grasp.

Adam Pretty, Getty Images, sports photography, Reese Moore, fstoppers
Thomas Daley of Great Britain competes in the preliminary of the Youth Mens 3m Springboard diving competition on day eight of the Youth Olympics at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex on August 22, 2010 in Singapore. (Credit: 103535097, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)
Fstoppers: Tell me a bit about how you got into sports photography. What is it about sports that you find visually stimulating?

Adam Pretty: I saw a sports photography exhibition when I was 15 and was absolutely amazed at the work and the quality of the prints, the composition and light. Sport was a big focus at school and I loved it, so it was a natural progression to start photographing it. Sports people are on a stage, like performers, and it is up to the photographer to capture the best image they can. I love the challenge of trying to make the best of any situation, and sports are so dynamic and full of fleeting moments, making it a really
stimulating subject to photograph.

Fstoppers: How did you first end up shooting the Olympics?

Adam Pretty: I was fortunate that the 2000 Olympics were held in my hometown of Sydney. I was working at Allsport (now Getty Images), and I photographed every test event and anything Olympic to ensure I would be a part of the team. Being a local helped, as I knew my way around the venues and knew all the venue managers and could basically make myself indispensable.

Adam Pretty, fstoppers, Getty Images, Reese Moore
Divers warm up before the start of the Womens Synchronised 3m Springboard and the Mens Synchronised 10m Platform final at Aoti Aquatics Centre during day ten of the 16th Asian Games Guangzhou 2010 on November 22, 2010 in Guangzhou, China. (Credit: 107065585, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)

Fstoppers: Shooting the Olympic Games has to be an enormous amount of pressure, yet you managed to find incredible angles. Tell me a bit about your process and approach with shooting the Olympic Games.

Adam Pretty: It can definitely be stressful covering an Olympics. I prepare by trying to pre-plan a few images in my mind. This helps me maintain my momentum during the event, as by the third day you tend to be pretty exhausted and running on adrenaline. There’s the pressure of trying to gain access to good locations, along with everything associated around the games, like security, lugging gear and all the necessary processes you need to go through in order to be there. That said, the pressure is part of what I love about my job. Only having one chance to get the perfect shot really helps me focus and is a real buzz.

I like taking risks with my photography when I can, as I believe that’s when you are more likely to capture something different and achieve a unique image. The Olympics is a good test, as it forces you to look for something unique to ensure you don’t get the same pictures as everyone else. This is one of my greatest motivations as a photographer.

Adam Pretty, Getty Images, fstoppers, Reese Moore, sports photography
Ronny Weller of Germany celebrates winning Silver in the Mens 105kg Weightlifting Final on Day Eleven of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia (Credit: 1185323, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)
Fstoppers: What was your favorite experience shooting the Olympics?

Adam Pretty: It is difficult to pick just the one, however the first day of the Sydney Olympics definitely stands out. I covered the triathlon whilst in the water, then the wrestling in the middle of the day and finished by photographing the swimming finals where Australia won gold in the mens 4x 100m relay. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing.

Fstoppers: Who do you shoot for today?

Adam Pretty: Getty Images, and whoever books me for assignments through Getty Images’ Global Assignment.

Fstoppers: Although many of your images center around sports and athletes, they have a gorgeous lighting and a distinctly studio style to them. How do you approach lighting from a technical standpoint? What do you look for in a good photograph?

Adam Pretty: At a sports event, where I obviously have no control over the lighting, I try to chase that one good image from a certain angle, so the lighting is just right or at least the absolute best it can be given the location.

Images that are really clean and graphic appeal to me, so that is usually what I look for. I think a combination of these elements, and maybe also a decisive moment or emotion, is what makes a great image.

Adam Pretty, Getty Images, sports photography, Reese Moore
Ian Thorpe of Australia starts from lane 4 and Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands lane 5 during the heats of the mens 200m freestyle on August 15, 2004 during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games at the Main Pool of the Olympic Sports Complex Aquatic Centre in Athens, Greece. (Credit: 51316586, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)

Fstoppers: There are some stunning underwater portraits on your New Work section. What inspired these?

Adam Pretty: I have always been fascinated by water. Water and light are so unpredictable that you come back with something different every time. I can’t get enough of it!

Fstoppers: Your portraits deliver a lot of intensity. How do you create this aesthetic? Is it more lighting, or more your connection with the subject?

Adam Pretty: Hopefully a little of both. I aim to communicate to the viewer what I am seeing in a subject and who that person is. Sport is all about intensity and focus and, coming from that background, these elements have no doubt influenced my work.

Fstoppers: What inspires you?

Adam Pretty: Seeing fresh new work and great images, whether photography, film or art. The photographers around me are a great source of inspiration, both at big events and when working as part of the Getty Images team.

Adam Pretty, Getty Images, fstoppers, Reese Moore
Ioran Etchechury of Brazil trips and falls into the water during the Boys 2000m Steeplechase on day four of the Youth Olympics at Bishan Stadium on August 18, 2010 in Singapore. (Credit: 103426927, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)
Fstoppers: Your website specifies your decision to move from sports photography to advertising. Can you tell us a bit about this shift?

Adam Pretty: After shooting sport for almost ten years I was ready for a change, and advertising was a great opportunity to do something completely different. I went from sports, where you have absolutely no control over your subject or the lighting, to advertising, where you have total control. It was almost the complete opposite of what I had been doing and this whole new world of photography fascinated me. It’s a real challenge, however to continually be learning keeps me passionate about photography, as you risk becoming jaded if you get too comfortable. I like to try and get out of my comfort zone as much as I can.

Fstoppers: What makes a good sports photograph? An advertising photograph?

Adam Pretty: A good photograph is one that tells a story and is aesthetically pleasing and new, with a combination of great lighting, graphics, and composition. I don’t think it matters what genre of photography, the same rules apply.

Adam Pretty, fstoppers, sports photography, Reese Moore
Darren Choy of Singapore carries the Youth Olympic torch before igniting the Youth Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Youth Olympics at The Float@Marina Bay on August 14, 2010 in Singapore. (Credit: 103381990, Adam Pretty/Getty Images Sport)
Fstoppers: Nikon or Canon? What equipment do you typically use?

Adam Pretty: Canon, and for medium and large format, Sinar.

Fstoppers: What's been the most exciting moment of your career so far?

Adam Pretty: There are a few! My first Olympic Games. Plus that moment when you have been working on an image for a long time and you finally nail it. That’s what keeps me coming back again and again. Recently my assistant was taken on as a photographer with Getty Images, and that was also a really exciting and rewarding moment for me.

Fstoppers: What's your advice to aspiring photographers?

Adam Pretty: Share your work with other photographers, make mistakes, ask questions, shoot as often as you can and asses your work afterward, with the help of others. Ultimately, it’s important to enjoy what you are doing. It is not simply a job, but a passion as well.

Jinyan Chen of China competes against Hyun Hee Nam of South Korea in the Women's Individual Foil Final at Guangda Gymnasium during day seven of the 16th Asian Games Guangzhou 2010 on November 19, 2010 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Lee Morris's picture

Wow, great interview and some amazing pictures. Is that guy landing on his neck!?

wow :) great stuff and amazing photographs. :) this site rocks.

nice awards.

Pure motivation Solid inspiration